Academic under investigation for ‘offensive tweets’ is cleared

An academic who was under investigation by Edinburgh University following student complaints about offensive tweets and biased marking has been cleared of any wrongdoing.
Dr Neil Thin spoke out about plans to rename David Hume Tower in Edinburgh.Dr Neil Thin spoke out about plans to rename David Hume Tower in Edinburgh.
Dr Neil Thin spoke out about plans to rename David Hume Tower in Edinburgh.

Social Anthropology academic Dr Neil Thin paused his teaching at the university for eight weeks during the investigation, over claims that he had discriminatory views. Students also claimed that he penalised those who challenged his views, allegedly circulating an online form to encourage other students to speak out about the lecturer.

Dr Thin previously spoke out about plans to rename the David Hume Tower due to its links to slavery. The Edinburgh tower was renamed 40 George Square last year in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. The tower was originally named after the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume, who was an alumnus of the university. In a footnote Hume provided for his essay, ‘Of National Characters' in 1753, he wrote that negroes were a “naturally inferior” race.

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The university has confirmed that the complaints had not been upheld, saying that it had a “responsibility” to investigate any complaints. Some of the students who posted on social media about Dr Thin were also investigated, but the complaints were also not upheld.

In some online comments about him, Dr Thin, 60, was branded a “rape apologist”, a “scumbag” and a “crusty old man”.

He said: “The university’s formal investigation into two complaint emails from students about me has after eight weeks concluded that the two allegations (offensive tweets and biased marking) must be dismissed.

"This is what I expected, but of course, it doesn’t immediately undo the massive damage to my reputation and to public trust in the university. It also still leaves unchallenged the defamatory online attacks which triggered the investigation.”

He added: “I agree with the findings of the investigation and will find its recommendations useful even though I’m not allowed to discuss specific contents.”

Dr Thin was one of a group of academics who put their names to a letter last year voicing a “strong objection” to the controversial move to rename an iconic building as 40 George Square in light of racist views held by the 18th century philosopher, branding the decision as “simplistic” and “not appropriate for a serious university.”

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The letter’s signatories include several of the university’s most respected academics, including Professor Sir Tom Devine, Scotland’s pre-eminent historian, Dr Michael Rosie, senior lecturer in sociology, Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy, and Jonathan Hearn, professor of political and historical sociology.

In it, they wrote that retaining the name of David Hume was an “educational opportunity” and said the university “should engage with figures like this in the round”, not by focusing narrowly on the flaws.

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“Hume’s views on race, which as many have said were common in his day, were nonetheless marginal to his body of ideas. No one would object to a public statement, such as signage on the building in question, recognising and criticising Hume’s racist views.

A statement from the university said: “While it is not appropriate for us to comment on specific details, we can confirm the complaints have not been upheld.

"When complaints are made, we have a responsibility to consider them seriously and if taken forward through our complaints process, to ensure all parties are heard and receive support.”

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