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The Lamonby Case

Campus Week: The troubling dismissal of a teacher at Solent University in the U.K. reflects the dangers of lack of due process in accusations of racism

by
Richard Landes
and
Jonathan Hoffman
September 15, 2020

In this season of high-profile attacks on people’s professional reputations for perceived offenses against an ever-shifting elite code of manners, the Stephen Lamonby case stands out for its bizarre accusations, high level of documentation, gratuitously humiliating treatment, and appalling judicial procedures. Few cases of politically motivated public shaming lend such insight into the way the new, merciless, woke orthodoxy has dug its talons into both academia and judicial systems. To those who wonder how bad it’s gotten, the Lamonby case should, if you’re not there yet, serve as a wake-up call.

Before we offer our analysis of the documentary evidence of this sad and vexatious drama, versions of which are being repeated across the Western professional landscape at this moment, we think it is proper to note that the key players in this drama—Dr. Janet Bonar, professor Julie Hall, Paul Marchand, the 13 independent members of the 33-strong Solent University Board of Governors—have refused to respond to any of our phone or email messages about this story.

When we contacted the school’s news desk by email, we received the following reply—a repetition of the university’s initial response to the reaffirmation of the administration’s rulings by a judge:

We are pleased with the outcome of this hearing and its reflection of Solent’s commitment to our University Values and to promoting equality, diversity and inclusivity for everyone who works and studies with us.

When asked to address certain key issues in this case, Kelly Ward, the University’s PR & media adviser, responded: “I’m afraid we aren’t able to provide any further information.”

Let’s start with our protagonist, then. Stephen Lamonby, 73, is an engineer and special effects designer for films. For six years he was also a part-time lecturer at Solent University, which is located in the city of Southampton in the United Kingdom. Lamonby has long been fascinated by astrophysics and in particular by the role that Jewish physicists played in the development of that science: In particular, he devoured the literature about Einstein and the many Jews—both refugees and U.S.-born—who joined the Manhattan Project.

Lamonby is not Jewish. In fact, he was brought up in a strictly Catholic home. But in his teenage years he questioned the dictates of religion and resolved to make his own mind up about the world. He has never voted, but not because he doesn’t care about society. In fact he believes that the opposite is true: Voting for a particular party would compromise his ability to think independently. From this intellectual approach comes his openness and creativity as an engineer.

Lamonby worked in special effects in movies, and he was very good at his work. In Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, for example, his company was responsible for on-set coordination, supply, construction, and maintenance of all military, vehicles, artillery, and tanks, including the design and construction of the special Tiger tanks. In the James Bond movie GoldenEye, he devised a tank that could tear through the streets of St. Petersburg without tearing them up.

Lamonby is a dedicated teacher. He gives of his time free of charge to students who need to catch up. He worked especially hard with Black male students who grew up with what he calls an “environmental exposure” that did not, in his view, prepare them to work effectively in academia. He has volunteered his time in a number of African and Middle Eastern countries. While working on the film Blood Diamond in Mozambique he gave lectures on Electrical Theory and Practice at a technical college. In Morocco he taught young people to use lathes. In Jordan he devised a means of filtering used water to provide water for refugee camps.

While Lamonby enjoyed teaching engineering techniques at Solent, he realized that not all his students would be able to make careers in this field so he made a point of teaching “transferable” skills. When Janet Bonar became his line manager at Solent, he volunteered to help her, given how little she knew about the courses in practical engineering. A friend expressed reservations about this generosity, warning that Bonar has a notoriously bad temper. As the story unfolds, it illustrates the adage: No good turn goes unpunished.

On Thursday, March 28, 2019, Lamonby met Bonar over lunch in the Solent University cafeteria. Bonar, who is American by birth, had been his line manager for just six weeks and was soon to be welcomed into the Board of Governors. They discussed the engineering curriculum and course content before the conversation then turned to more general topics.

