An East Bay Professor Is Teaching Racist Theories on Intelligence. Students and Faculty Want Him Out
Jason Fagone, San Francisco Chronicle, October 31, 2020
An economics professor at one of California’s most diverse public universities has for years taught a fringe theory that race influences intelligence, claiming that certain Black and Hispanic ethnic groups are less intelligent on average than white Europeans and Northeast Asians.
Complaints about Gregory Christainsen, a white professor emeritus at Cal State East Bay, bubbled up at a Board of Trustees meeting for the college system conducted via livestream video on Thursday. Three professors and three students aired concerns about Christainsen’s work, as well as the impact on students and faculty of color.
Christainsen “asserts in his work that people of sub-Saharan African descent, people like me and many of our students, have significantly lower IQs than any other ethnicity,” Pascale Guiton, a Cal State East Bay assistant professor of biology originally from the Ivory Coast said during the meeting. “It is appalling and scary to know that he and others like him get to teach and evaluate Black students and Black faculty.”
Meanwhile, a group of students posted an online petition calling on the university to “put an end to institutionalized racism starting with the termination of (Christainsen’s) emeritus status.” As of Friday morning, the petition had more than 900 signatures.
Alerted to the comments and the petition Thursday afternoon, Christiansen defended his intelligence research as legitimate and accurate, saying it has been published in respected peer-reviewed journals and that critics are trying to censor him.
In several emailed statements to The Chronicle, Christainsen described his work as uncontroversial, falling within the mainstream of contemporary intelligence research. He said he welcomes debate and that students upset with his papers or his teaching “constitute a highly unrepresentative sub-sub-sample of the more than 10,000 students I have taught.”
Specifically, while referencing the work of others or his own research, Christainsen has written that “the average level of intelligence in sub-Saharan Africa is quite low,” that African American women are overpaid “relative to their cognitive ability,” that brain size varies along racial lines and IQ is linked to brain size, and that “people should face issues of eugenics and dysgenics more forthrightly than has recently been the case.”
Christainsen formally retired from the university in 2016 but has continued to teach economics and management courses on a part-time basis. This semester, according to the university, he is teaching three classes: “Principles of Macroeconomics,” “Introduction to Urban Economics” and “Managerial Economics and Business Strategy.” Emeritus faculty retain many university privileges and the option to teach again in the future.
Asked about the criticisms of Christainsen made at Thursday’s meeting and the student petition, a university spokesperson said, “The statements and views expressed by this faculty member are antithetical to the core values of Cal State East Bay, which is committed to maintaining an inclusive community that values diversity and fosters tolerance and mutual respect.”
But the university also defended Christainsen on academic freedom grounds.
“It is important to note, however, that as a public institution of higher education, we are bound to uphold First Amendment guarantees of free thought and speech, including when — and in fact especially when — we strongly disagree with and find repulsive the viewpoints offered, as long as the expression is lawful and comports with our campus time, place, and manner policies,” the Cal State East Bay statement continued.
The speakers paraphrased from his academic papers and from a lengthy interview with Christainsen that appeared on the white nationalist website American Renaissance in late September. American Renaissance is published by an organization that is designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Christainsen told The Chronicle he was not aware that the interview, conducted by a freelancer, would be published there, and it has since been removed.
“I would have said the same things in an interview with The Nation, Mother Jones, or The Huffington Post,” Christainsen told The Chronicle. “I certainly am not a ‘white nationalist,’ and in the interview I said that the evidence does not at all support ‘white supremacism.’ I am a classical liberal in the spirit of John Locke.”
The speakers also asked the incoming Cal State East Bay president, Cathy Sandeen, whose appointment was announced during the meeting, how she planned to fight racism on campus, pointing to broader obstacles faced by Black students and teachers.
An economist within Christainsen’s department, Christian Roesssler, said there is “a difference between academic freedom and academic malpractice. Citing and interpreting statistics selectively to align with personal biases is expression, but it’s not academic expression.” Nina Haft, professor of dance, said such biases “undermine our Black students and create barriers to their success.”
The faculty speakers were followed by three students who demanded that Christainsen’s emeritus status be revoked.
Christainsen and other researchers who identify as “race realists” argue that race and IQ are biological realities, not merely social or cultural constructs, and cite genetic studies performed in the last decade to bolster their case. And they say their work holds lessons for public policy: If intelligence can’t necessarily be altered, some forms of social spending are bound to be ineffective and some types of racial discrimination may be rational.