The St Edmund's combination room called an emergency meeting on 25th November, which saw an unprecedented turnoutSimon Lock

Before an open letter opposing the appointment of Dr Noah Carl, a researcher with a background in eugenics work, to a research fellowship by St Edmund’s college made national headlines, students at the college pushed for an investigation. It started with a passing comment one student heard at an academic conference in late November. “Which college are you at?” “St Edmund’s.” “Oh, the college with the eugenics researcher?”

One student said, “While [the narrative] is predictably framed as senior academics ‘mobbing’ a junior academic, it was, in fact, students at St Edmund’s who first blew the whistle and held him accountable to both the academy and the community”.

Varsity has spoken to five students at the college on the condition of anonymity about their communications with college administrators, and a sense of shame for St. Edmund’s. “We’re very embarrassed to be associated with this work and research,” one said.

One student has decided they will return the funding they were recently awarded by the college after hearing of Carl’s appointment, to avoid having any association with the college in their published work. A condition of the funding had been that they acknowledge the college in their publications.

“People were talking in the hallways”

“St Edmund’s...  was founded in dire times for Catholics in this country. It is depressing to think that this college, with this history, is now enabling hate-speech against and oppression of minorities,” they said.

Others are considering disaffiliation from the college. One student said: “we cannot afford to be associated with eugenics or pseudoscientific race-realism.”

Taking the issue public had been a last resort. “None of us wanted to give Dr. Carl’s writing a platform by voicing our concerns publicly in the media,” one student said. Yet after attempts to engage with college administrators who they felt were not acting fast enough, some members decided to approach other academics in the University. It culminated in the publication of an open letter picked up by national papers last Friday.

The student who first caught wind of Carl’s appointment approached the combination room – the college’s equivalent of a student union. They looked into Carl’s public papers and conference attendances. One student described their surprise with the appointment: “How was this person even appointed in this college, to the most prestigious junior research fellowship?”

The combination room called an emergency meeting on 25th November, which saw an unprecedented turnout. “It was packed,” one student said.

In the meeting they decided to write to the college’s fellowship describing the situation and calling for an investigation into Carl’s appointment. An open letter was circulated and garnered over 200 signatories. “People were talking in the hallways.”

The letter called on the college’s fellowship to confirm if Carl’s appointing panel had known about his participation in the London Conference on Intelligence, a controversial conference on race intelligence and eugenics secretly held on the University College London (UCL) campus. The conference has previously hosted psychologist Richard Lynn, who the Southern Poverty Law Centre, an organisation which monitors extremists and hate groups, describes as an “unapologetic eugenicist” and a “favorite among white supremacists”, citing Lynn’s contributions to “several white supremacist journals”.

“We worry especially that his candidature was made without full disclosures”

“The appointment of Noah Carl comes to us as indefensible. It is inconsistent with our ideas of inclusivity and diversity, and with the standards of academic rigour that St Edmund’s College stands for,” students wrote. “Not only is his work methodologically flawed but also promotes an openly racist belief system that is highly offensive to our student body.

“This type of reasoning is out-dated and stands in opposition to a strong consensus in the social-scientific community that race is a social construct.

“We wonder if the fellowship of the college was aware of many controversial aspects of Carl’s work – and worry especially that his candidature was made without full disclosures.”

In full: St Edmund’s students’ letter to the college fellowship

The Toby Jackman Newton Trust Fellowship is awarded to a scholar in the Humanities and Social Sciences based on academic merit, distinction in research and strong ethical codes consistent with the values of St Edmund’s College as a research institution. The appointment of Noah Carl as Toby Jackman Newton Trust Research Fellow has come to the students as a shock, as his academic publications are firmly associated with the discredited and eugenicist ‘race and intelligence’ research. Not only is his work methodologically flawed but also promotes an open ly racist belief system that is highly offensive to our student body. It surprises us that Noah Carl was awarded this fellowship on the back of his participation at the London Conference on Intelligence, which is now a subject of investigation at many levels, including at UCL where it was hosted. St Edmund’s College must unequivocally condemn any association with eugenics research – it needs no reminding that eugenics research is invariably pseudoscientific and often aimed at propagandist rhetoric.