Lamonby spoke of having stayed behind after class the previous day to help three students, two from Africa, one from Lithuania, who came from “environmentally disadvantaged backgrounds,” due to not growing up in areas with engineering content. Based on his own experience, he said, in words he repeated in an email after the meeting, “I have a soft spot for young black males. I do think that they are underprivileged and many without fathers etc. need all the help they can get. I don’t agree that it is a level playing field yet.”

These comments were devoid of malice. Far from denigrating “young black males,” or Lithuanians, Lamonby took pride in helping the students he empirically concluded were disadvantaged.

Yet clearly, a number of signs should have alerted Lamonby to the dangers that lurked in making generalizing remarks about different groups, especially to a supervisor he didn’t know well. Bonar had already signaled comradely solidarity by describing his work in the film industry as “prostituting himself”—a curious remark coming from someone in an institution dedicated to teaching marketable skills and “real world learning experience.” Had Lamonby paid closer attention, he might have noticed that Bonar was signaling her disapproval throughout his discussion of general characteristics. But at least up to that point, the conversation had gone on in a superficially civil way.

After Lamonby recited the story of his life’s work and explained his interest in helping his students, Bonar began to share some of her own life story and academic interests. When she claimed that her degree had been in physics (he was under the impression that she spoke of her Ph.D.), Lamonby became animated, noting that Jewish people had “a particular gift” for the subject. (Jews, who constitute 0.2% of the world’s population, have won almost half the Nobel Prizes in physics.) Enthusiastic at the prospect of meeting a Jewish physicist, he asked his supervisor if she were by any chance Jewish.

Dr. Bonar responded somewhat like the scene from Life of Brian when one of the new “disciples” asks Brian’s mother if she’s a virgin … “if it’s not a personal question.” In this case, Bonar took the offensive by loudly and publicly attacking Lamonby for his abhorrent, racist remarks.

In the movie, of course, the crowd responds to this scene by nodding knowingly “She is. She is”—the joke being that Brian’s mother isn’t a virgin by a long shot. Despite what some journalists assert, neither is Bonar Jewish. Her degree in physics is a B.A. from Reed College, a tiny, liberal arts college with an even tinier physics department. The rest of her degrees were not in physics.

Apparently, Lamonby, without knowing it, had struck a nerve. “But,” he protested, digging himself in deeper, “I believe that the Jewish people are among the cleverest in the world. They are much maligned because of it. I asked you if you were Jewish because of your ability with maths and physics, which is a speciality of theirs.”

Unappeased by this rejoinder, Bonar stormed out of the cafeteria, shouting imprecations about his racism, shoving chairs in her haste. Lamonby was left stunned and embarrassed.

There then followed an email exchange. Bonar emailed Lamonby immediately after the meeting, primarily about their discussions of the curriculum. But she wrote at the end: “Look forward to meeting you again to discuss this unit, on Thursday 4th April. I suggest that we will do more planning of engineering teaching if we do not discuss our wildly different views on race and national characteristics.”

An hour later, without having seen her email to him, Lamonby emailed Bonar. He was angry, at “being smacked down like a schoolboy and called a racist about something that should be discussed on an intellectual basis.” He defended himself, referring to his “soft spot for young black males” and to his belief that “Jewish [people] are among the cleverest people on this world.” Later that day, Bonar, apparently incensed at Lamonby’s reiteration of his views, wrote to her line manager, Jonathan Ridley:

This email, which constitutes the entirety of what Janet Bonar submitted as written evidence against “Stephen Lamemby” (sic), is the sole written accusation in the case.

Given the extremely humiliating personal and professional consequences that followed, it seems worth examining this document in some greater detail.

Inaccurate: There are at least two inaccuracies involved, one crucial, the other telling; both testifying to Bonar’s unreliability as a witness. The DNA comment, the most damaging, was apparently made up. The comment about “because I was good at maths” is incomplete and misleading: According to Lamonby, to whom the judges attribute great reliability as a witness, he was responding to Bonar’s saying that she had a (doctoral) degree in physics. He, at least, was specifically talking about physics.

