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Oxford University racist email

Oxford Uni offers students support but no update on any action against Professor Bostrom

The philosophy faculty will also host a racial equity meeting with students later this term


Oxford Univeristy’s faculty of philosophy has reached out to students to offer them welfare support following the unearthing of a historic email sent by ethics professor, Nick Bostrom, in which he argued: “Blacks are more stupid than whites.”

In an email sent to current philosophy students and graduates, Professor Ursula Coope said she was “appalled and upset” to read Professor Bostrom’s remarks, telling students the philosophy department is committed to working on antiracism and will host a meeting with students later this term to improve racial equity and inclusion within the faculty.

The chair of the philosophy faculty board added: “While the faculty has the utmost respect for academic freedom of speech, we expect all students and faculty members to meet certain standards of behaviour. There is no room for hate speech in our community.”

However, despite the faculty’s condemnation of Professor Bostrom’s “abhorrent language”, the email sent to student provides no update on any action being taken against the senior academic.

A screenshot of the email sent to faculty members and graduate students

Professor Bostrom’s comments came to light last week after he published a pre-emptive apology on his website, after he had heard rumours the email was going to be leaked.

He decided to republish the historic email in full as he otherwise feared extracts of the “most offensive stuff” would be taken out of context and “maliciously framed” in “smear campaigns” against him.

In his 1996 email, he wrote: “I have always liked the uncompromisingly objective way of thinking and speaking: the more counterintuitive and repugnant a formulation, the more it appeals to me given that it is logically correct. Take for example the following sentence: Blacks are more stupid than whites.

“I like that sentence and think it is true. But recently I have begun to believe that I won’t have much success with most people if I speak like that. They would think that I were a ‘racist’: that I disliked black people and thought that is is fair if blacks are treated badly. I don’t.

“It’s just that based on what I have read, I think it is probable that black people have a lower average IQ than mankind in general, and I think that IQ is highly correlated with what we normally mean by ‘smart’ and ‘stupid’.

“It’s just that based on what I have read, I think it is probable that black people have a lower average IQ than mankind in general, and I think that IQ is highly correlated with what we normally mean by ‘smart’ and ‘stupid’.

“My point is that while speaking with the provocativeness of unashamed objectivity would be appreciated by me and many others in this list, it may be a less effective strategy in communicating with some of the people ‘out there’.

“I think it is laudable if you accustom people to the offensiveness of truth, but be prepared that you may suffer some personal damage.”

Professor Bostrom said he “immediately” apologised for writing the email at the time and had deleted it within 24 hours. In last week’s apology published on his website, he said he “repudiates this disgusting email”, adding whilst “provocative communication styles have a place”, it should not have been “like this!”.

Despite this, he did not completely denounce his comments about relative IQ in his apology. “I think it is deeply unfair that unequal access to education, nutrients, and basic healthcare leads to inequality in social outcomes, including sometimes disparities in skills and cognitive capacity,” he said.

The University of Oxford told The Oxford Tab last Thursday it had opened an investigation into Professor Bostrom’s comments. Four days later, it has not provided any further update on the outcome of this investigation.

The Oxford Future of Humanity Institute, of which the Swedish philosopher is director, has refused to be drawn into whether it will take any action against the academic, instead referring The Oxford Tab back to the university’s statement.

A spokesperson for the University of Oxford said: “The University and Faculty of Philosophy is currently investigating the matter but condemns in the strongest terms possible the views this particular academic expressed in his communications.

“Neither the content nor language are in line with our strong commitment to diversity and equality.”

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