We wonder if the fellowship of the college was aware of many controversial aspects of Carl’s work — and worry especially that his candidature was made without full disclosures. In one of his publications, ‘How Stifling Debate Around Race, Genes and IQ Can Do Harm’ (2018), Carl argues in favour of reconsidering theories that link people's genetic-racial makeup to their cognitive abilities. This is not a harmless suggestion. It implies that there might be an essential hierarchy between people along racial lines, for instance, between black and white people – a hierarchy that is not based on structural factors such as access to education but on their bodies and genetic make-up. He argues that since human populations differ in genetic factors like height, weight, bone density and resistance to disease – the scientific community should be open to the idea that people of colour may be less intelligent than Europeans due to their genetic make-up. This type of reasoning is out-dated and stands in opposition to a strong consensus in the social-scientific community that race is a social construct. This kind of research is also offensive to many communities around the world that are witness to the enduring effects of material violence done to them on the backs of racist-eugenicist scientific research.

In Carl’s own words, racism is “morally wrong, not to deny the possibility of certain scientific discoveries” – this is an outstandingly shocking claim. Racism as ‘moral wrong’ but ‘scientific intrigue’ is the very original logic of racism. There is nothing revolutionary about chasing scientific ground to grade and rank people on fictional methodologies of intelligence (IQ points) and along race, gender, ethnicity, nationality or religion. On the other hand, the usefulness of this ‘hereditarianist’ discourse to fascism, white supremacy and sexism is extremely well known and established. It does not surprise us that much of his work is published via OpenPsych, a curated community of scholars who wish to continue eugenicist research by evading University standards of blind peer-review. It is through OpenPsych that Carl maintains an academic relationship with Emile Kirkegaard, a controversial figure described in The Guardian as “a child rape apologist”. One indisputably Islamophobic paper that they have co-authored on the relationship between Muslim immigrants and criminality has been cited by various extremist media groups, including Infowars, The Daily Caller and Free West Media under headings like “study validates prejudice”. To think St Edmund’s College must bear any affiliation to the rhetoric of hate that these media groups propound is shuddering.

Moreover, the appointment also comes at a time when St Edmunds college has been challenged in national media over not admitting enough black students. It will not be difficult for the public to draw correlation between the appointment of Noah Carl and poor representation of minority students for which the college was earlier in news. St Edmunds is a diverse community of scholars, many of whom are from religious and ethnic minorities that Carl believe are ‘less intelligent’ or ‘more prone to violence’ due to their genetic make-up. We are extremely worried that minority students may be taught by an academic who believes that they may be less intelligent based on their skin colour or religion. In fact, the appointment has already instilled a sense of discomfort among many students, with some reporting that they are distraught by his presence in common spaces.

The appointment of Noah Carl comes to us as indefensible. It is inconsistent with our ideas of inclusivity and diversity, and with the standards of academic rigour that St Edmund’s College stands for. The appointment has also peaked our interest in the vetting procedures at play during key appointments within the college fellowship. As concerned members, we urge the college fellowship to issue a written response to the matters raised above, and especially on whether his participation at London Conference on Intelligence was known to the appointing panel.

Click to show

Later that week, in a meeting with the college council – its secondary decision-making body – student representatives from the combination room read out the open letter.

The college’s Master, Matthew Bullock, responded with two emails sent to all students in the college. The first, dated November 30th, confirmed the college had “set in motion a process to work through the issues and respond properly”. The second, sent on December 5th, outlined the process of investigation into complaints raised about Carl, and about his appointment process separately. Stories appeared in the national media the day after.

In full: The Master’s first email

At the Council meeting on Monday night, the CR President and Vice-President relayed students' concerns about the views and appointment of Dr Noah Carl as the Toby Jackman Stipendiary Research Fellow, by reading out their open letter. I am writing to confirm that, having received your complaint and concerns in full, I and the College Council have set in motion a process to work through the issues and respond properly.

This may take a little time because we are dealing with complex matters concerning academic freedom and employment law. We do, however, acknowledge the impact of controversial views on the well-being of students, many of whom are from diverse backgrounds, and I would like to assure the CR that the College takes your complaint and concerns very seriously and that we will work with you to ensure that everyone who belongs to the College can feel safe, valued, and supported. Any student who feels personally affected is encouraged to speak to their tutor or to the Senior Tutor.

The CR President and Vice-President subsequently invited me to attend a meeting with all students on Sunday afternoon, to which they have further invited all Fellows. As a review process has begun, I have received legal advice that attendance by College Officers speaking on behalf of the College could be seen to be prejudicing the review and could lay us open to legal challenges. I have therefore declined to attend this meeting. However, I have passed on their invitation to Fellows and if those with pastoral interests feel it would be helpful to attend, then they are entirely free to do so.