Inflated moral rhetoric: Language such as “entrenched racist … totalitarian … abhorrent views” have no basis in either the tone or the substance of what Lamonby said. The only “racist” remark was a false testimony about DNA, which turned Lamonby’s statement of sympathy and his willingness to help students learn into an expression of demeaning racism.

Without due diligence: Bonar’s remarks about not having any idea how Lamonby’s students feel about him—and then not bothering to check with his students before sending an accusatory email—indicate the slapdash nature of her approach. Neither did she follow up.

Yet four days later, on the basis of this email, and without the opportunity to either defend himself or call Bonar’s judgment into question, Lamonby was suspended, pending an investigation—which took place three days later. Led by Paul Marchbank, dean in the School of Media Arts and Technology, the investigators heard oral testimony in private from Bonar, which was not recorded. Lamonby was not permitted to question her testimony directly. In his own statement, Lamonby vociferously protested Bonar’s attribution of the comment on DNA to him, insisting he spoke about social “environments.” Subsequently, Bonar withdrew her claim that he had said any such thing.

Lamonby made repeated offers to meet with Marchbank and Bonar, yet Marchbank and subsequently professor Julie Hall, university deputy vice chancellor, kept the two apart. No one attempted to obtain a civil outcome acceptable to all: Instead, the university’s procedure manifests a troubling combination of protecting the accuser from having her false claims challenged, and no mercy to the presumed guilty. For reasons that are not clear, Bonar had to win and Lamonby lose. Perhaps, the very nature of the accusation made no other outcome possible.

Two weeks later (April 16), Marchbank presented his conclusions to professor Julie Hall. Accepting Lamonby’s claim that he did not speak about DNA, Marchbank then dismissed this ruling’s significance, arguing that Bonar’s complaint was based on more than this comment alone. He concluded that Lamonby “holds values counter to the University which presents a risk to the University, undermines the Solent Values of respect and inclusivity, has caused offence to a colleague and has the potential to adversely affect the student experience.” He recommended disciplinary action.

A month and a half later (May 28, June 14), Hall conducted an informal disciplinary hearing, with no notes taken. She rejected Lamonby’s request to question Bonar’s testimony and also dismissed the significance of Bonar’s withdrawal of the DNA comment. After the hearing, Hall terminated Lamonby’s teaching position and sent three HR staff to perp-walk him out of his class. It is hard to imagine, in a democracy at least, a more deliberately humiliating, psychologically cruel procedure.

On Aug. 5, Lamonby appealed before Phil Cotton, the chair of Governors of Solent University, who had rubber-stamped the previous decisions. He felt that Lamonby’s generalizations were so clearly offensive that there was no need for him to face his accuser, and that students needed protection from exposure to him.

Humiliated, but feeling wronged, and missing his work teaching, Lamonby appealed to an employment tribunal, thinking that maybe a professional justice system would provide competent and fair judges, rather than administrators with opaque agendas and homemade procedures. He was mistaken. On June 22, 2020, in Bristol, the employment judge, C.H. O’Rourke—after excusing himself from “substituting my judgment for that of the employer” (i.e., calling into question the substantive determinations of offensive racism and violation of campus code)—reaffirmed the university’s decisions and procedures, including the decision not to call Bonar the accuser to testify or undergo questioning.

The remainder of this article examines Judge O’Rourke’s published decision.

The most important issue in the Bonar-Lamonby controversy concerns how one defines racism, a label that, after “Nazi,” is one of the ugliest accusations one can make about someone these days. Indeed, it’s a form of hate speech that can get one justifiably fired. Although Lamonby generalized about culture (social “environment”), Bonar and colleagues got him fired for “racist” remarks without ever defining what made an utterance and its articulator racist. When various figures say the facts are “not in dispute” (3.1, 9.1, 9.2.1, 13.6, 14.10, 17.3, 18.2, 18.2.4, 19.2.3), they meant not only what Lamonby said, but the “fact” that his generalizations were racist. Just repeating his words was, for Bonar and all the authoritative figures in this case, proof positive of Lamonby’s racism.

