Professors defend student dissertation on immigrant IQs


By Chrissie Long, Staff Writer

Responding to criticism of a dissertation written by a former PhD student on the IQs of immigrants, Harvard Kennedy School Professor Richard Zeckhauser defended the thesis, saying the “empirical work was careful.”

“None of his advisors would have accepted his thesis had he thought that his empirical work was tilted or in error,” said Zeckhauser, an economist and long-time professor at the Kennedy School.

The thesis was reviewed by a committee made up of “three highly respected and discerning faculty members who come from diverse intellectual traditions,” according to a statement by Kennedy School Dean David Ellwood.

In an e-mail to The Citizen, Professor George Borjas, one of three professors who approved the dissertation, echoed Zeckhauser’s claim.

However, had former student Jason Richwine, Class of 2009, simply let the facts speak for themselves, Richwine’s work would ”have a long run greater influence on policy,” Zeckhauser said.

Instead, Richwine might have been “too eager to extrapolate his empirical results to inferences for policy,” Zekhauser added.

The paper — which recently surfaced as a means to discredit the author’s employer, The Heritage Foundation, in the immigration hearings — set off a firestorm of comments on media web sites, as well as in internal sites of the Kennedy School.

In his dissertation, Richwine claims that “immigrants are not as intelligent on average as white natives” and that “the difference is likely to persist over several generations.”

However, as the controversy attracted public attention, even the Heritage Foundation sought to distance itself from the paper.

“The Harvard paper is not a work product of The Heritage Foundation. Its findings do not reflect the positions of The Heritage Foundation or the conclusions of our study on the cost of amnesty to U.S. taxpayers, as race and ethnicity are not part of Heritage immigration policy recommendations,” the right-leaning think tank wrote in a statement published this past May.

In addition, 23 student organizations at the Kennedy School wrote a letter to the larger community condemning the dissertation and asking for a response from the administration for the paper’s “disturbing claims.”

“In any healthy democracy there is always disagreement, but such plain racism cannot and must not be tolerated,” the letter stated.

Calling the analysis ‘flawed’, the student organizations state that they believe “putting forth claims of racial superiority based on inherent genetic advantage to be on par with those who have used pseudo-science throughout history to justify state-based hate.”

“Even if such claims had merit, the Kennedy School cannot ethically stand by this dissertation whose end result can only be furthering discrimination under the guise of academic discourse,” the letter added.

“If you’re going to make policy suggestions that would have a dramatic impact on the lives of real people, your analysis had better be rock-solid,” Melissa Threadgill, a Masters in Public Policy candidate at the Kennedy School, wrote.

Listing the shortfalls of the study – such as flawed assumptions and failing to control for variables – Threadgil added, “I’m embarrassed this institution thought it worthy of a PhD.”

The thesis also elicited a negative reaction from Fernando Berdion del Valle, also a Masters in Public Policy candidate.

“I am a student at the Harvard Kennedy School. I am a son of two immigrants. I am Hispanic. And I am angry,” del Valle said.

“I am angry that someone, despite many years of undergraduate and post-graduate education, would devote his dissertation to the idea that: ‘Immigrants living in the U.S. today do not have the same level of cognitive ability as natives.’ I am angry that my former economics professor would chair this dissertation and approve it,” del Valle said.

“But mostly,” del Valle added, “I’m angered that the Harvard Kennedy School would allow such obviously shoddy scholarship to qualify for a degree.”

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