I hope we can consider these complex issues in a collegial, calm and rational manner, using due process. However, we are also concerned to make all members of St Edmund's feel safe, valued and supported, and we take everyone's concerns seriously.

Click to show

In full: The Master’s second email, outlining the investigation process

Following recent communications in which your complaints have been communicated to the College Council in relation to the above individual and also in relation to the way in which his appointment was handled, I am now in a position to let you know how the College proposes to handle those complaints.

I trust this will reassure all members of the Combination Room that the College takes seriously all its obligations in respect of the matters raised by these complaints as well as the proper exercise of its duties of care; both to the full student cohort of the College and to any individual who is the subject of such complaints. It has been necessary for us to consider fully what the appropriate procedures are to follow to ensure an independent, objective, fair and transparent investigation of the complaints.

The complaints against the JRF will be investigated through our established internal HR procedures. We shall convene an investigation panel comprising three senior Fellows with no prior direct involvement in the matter. The CR will be provided with an opportunity to make representations to the investigation panel and, of course, the JRF will be afforded the proper opportunity to respond to the complaints. In terms of procedure, an investigation into complaints is not disciplinary in nature. It does not preclude future disciplinary action in the event that becomes appropriate.

The complaints raised by the CR about the appointment process will be handled through the grievance procedure set out in the College’s Statute E. Again, to ensure independence, objectivity, fairness and transparency in relation to complaints involving Senior Officers and Fellows of the College, we will appoint an external grievance committee to consider the complaints. The grievance committee will comprise senior members of the academic staff from other Colleges. It will be chaired by a member of the University’s law faculty or a lawyer of good standing with relevant experience. The grievance committee procedure will provide all relevant parties with the opportunity to make representations in relation to the allegations raised by the complaints. This will include the CR.

In view of the fact that I am one of the individuals who is a subject of the complaints about the appointment process, I am withdrawing from all further involvement in these matters. I have asked the Bursar to oversee both procedures with support and advice, as appropriate, from the College’s legal adviser. The Bursar will liaise with the CR about the next steps and the preparation of your representations to both investigations.

Complaints of the nature that have been raised inevitably risk causing harm to the Collegiate community and to the values that are at the heart of our College culture. We all have a part to play in managing that risk to uphold our joint values. I ask that we give due respect to those conducting the investigations I have explained above and enable them to proceed with their enquiries in a spirit of mutual cooperation.

In the meantime, additional pastoral support is also available for any member of the College who feels that this would be of assistance to them. This can be accessed from your tutor in the first instance.

Click to show

Now, they await the college’s response to their complaint. The open letter they wrote to the college fellowship has been pinned on the wall of the combination room’s meeting room. In a statement last week, a spokesperson for the college said: “The College is looking into the complaints it has received. Once the full facts are gathered, appropriate action will be taken.” In the meantime, many have been watching conversations unfolding online, especially Twitter, since the college made national headlines.

The college master, Matthew Bullock, did not respond to Varsity’s request for comment on the current situation within the college.

“It’s a purely academic discourse, we get it – but we don’t have social sciences without everyday experiences and its repercussions”

Debates continue in the college about Carl’s research. Opinions vary; some believe the issue is one of free speech, like conservative and libertarian intellectuals who pushed back against the academics’ open letter last week, arguing that it was an issue of academic freedom. A recent editorial in online magazine Quillette framed the open letter demands as an “academic mobbing” of Dr Carl.

Many others disagree. One student said: “He has a platform. He has a solid platform to speak – he’s published 33 papers. He has been able to speak all his life.”


Mountain View

The Prevent Duty undermines the very notions upon which universities were first built

A student recounted a discussion with another member of the college, who pointed out: “Don’t think the platforms are equal right now. There are certain people with better platforms than others … The people who don’t have a chance to speak are the people who have been victims of racism, or who have endured racism as their daily reality.

“It’s a purely academic discourse – we get it – but we don’t have social sciences without everyday experiences and its repercussions, so the experiences of people who face everyday realities cannot be completely detached from this. The research cannot be completely in a vacuum.”

“Race science is illegitimate not because it is a taboo but because the correlation between intelligence and race is non-existent,” said another student. “Each of these categories is ambiguous and has a long tradition of critical academic discussion; correlating them as if they were value neutral is pseudoscientific.”

Yet another said: “I applied to this College because it is the most international and diverse college on campus, but now I wish I knew better.”

  • Updated Friday, 14th December: This article was corrected to remove an inaccurate quote that St Edmund’s is a Catholic college. It was founded as such, but is at present non-denominational.