Cotton concluded: “I have no reason therefore to doubt that the notes are an accurate summary of the discussions at that meeting” (9.2.1). As a result, he concluded, there was no need to have Bonar appear before this tribunal, allowing him to safely conclude that Lamonby’s generalizations were clear evidence of his guilt:

18.2.4. In the context of there being very little factual dispute, the investigation was entirely reasonable and it was unnecessary to call Dr Bonar to the disciplinary or appeal hearings.

Lamonby, of course, didn’t contest the “fact” that he made the comments. He contested that they were in any way based on race and certainly not in the derogatory hostile way that makes racism so noxious. Thus Judge O’Rourke states in his judgment:

19.2.1. As set out in my paragraph 9 (above), based purely on the Claimant’s [Lamonby’s] own statements, the Respondent [Bonar] was entitled to consider that he had made the vast bulk of the comments (or something similar to them), of which he was accused. Apart from the alleged DNA comment, he did not, at any point (even at this hearing) deny them.

The judge’s summary of the respondent’s side, with which he sided in his decision, conflates all this in one extremely shifty discourse:

18.2.6. The Claimant accepted that he made generalisations about ‘young black males’, rather than referring to individuals. He asked Dr Bonar if she was Jewish and made other sweeping [sic] generalisations and stereotypical comments, based on race [sic] and nationality. Such comments have no place in modern society, or in the Respondent’s multicultural institution.

The consequences of such an authoritarian discourse are catastrophic. With the exception of the withdrawn DNA remark, there is no recorded statement of Lamonby’s attributing the general differences he observed to anything but what he referred to as [social] environment—i.e., culture. Yet we are so trained to view any negative comment as biased that even sympathetic people find some of Lamonby’s generalizations objectionable. Wrote one commenter at the Jewish News: “This was a gross overreaction about Jews. But the Black and Lithuanian comment was more racially biased.” In other words, negative generalizations about groups register as “racist” even when they’re well intentioned and have nothing to do with race.

Were one favorably disposed toward Lamonby, it would be easy to read his remarks generously: He was concerned, and helped wherever he saw a need. But Bonar seems to have been rapidly coming to a boil over Lamonby’s insistence on making generalizations at all; she bristled every time he used terms like “them” and “these people.” This exceptionally aggressive and hostile eisogesis of what Lamonby said as negative bias of the worst sort, tipped the scales when he asked if she was Jewish.

To make the accusation stick, the accusers had to claim that Lamonby’s generalizations were hurtful, that they, even if inadvertently, inexcusably offended some, and that there was therefore no way the university could or should expose students to someone with such “entrenched racist views.”

Yet, since the vast majority of Lamonby’s generalizations were positive, especially about Jews, where was the offense? Not from the Jews, who were likely to view Lamonby as a “decent and kind human being” who should not be punished “for speaking nicely of us.” Not from students, whose feedback to the independent evaluator had been consistently positive. Lamonby had high marks for his effectiveness as a teacher. But, as his condemners all ruled, his “unblemished” record “did not mitigate his misconduct” (Hall, 13.6; O’Rourke, 18.2.7).

Not only were these favorable student evaluations “mitigating,” they were exonerating. That he got on well with his students was evidence that the hypothesized “potentially adverse affect on the student experience,” was a fantasy of those condemning him. While Cotton in deciding against Lamonby felt he “had to consider the feelings of students” (17.6), he in fact never consulted them.

But the tribunals all imagined offenses.

9.2.6 In cross-examination, [Lamonby] was asked whether he might consider that black people might think it offensive that they might need (in his view) extra help...

Cotton concluded that he “was not sure [Lamonby’s comments] were legitimate, but [he was sure they] were stereotypical comments, based on race [sic] and religion [sic] and which were offensive” (17.4), without specifying to whom or why.

Judge O’Rourke explored this issue of hypothetical injury most extensively:

19.2.7 The Claimant’s supposition about ‘young black males’, as needing extra help, is both discriminatory to them, as individuals (who may feel belittled by it) and potentially also to individual non-black students, who may actually have needed that extra help, but are excluded from it, because of their race.

