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The Citizen

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. However, Zeckhauser accused the student of being “too eager to extrapolate his empirical results to inferences for policy.”

Had former student Jason Richwine, Class of 2009, simply let the facts speak for themselves, Zeckhauser said, “[his work would] have a long run greater influence on policy.”

Professor George Borjas, one of three professors who approved the dissertation, agreed with Zeckhauser in the following e-mail to The Citizen. Kennedy School Dean David Ellwood also issued this repsonse.

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 the internal sites of the Kennedy School.

Jason Richwine

Jason Richwine

Melissa Threadgill, a Masters in Public Policy candidate at the Kennedy school, wrote, “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.” Listing the shortfalls of the study – such as flawed assumptions and failing to control for variables – she added, “I’m embarrassed this institution thought it worthy of a PhD.”

Fernando Berdion del Valle, also a Masters in Public Policy candidate, added, “I am a student at the Harvard Kennedy School. I am a son of two immigrants. I am Hispanic. And I am angry. 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. But mostly, I’m angered that the Harvard Kennedy School would allow such obviously shoddy scholarship to qualify for a degree.”

Even The Heritage Foundation (where Richwine is employed) sought to distance itself from the paper. In a statement published Monday, the right-of-center think tank wrote:

“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.”

Meanwhile, 23 student organizations at the Kennedy School have written a letter to the larger community condemning the dissertation, 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. 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.”

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.”

Calling the analysis ‘flawed’, the students responded that the “racist claims” in the dissertation “are as unfit for Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard University as a whole”

The letter continued, “Let us be clear that we believe in academic freedom as it is crucial to the functioning of a university. However, we also believe that 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.”