U. Delaware Reaches Accord On Race Studies

Professors hotly debated it, students protested it, and volumes of legal documents were drafted concerning it. But after nearly 2 1/2 years of turmoil, controversial race research at the University of Delaware will be allowed to continue. On April 29, the university's administration quietly reached a settlement of a labor grievance with two educational studies professors, allowing them to accept previously blocked funds for conducting research into the relationship between race and intelligen

Jul 6, 1992
Ron Kaufman
Professors hotly debated it, students protested it, and volumes of legal documents were drafted concerning it. But after nearly 2 1/2 years of turmoil, controversial race research at the University of Delaware will be allowed to continue.

On April 29, the university's administration quietly reached a settlement of a labor grievance with two educational studies professors, allowing them to accept previously blocked funds for conducting research into the relationship between race and intelligence.

"This whole ordeal has hurt them, hurt us, and hurt the institution. I hope that, with this settlement, we will put this behind us," says Linda Gottfredson, who, along with Jan Blits, will continue to receive money from the Pioneer Fund--a New York funding agency that many at the Newark campus believe was founded on a racist ideology.

The 45-year-old fund, whose charter proclaims its support of eugenics, has been accused of financing racist research and assisting anti-immigration lobbies (see story on page 6).

"Thank God for the Pioneer Fund," says J. Philippe Rushton, a developmental personality psychologist at the University of Western Ontario.

"There are precious few financial resources available for race research. Most big foundations have been scared off," says Rushton, whose controversial research focuses on the heritability of personality based on racial differences (The Scientist, May 14, 1990, page 17).

Rushton has been receiving Pioneer Fund money for almost six years. He says research exploring racial differences is only in its infancy, and so this small, New York City-based foundation remains the only place to obtain grants. Rushton says that when "political correctness" crosses over from the realm of organized discussion to inhibitory actions, such as a funding ban, all researchers should be concerned.

In August 1990, student protests over Rushton's theories led to his university's ordering his lectures to be viewed on videotape. Though university officials said they did it for safety reasons, a London, Ontario, court disagreed and ordered his classroom open to students.

The Pioneer Fund was established in 1937 as an independent, nonprofit foundation. The negative reaction to the fund by students and professors at the University of Delaware and here largely stems from the group's charter. The document states that grant consideration shall be given specifically to descendants of "persons who settled in the original thirteen states" to "conduct or aid [the] study and research into the problems of heredity and eugenics."

Eugenics, according to Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, is "a science that deals with the improvement (as by control of human mating) of hereditary qualities of a race or breed." Harry F. Weyher, president of the Pioneer Fund, claims, however, that the fund has never made a grant for eugenics research, and that attempts have never before been made by a university administration to block Pioneer Fund grants. He says his group is not racist. The language in the charter is offensive, according to Weyher, only because it was written 55 years ago and the foundation has "not bothered" to change it.

"All our grants are in human genetics and intelligence," he says, giving the example of Thomas Bouchard's widely cited twin study-- which showed surprising similarities between twins reared apart-- conducted at the University of Minnesota, of which the Pioneer Fund was one of the largest contributors.

The most famous example of controversial Pioneer Fund-supported research was the 1970s work by Nobel Prize-winning physicist William Shockley at Stanford University. Shockley claimed to be able to show that when the raw IQs of different races are compared, whites are generally smarter than blacks. Additionally, he has suggested that a program be devised to sterilize individuals with a low IQ.

Current research supported by the Pioneer Fund includes work by Arthur Jensen at the University of California, Berkeley, who is measuring racial intelligence by reaction time and evoked potential; Brunetto Chiarelli at the University of Florence, Italy, who is comparing mental and personality characteristics among two Italian populations; and Richard Lynn at the University of Ulster, Ireland, who is studying international patterns of intelligence and "brain drain" from particular areas.


The case is most unusual, says Jonathan Knight, associate secretary of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), who assisted the two Delaware professors in their fight for funding. This was perhaps the first time that "two faculty members could not obtain monies from an outside foundation for their research, not because the foundation had a history of withholding funds or bad administration, but [because] the views and values of the source were called into question," he says.