Of course, that would only be true if Lamonby helped all Black students, even if they didn’t need it, while ignoring others even if they did—like the Lithuanian student. O’Rourke is quite explicit in his credal reading of the offensive nature of Lamonby’s remarks:

19.2.7. I find that it is clearly at least potentially racist to group nationalities, races, ethnic or religious groups, by entire categories and to ascribe certain abilities or talents (or the opposite) to them, when, of course, as with any such group, talents or abilities will vary wildly from individual to individual.

Thus, with a reckless generalization about a humanity too “wildly varied” to make any generalizations about (take note social studies), and a bizarre oxymoron—“clearly at least potentially racist”—the judge condemned as racism any generalization about a given group, whether favorable or critical, whether a cultural etiology or not, whether empirically observable or not, whether meant to help or hinder those about whom the generalization was made. And in deciding with respondent, he made that a legitimate reason for firing.

The moral offense against Jews—the remark, curiously, that set Bonar off in the initial conversation—received the most hypothetical elaboration from Judge O’Rourke, who listed three potential offenses provoked by Lamonby’s praise (needless to say, the judge didn’t find it necessary to consult actual Jews before imagining their wounded feelings). First, he imagines a Jewish response whereby the positive remarks were “nonetheless potentially offensive to the recipient … because a Jew told they are good at physics, because they are a Jew, may well consider that as demeaning their personal intellectual ability/hard work” (19.2.7).

Judge O’Rourke then switches to the possible offense experienced by a non-Jew. “It could also be simply grossly offensive, as the person may not actually be Jewish, but feel some characteristic is being ascribed to them.” This “simply gross [sic] offense” at having “some [highly positive] characteristic ascribed to them,” seems even more bizarrely far-fetched than the first speculation, unless the person in question, not a Jew, feels so insecure that he or she experiences the intended compliment as a reminder of personal inadequacy.

Judge O’Rourke then returns to the hypothetically offended Jews: “even if they are Jewish, they may quite properly consider it none of the Claimant’s business to refer to the fact,and have legitimate concerns about his reasons for doing so.

The result was similar to what happened at Connecticut College to Andrew Pessin in 2016: A collective shout of pain of feelings hurt not by what Pessin said or wrote, but rather, hurt by a deliberately hostile misreading of his comments. John Gordon, one of Pessin’s few colleagues to speak with him before refusing to sign a mass letter of condemnation, wrote angrily to the herd of colleagues, all in one voice denouncing the imagined hate speech:

To the extent that Pessin’s persecutors have been able to muster anything at all like a coherent grievance, it is that his words wounded swaths of sensitive souls—not just Palestinians (of whom, in fact, there were few on campus) but anyone else for whom it might be imagined a way of being hurt by extension, or solidarity, or analogy, or just because there was a bandwagon to jump on (Salem on the Thames, p. 123).

The investigators and judges in the Solent case, as elsewhere, who claim the right to police racist hate speech, often take offense at what they (mis)read someone else saying and accuse their victims of crimes they themselves have imagined. Such “staged moral emergencies” have risen to prominence in the first two decades of the young 21st century. In 2005-06, Muslims around the world, led by Muslim Brotherhood Sheikh Yusuf al Qaradawi, led a worldwide “Day of Rage” over the outrageous insult to Muslims of Danish cartoons. In order to make the outrage reach its pinnacle, the Danish imams themselves created the three most offensive—Muhammad as a pig (!), a dog buggering Muhammad in prayer (!!), and a diabolic Muhammad pedophile (!!!). On the resulting “Day of Rage,” Muslims killed an estimated 200 people around the world, mostly fellow Muslims, but also Christians in Muslim-majority countries who had nothing to do with the Danish paper’s cartoons.

Not only did Western spokesmen not point out the Muslim source of the most blasphemous cartoons, BBC Arabic actually attributed the pig cartoon to the Danish paper. So few people actually saw the cartoons that anything was possible. So despite how mild, or in a few cases, how accurately critical of radical Islam, the cartoons were, it was easy to inveigh against them as “racist depictions … deliberately offensive … aimed at a minority that is already feeling marginalized.” Within this victim’s discourse, those who would later call themselves woke turned the aggressors into victims.

