Martha Minow, Dean of Harvard Law School, has put another PC nail in the coffin of free speech at that august institution, alma mater of our president.
The topic? A private email sent by third year Harvard Law student Stephanie Grace to two friends, in which she wrote:
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.
One of the recipients of Grace’s note “arranged for the email to be sent out to the Harvard Black Law Student Association list-serv, including [her] name and the fact that after graduation, the author will be doing a federal clerkship.” The BLSA, up in arms, went to HLS authorities, and Dean Minow sprung into action, stating:
“Here at Harvard Law School, we are committed to preventing degradation of any individual or group, including race-based insensitivity or hostility’’…
Minow said she had met with leaders of Harvard’s Black Law Students Association on Wednesday to discuss the hurt caused by Grace’s e-mail….
As often is the case with PC campaigns against certain kinds of speech, it’s about the fact that the members of the BLSA were “hurt.” I have no doubt they were, but all Grace did was to speculate about a possible genetic cause for a phenomenon that is statistically demonstrable—the same as Larry Summers did about a similar circumstance related to women in the highest reaches of science.
Here’s the full text of Minow’s statement. Note that it begins with the following sentence:
I am writing this morning to address an email message in which one of our students suggested that black people are genetically inferior to white people.
In law school, one of the first tasks a student learns is to summarize the facts of the case. If I were a professor at Harvard Law and Minow was my student, I’d give her an “F” for that response. But that’s the sort of thing that passes for intellectual honesty at Harvard Law these days.
Minow goes on to state of Harvard Law that, “This is a community dedicated to intellectual pursuit and social justice.” I would humbly submit that not only is the latter a “progressive” buzzword that indicates Minow sees HLS’s mission as a leftist one, but that the two efforts are sometimes in opposition to each other.
To me, Minow’s official reaction is more disturbing than any speculation in which an HLS student engaged in a supposedly private email. But Ms. Grace has now made her public mea culpas, showing that she’s been sufficiently re-educated to take her place as a good soldier in the Harvard PC brigade:
I am heartbroken and devastated by the harm that has ensued. I would give anything to take it back…I understand why my words expressing even a doubt [that African-Americans are genetically inferior] were and are offensive.
As for me, I don’t happen to think that African Americans are genetically inferior in this arena. But I do think that banning speculation and/or research into the question is both intellectually dishonest and an affront to liberty. And I also believe that public excoriation of the private remarks of a student is a dangerous and very slippery slope—and that we’ve already slid at least halfway down that slope, with no end in sight.
[NOTE: As I noted, a related matter is the case of Larry Summers, who was forced to leave Harvard after his non-PC remarks about research into the paucity of women at high levels of science. I called one of my posts on that subject “Harvard in peril,” and I see no reason to retract that observation now. Other posts of mine on the subject are this and this.]
[ADDENDUM: Ann Althouse offers further reflections.]