This is unacceptable to AAUP, Knight says, because if left unchecked, universities could start stamping out other areas of research for political, and not scientific, reasons.

"For example," he continues, "some research is being done with abortion. Right now, this is politically hot. There are people who believe that this is tantamount to complicity of murder, ergo, one could argue that the funding source must also be stopped.

"If you multiply this example out with all other controversial subjects and say that some research is unpalatable and must be stopped," he points out, "then this could create severe problems for all researchers."

Gottfredson and Blits have been doing two kinds of research. One involves efforts to identify the social and political consequences of what Gottfredson calls "well-established" individual and group differences in IQ, specific job-related skills, and other abilities.

The second, and more "politically incorrect," research, Gottfredson says, centers on the impact of race norming--the use of separate racial scoring curves for identical aptitude tests. In a race-norming procedure, which Blits says was used by the Department of Labor and some private businesses but is now outlawed by the 1991 Civil Rights Act, job applicants are compared only to others in their own ethnic group so as to equalize the results. The result, he claims, is the creation of a type of racial curve: "I remember in one instance, with identical scores, the white applicant scored around 50 percent and the black got well over 90 percent.

"The work we're doing on race norming is really in defense of the principles of Martin Luther King and civil rights," says Blits. "People should be judged on their merits without consideration of their race, creed, or color."

Not everyone at Delaware agrees with Blits. William Frawley, a linguistics professor, was one of the first voices on the campus to protest allowing Pioneer Fund money to flow.

"I wrote a letter to the president that said a direct conflict exists between the university's goals of equality and diversity, and the Pioneer Fund's history of supporting projects contrary to those goals," Frawley says.

He says the Pioneer Fund supports anti-immigration lobbies as well as "people [who] have been associated with white supremacist organizations."

Robert Taggart, an education studies professor and current president of the university's faculty senate, says the debate over the race research started out as a fight about the Pioneer Fund, but ended up putting the spotlight on Gottfredson and Blits's research.

In the process, he says, the education studies department was torn apart: "Some in the department insisted their research was terribly flawed--that the information was flawed. And some believe the Pioneer Fund was literally Nazi."

Though the specifics of the settlement, including any financial compensation, remain undisclosed, some terms were made public: Both professors will receive a paid one-year leave of absence (so, with a previously scheduled sabbatical next year, Gottfredson will not begin teaching again until fall 1995); the University of Delaware imprimatur will now be allowed on all research articles written by the pair; and the Pioneer Fund grant is reinstated.

Gottfredson claims that the underlying reason for the settlement was that "the evidence showed they [the university administration] would look bad in court."

While acknowledging a need to respect the two professors' academic freedom, Keith Booker, president of the Wilmington, Del., chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, says that "this research is being done in the name of white supremacy." He says the Pioneer Fund supports only research that "tends to come out with results that further the division between races...by justifying the superiority of one race and the inferiority of another."

The campus tumult climaxed on April 30, 1990, when then- University of Delaware president E.A. Trabant ordered, on his last day before retirement, a ban on all Pioneer Fund endowments. Trabant's action was taken after the university's faculty senate research committee, which was directed by the president to report to him and not the full faculty senate, recommended a ban in early April.

Taggart says the president's commandeering of the research committee was not a popular move because the faculty senate was never given a chance to discuss the ban or its consequences. Early in the dispute, he says, issues of academic freedom became paramount: "Gottfredson insisted the research committee looked at the nature of her research [when making their recommendation], and the committee said they only looked at the Pioneer Fund...But in the end you had two opposite sides screaming at each other. And the university clearly faced a major problem."

The funding ban was seen by the two researchers and the AAUP as a direct violation of the faculty's collective bargaining agreement with the university, which guarantees tenured professors the right to academic freedom.

Gottfredson and Blits filed a grievance under the faculty union's contract to dispute the legality of the funding ban.