Domestic versions of the “staged emergency” have become a feature of college campuses in the 21st century. Many are based on rumors that prove dubious—a Ku Klux Klan hat sighted on campus, a hanging rope left in a Black racing star’s garage, a professor’s “call for genocide,” a crude graffiti in the public bathroom, some unknown percentage of rape accusations … alarms that prompt the administration to cancel classes and hold public gatherings to discuss the crisis, to bear witness to victimization that exists and is urgent no matter whether the events in question actually happened or not. Many of these moral panics are brought on by malicious eisogesis. They have brought upheaval to campus after campus, forbidding open discussion, canceling speakers, silencing opposition.

If this was 300 years ago, they’d build a bonfire and stick me on it as a heretic.

Many at first considered these events, even if sometimes inspired by chimera, nonetheless salutary, allowing minorities to express themselves about the discrimination they had experienced. But since any criticism of this testimony was considered unacceptable, they have come to debilitate discussion, both scholarly and political, about what constitutes racism, and, more importantly how to talk about negative traits that may characterize a given community, group or culture.

And somehow, the very people most militantly opposed to stereotyping generalizations about groups—especially racial groups—have no problem telling all whites they’re racists (even when they’re not white), all whites lack humanity, and attributing any pushback as unacceptable “white fragility.” The result, especially in 2020, is a decisive victory for the term “systemic racism” to single out the United States for special global opprobrium, when real, structurally racist societies populate so much of our unhappy planet. However brutal the cops in the West, you, as a powerless target, don’t want to deal with cops in the rest of the world. Yet to say so, is, in the Orwellian discourse now imposed on so many member of the Woke Emperor’s Court, “objectively racist.”

The bane that these staged moral emergencies, and the ensuing dogmatic discourse, has visited on the West recalls one of Blake’s memorable fancies of an encounter with a censorious angel. The angel first shows Blake his eternal lot in hell, and then Blake took the angel to see his lot, in the face of which he ran away. When they met later, the indignant angel turned on Blake:

So the Angel said: thy phantasy has imposed upon me & thou oughtest to be ashamed.
I answerd: we impose on one another, & it is but lost time to converse with you whose works are only Analytics.

Here, Bonar’s fantasy has imposed upon Lamonby, and it is but lost time to converse with her or the others, whose works are only moral indignation and weaponized hurt feelings.

When Blake said “to generalize is to be an idiot, the minute particulars alone are real,” he was, of course, making a generalization, and he knew it. Without generalizations, we cannot think. We make them constantly. The dogmatic generalization that any generalization about a group is racist has a long anti-intellectual and troubled past, and apparently an even more troubled future. To think that people in any group differ so “wildly” that generalizations are “clearly at least potentially racist,” is to willingly blind oneself to critical information about the world.

What Blake meant by the minute particulars which alone are real, and relevant in this case, are the details of the case: What were Lamonby’s actual relationships with students like? How did Bonar “remember” the DNA comment Lamonby hadn’t made? And how, in general, does the Jewish community feel upon hearing his question?, etc. All empirical lines of inquiry that none judging this case deemed worthwhile. Theory prevailed.

In the world of staged emergencies, once targets are selected and attacked, they have lost. Whatever they then do only serves to further prove their crime. Thus, once Bonar had shouted her moral indignation at Lamonby’s racism, her judgment could not (nor would) be questioned. As a result of adopting this discourse as authoritative, the contrary, Lamonby’s narrative, was automatically disqualified.

No judge in the entire procedure ever empathized with Lamonby. Nowhere in the legal record do we find it even hypothetically spelled out that Bonar had behaved in a decidedly uncollegial way, had gone out of her way to humiliate a colleague over remarks at which she took offense, that Lamonby was an imaginative and concerned teacher who helped students of all kinds, that his anger at her publicly humiliating him was justified, and that, in fact, she owed him an apology …

On the contrary, Lamonby was in the wrong the moment she pressed send on her email of complaint. Anything he might say just multiplied his crimes. The judge reasons:

19.2.3 [Lamonby] knew that Dr Bonar had been very upset at his comments, so, again, there was no need to test the fact of that reaction at the disciplinary hearing [by having Bonar testify]. Indeed, it seems likely to me, based on the Claimant [Lamonby]’s evidence at this Tribunal hearing that he would simply have reiterated his views to her, seeking to justify them and challenging her as to her alleged ‘weaponised hurt feelings’, thus potentially exacerbating the upset she felt.

