Those Delicate Jesuit Sensibilities

Laura Vozzella, Baltimore Sun, November 12, 2008

An economics professor from Loyola University in New Orleans traveled to Baltimore’s Loyola last week to give a lecture, and everybody’s been apologizing ever since.

Everybody, that is, but the professor, Walter Block, who chalks up the flap to political correctness.

Block said he knew he’d step on toes, since, by his account, he started off with a bit about how the Jesuit order has been “hijacked by a bunch of Marxists and liberation theologians.”

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The various apologies issued around campus—one from the college’s economics department, another from President Brian Linnane—were offered not to allegedly lefty priests, but to women and African-Americans.

“Professor Block’s response to a question about the differences between average earnings of African-Americans and whites in America, which maintained that the disparity could be explained by differences in average productivity, was offensive, and we are sincerely sorry for it,” read a letter from the economics faculty and the Adam Smith Society.

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College officials have declined to elaborate on just what Block said. Apparently it was so offensive that they can’t even bear to say why they’re offended.

But on the phone with me, Block filled in the hot-button blank: “Sociobiology.”

He said he’d told the audience that differences in IQ might account for why blacks and women earn about 30 percent less than their white, male counterparts.

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Block said there’s research to back up that theory, noting the controversial book The Bell Curve. He offered a little consolation for women, saying they aggregate in the middle of the IQ scale, while men are the outliers. That’s why, he said, men dominate the ranks of both prisoners and Nobel laureates. “Nobel Prize winners in hard sciences,” he added, “not the wussy stuff like poetry.”

Block said no one pulled him aside after the lecture to express dismay. He said he’d gotten applause. But days later, a student forwarded the e-mailed apology from President Linnane.

“We are a Jesuit institution, and as such, a respect for diversity is one of our defining values,” it said.

Said Block: “They respect diversity but not diversity of opinion.”

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