News, Culture & Society

University lecturer, 73, is sacked after telling colleague ‘positive stereotypes’

A university lecturer was sacked after claiming ‘Jewish people are the cleverest in the world’ and ‘Germans are good engineers’.

Stephen Lamonby claimed his comments were not racist or offensive because he was using ‘positive stereotypes’.

The 73-year-old also said he ‘had a soft spot’ for young black men because they are underprivileged as ‘many are without fathers’ and so ‘need all the help they can get’.

An employment tribunal heard the controversial remarks were made during a meeting with Dr Janet Bonar, his course leader at Solent University in Southampton, Hants.

The pair were talking in the the university canteen in March 2019, when Mr Lamonby, an engineer, told her that in his experience people from different countries had become good at certain things due to ‘high exposure’.

Following the ruling, Mr Lamonby said he would be appealing, claiming he was a victim of a ‘woke’ culture and that universities are ‘totally obsessed with racism’.

He said: ‘I think the judgement came down to the fact the judge was a woke judge.’

Stephen Lamonby made the controversial remarks during a meeting with Dr Janet Bonar

Solent University lecturer Stephen Lamonby claimed that 'Germans are good at engineering', among other stereotypes

Solent University lecturer Stephen Lamonby claimed that ‘Germans are good at engineering’, among other stereotypes

He added: ‘You can’t make any comments [in universities] now because they are totally obsessed with racism and to talk about Jews in the context of racism is crazy because they are not even a race, they are an ethnicity.

‘Free speech is totally dead in universities.’

He added: ‘It was one of those off the cuff remarks and I know these days people are worried about Muslim terrorists so perhaps I should not have said it.’

Mr Lamonby, who had worked at Solent as a part-time associate lecturer for six years, claimed that ‘Germans are good at engineering’ because they are ‘exposed to a high level of industry from an early stage in their lives’.

He also said: ‘I have a soft spot for young black males. I do think that they are underprivileged and many [are] without fathers etc. need all the help they can get.’

During their discussion, Dr Bonar, an engineering lecturer, mentioned she had a degree in physics and Lamonby reacted by saying Jewish people had ‘a particular gift’ for the subject.

He used Einstein as an example and then asked Dr Bonar if she was Jewish. The lecturer took offence to this and shouted that Mr Lamonby was a racist.

In response, he said: ‘I believe that the Jewish are the cleverest people in the world. They are much maligned because of it.

‘I asked if you were Jewish because of your ability with maths/physics etc. Which is a speciality of theirs.’

Mr Lamonby claimed Dr Bonar ‘flew into a rage, threw chairs about, shouting abuse at me and stormed out’.

However, under cross examination, he amended his account and said: ‘I did say temper, but didn’t mean throwing chairs, but shoving chairs, but don’t see that as relevant.’ 

A few hours later Dr Bonar emailed Mr Lamonby and said that in future perhaps it would be better if conversations they had were focused on their studies, rather than their ‘widely different views on race and national characteristics.’

He replied angrily saying he was ‘not used to being smacked down like a schoolboy’ and called a racist.

After an investigation was launched, Mr Lamonby defended his comments again and gave another example of ‘high exposure’ – Eskimos being good at fishing.

He claimed he was ‘shocked’ by Dr Bonar’s reaction and said: ‘My comments were simply stating that, arising from my lifetime of experience, I have come to believe that certain nationalities have developed a higher level of skill in some areas.

‘This is directly related to the level of exposure to criteria such as industry and education. This is not radical thinking; it is simply a view that reflects environmental privilege in general terms.’

During a final disciplinary hearing he eventually admitted he had ‘been clumsy’ in his language and ‘apologised profoundly’ saying he had no intention of being racist.

Despite this, he continued to make ‘inappropriate’ comments during the hearing, referring to ethnic groups as ‘they’ and to Jews having ‘neurological differences’

Vice Chancellor Julie Hall, who chaired the hearing, said Mr Lamonby did not understand that what he had said was offensive. He was dismissed for gross misconduct.

The tribunal, which was held in Bristol, concluded that the university had a duty to its ‘multi-cultural, predominantly young student body’ to protect them from potential acts of racism and dismissed his claims of unfair dismissal and breach of contract.

Judge C H O’Rourke said: ‘For the avoidance of doubt, 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…

‘While Mr Lamonby sought to argue that his stereotyping (which it was) was positive, such ‘positivity’ is nonetheless potentially offensive to the recipient.

‘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.

‘Secondly, it could also be simply grossly offensive, as the person may not actually be Jewish, but feel some characteristic is being ascribed to them.

‘Thirdly, even if they are Jewish, they may quite properly consider it none of Mr Lamonby’s business.’