The epistemological priority given to Bonar’s feelings annuls the intellectual debate that Lamonby wants to have about how we talk constructively about social reality. That would, apparently be too upsetting to her. He, on the other hand, does not have a right not to be offended or hurt. For Julie Hall, the first official to formally condemn him, only he had violated “the need for everyone to be treated at work with dignity and respect.” It was apparently unthinkable that Bonar’s behavior (to paraphrase the judgment): “had the effect of creating an offensive environment for Mr Lamonby and did not comply with the need for everyone to be treated at work with dignity and respect.”

This epistemological priority, granted Bonar by the judges in this case, is most evident in their handling of her claim that Lamonby, speaking of Blacks, said that “it wasn’t in their DNA to be able to do engineering.” This is the only remark that makes the case that Lamonby’s generalizations were indeed racist. This was dynamite. This negative and dismissive remark about Blacks colored all Lamonby’s other generalizations with the brush of racism. Anyone on the fence in this case, once they heard about the DNA remark, had to side with Bonar.

Lamonby vigorously denied having said any such thing. Bonar, in response, dropped her damaging claim (!) and then dismissed his alternative (cultural) term as more of the same:

14.10 Nor did [Bonar] consider the Claimant’s use of the term ‘environmental advantage’ to be acceptable, again indicating a stereotypical generalisation. The potential use of the [openly racist] term “DNA” was ‘not central’ to her decision, there being other factors to take into account.

At no point did any judging body ask Bonar where that “memory” came from. Her initial judgment—this man is racist—remained authoritative.

In other words, having used the term “DNA” to stigmatize him and taint all his generalizations as race-based, she then dropped the charge, claiming everything else he said was just as bad.

The court had no problem with this bait-and-switch, by which the DNA accusation that Lamonby (reasonably) considered most damaging, was dismissed in an inconsequential aside.

19.2.1. the Respondent [Bonar] was entitled to consider that he had made the vast bulk of the comments (or something similar to them [sic]), of which he was accused [sic]. Apart from the alleged DNA comment, he did not, at any point (even at this hearing) deny them. As to that alleged comment [about DNA], I accepted Professor Hall’s evidence that it was not central to her conclusions, based as they were on a wide variety of statements by the Claimant.

As a result of the minimizing of this key accusation, the judge can literally put two contradictory statements together side by side: First the dismissal of the DNA remark’s significance:

18.2.5. While the Claimant now seeks to rely on the Respondent’s dropping of the reference to DNA, this was just one of several allegations, all of which were considered …

Then the accusation of racism which this remark alone justifies:

18.2.6. The Claimant accepted that he made ... sweeping generalisations and stereotypical comments, based on race [sic] and nationality. Such comments have no place in modern society, or in the Respondent’s multicultural institution.

Solent University is a relatively young institution, one of those post-1992 institutions created for the rising tide of European-Union/globalization that was then raising all ships, transforming Europe into the leader of the 21st century. In particular, it swelled the ranks of British institutions of higher learning, exporting knowledge (and English) to the rest of the world. These “universities” prosper, however, only when they attract students who either pay or borrow money to pay. (In the case of Solent, almost 20% of its student body comes from outside Britain.) With Brexit, EU students now have to pay more and are less likely to come, so recruiting outside the EU has become increasingly important, drawing on zones that Lamonby would call nonengineering environments. Admissions is under pressure to bring in as many students as possible, even, in some cases, to the point of committing “consumer fraud.”

