04 May 2010

Freedom of Speech at Harvard

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Last year, a third-year Harvard Law Student sent a private email to two friends, continuing a dinner-table conversation about the genetic basis of (and possible racial differences in) intelligence.

She said:

I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as white people under the same circumstances. The fact is, some things are genetic. African Americans tend to have darker skin. Irish people are more likely to have red hair. (Now on to the more controversial:) Women tend to perform less well in math due at least in part to prenatal levels of testosterone, which also account for variations in mathematics performance within genders. This suggests to me that some part of intelligence is genetic, just like identical twins raised apart tend to have very similar IQs and just like I think my babies will be geniuses and beautiful individuals whether I raise them or give them to an orphanage in Nigeria. I don’t think it is that controversial of an opinion to say I think it is at least possible that African Americans are less intelligent on a genetic level, and I didn’t mean to shy away from that opinion at dinner.

I also don’t think that there are no cultural differences or that cultural differences are not likely the most important sources of disparate test scores (statistically, the measurable ones like income do account for some raw differences). I would just like some scientific data to disprove the genetic position, and it is often hard given difficult to quantify cultural aspects.

This young woman ought to have gotten away scot-free with saying the unsayable and thinking the unthinkable in private, but more recently she reproached one of those two friends about sleeping with another person’s boyfriend. Her interlocutor promised “to ruin her life,” and proceeded on a program of revenge worthy of the Jacobean Theater.

The vengeful strumpet forwarded the six-month-old email to members of the Harvard Black Law Student Association, who were definitely not amused.

Someone then passed it along to the legal blog Above the Law. Gawker and HuffPo picked up the story, and soon it was everywhere.

TaxProf has collected links.

Before very long, the Dean of Harvard Law School, Martha Minow was issuing official statements assuring Black law students that “Here at Harvard Law School, we are committed to preventing degradation of any individual or group, including race-based insensitivity or hostility.”

The PC-criminal, an editor at the Harvard Law Review, had already received a clerkship with colorful Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski. Indignant demands that her clerkship should be rescinded followed.

But they teach young people well at today’s elite schools. When you blot your copybook, it is still possible to save yourself by performing the appropriate prostrations and affirming loudly that the sun does move around the earth. Look at Bill Clinton.

Our guilty student did the necessary thing, she wrote a thoroughly PC letter of apology, and took complete responsibility. (laugh)

Boston Globe:

“I am deeply sorry for the pain caused by my e-mail. I never intended to cause any harm, and I am heartbroken and devastated by the harm that has ensued. I would give anything to take it back,’’ [Name withheld by me] said in the apology, obtained by the Globe.

“I emphatically do not believe that African-Americans are genetically inferior in any way. I understand why my words expressing even a doubt in that regard were and are offensive.’’ …

In her statement yesterday, Minow called the incident “sad and unfortunate’’ but said she was heartened by the student’s apology. She added: “We seek to encourage freedom of expression, but freedom of speech should be accompanied by responsibility.’’

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UPDATE: May 4:

Jonathan David Farley, Harvard ’91, Ph.D. Oxford ’95, reiterates his demand that the young lady be expelled and expresses the opinion that Eugene Volokh (who argued against her expulsion) should never have been admitted to the United States.

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