Where America is heading, if the First Amendment is found to have a "hostile environment" exception:
A UNIVERSITY lecturer who claimed that black people were less intelligent than whites was suspended from his post yesterday. Frank Ellis, a lecturer in Russian and Slavonic Studies, was sent home on full pay by the University of Leeds, which accused him of breaching its obligations to promote racial harmony under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. It is the first significant test of academic freedom since the introduction of the Act, which places a duty on public bodies to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between different races. .... He voiced support for the theory set out in The Bell Curve, a book published in 1994 by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray, that white people had higher average IQs than blacks. He said the study had "demonstrated to me beyond any reasonable doubt there is a persistent gap in average black and white average intelligence". Dr Ellis also told Leeds students that women did not have the same intellectual capacity as men and that feminism, along with multiculturalism, was "corroding" Britain. His views outraged students, who staged a campaign to have him dismissed from the university. Leeds responded initially by stating that Dr Ellis had a right to express his views, although they were 'abhorrent to the overwhelming majority of our staff and students". Officials said that they had no evidence that his beliefs had led him to discriminate against students or colleagues. Yesterday, however, it announced that the ViceChancellor, Professor Michael Arthur, had suspended Dr Ellis and that disciplinary proceedings had begun. Roger Gair, the University Secretary, said that in publicising his views Dr Ellis had "acted in breach of our equality and diversity policy, and in a way that is wholly at odds with our values".
Note that there was no finding of academic misconduct, no finding that Dr. Ellis had engaged in bad scholarship, and no finding that he had harassed, discriminated against, or even addressed his comments to, any student. Rather, he is being "disciplined" solely because students found his views offensive, and thus a breach of the university's obligation to promote "racial harmony" (which sure seems to imply a heckler's veto for any controversial statements related to race). Troubling, indeed.
Hey, but if we're going to fire British professors for disrupting racial harmony, how about Oxford professor Tom Paulin, who infamously stated that "Brooklyn-born Jewish settlers" on the West Bank "should be shot dead"? Don't hold your breath waiting for laws like this to be applied consistently...
UPDATE: Whenever I criticize somebody on this blog, especially with regard to Israel, someone like Jeff H. writes (in ths comments below) something like, "see, what hypocrite Bernstein is, he is attacking someone for exercising their right to freedom of speech." I have never maintained, however, that anyone should be immune from criticism for saying stupid, hateful, or just plain incorrect things. Indeed, people should be criticized for such things (though one should err on the side of civility); but the government has no business passing laws punishing people for such things. And in fact, I've publicly criticized pro-Israel activists who are trying to turn hostility to Israel (and, to some extent, students who support Israel) on campuses in California into a "hostile environment for Jewish students" antidiscrimination issue that calls for federal civil rights involvement.
But the fact that the government has no business censoring speech has absolutely nothing to do with whether I, or anybody else, should feel free to harshly criticize others' speech. Students at Leeds should have every right to protest, complain, picket, boycott, etc., with regard to Ellis or anybody else whose views they dislike, and I'd defend their right to do so even if I think they are being foolish in a particular instance. What they shouldn't have the right to do in any free society, be it England or the U.S., is use the force of the law to shut someone up because they find his views offensive.