Someone like Lamonby, a talented and accomplished man, thought he was going to teach the knowledge and skills he had acquired over a lifetime of experience. But his sympathetic if generalized observations actually struck a raw nerve: The administration could not hope to—and had no intention to—address some of these deficits among their new pool of revenue-bearing students slowing down the process. The failures of the students were therefore an unwelcome topic passed over in silence. Someone who didn’t get the memo, like Lamonby, and brought up these issues, was breaking taboos. Rather than admit inadequacy, the administration (and here we think Bonar speaks with an administrative voice), preferred to damn the outspoken for his “racism”—his racist speech. Thus, the predictable fiasco such a policy promises can be attributed to the debilitating effects of white racism.

Instead of facing their problems, not only did the administration fire Lamonby, but they allegedly dismissed his course manager and three other associate lecturers, and the vacated unit on special effects was taken over by the wife of the dean of the School of Design, herself a course leader in Hair and Make-Up Design. So get rid of Lamonby in the name of “diversity and inclusivity,” replace his team with a woke course leader, who previously taught cosmetics including “transgression within fashion modes … critical thinking in conjunction with creative practice, while facilitating inclusivity, engagement and integrity within production.” And when the same evaluator who had given Lamonby high marks, gave this new team very low ones, get rid of him. Policies based on such dishonest information professionals are bound to make it better for students—and help Solent University navigate the wave of globalization for Britain.

At one point, O’Rourke embarked on a remarkable line of questioning. It seems like it was a clumsy attempt to show Lamonby what it felt like to be a victim of racism. Obliquely referring to Lamonby’s age (73), he told him that he comes from a generation that was widely held responsible for the Brexit vote in 2016.

How does it feel—the judge asked him helpfully—to be part of a generation which not only places an outsize burden on social care and medical costs, but also denied young people the right to be part of Europe? Indeed, how did Lamonby vote in the referendum? Even though the judge said he personally did not subscribe to such bigotry against old people, his “reasoning” was arguably far more offensive than anything Lamonby said to Bonar, indeed, it was a hostile negative stereotype, and well described the larger academic scene.

Not surprisingly, the woke university community that thrives in the global world of open borders finds Brexiteers deplorable. So tribal has antagonism become that almost half the academics recently polled claimed they would not be comfortable sitting next to a Brexiteer. This is not rational disagreement; this is moral revulsion. Commented Lamonby on his trial: “I gazed out of the window into the courtyard and reflected that if this was 300 years ago, they’d build a bonfire and stick me on it as a heretic.”

Intersectionality arises in the framework of the Victims’ Revolution, which allows victims to manipulate the law in court of social justice even when that entails grave breaches of the justice of minute particulars. In these revolutionary courts, one cannot acknowledge that the privileged are never always wrong and that the oppressed are never always right. Civil society’s social contract is based on the reliability of justice: We renounce using force to get our way and to defend ourselves on the understanding that at least most of the time, fairness will prevail in a court of egalitarian discourse.

Lamonby, facing the massive failure of judicial procedure he had been taught to trust would protect his rights, both procedural and substantive, is not about to take up arms against the system. He wonders if it would be worth it even to do so against the judgment. But in the meantime, civil society has alienated a valuable contributor, and the students of Solent have lost a precious resource.

Today, “social justice” has an increasingly tenuous, and in some cases adversarial, relationship to actual justice. This “insidious and potentially authoritarian character of cancel culture” imposed through moral panics and public shaming, reinforced by “woke” administrators and judges, causes damage large and small to a civil society and above all to academia, entities that can only survive and thrive if their public discussion is based on accurate knowledge, clear thinking, and fairness to all.

Richard Landes, a historian living in Jerusalem, is chair of SPME’s Council of Scholars. He is the author of Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience and now publishing Stupidity Matters: A Medievalist Guide to the 21st Century with Academic Studies Press. He blogs at the Augean Stables. His Twitter feed is @richard_landes.

Jonathan Hoffman, a British London-based economist, is a former Vice Chair of the Zionist Federation. He served as an adviser to Labour Against Antisemitism. He blogs at On the Dark Side. His Twitter feed is @jhoffman1.

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