He was stunned by what he read.
The Genealogical Eugenic Institute Fund, the email said, supports research and education in eugenics — a field discredited after World War II as a horrifying ideology that sought to use science to improve the human race by promoting traits deemed superior and breeding out those judged undesirable. The judgments aligned strongly with social biases that favored white, able-bodied and financially stable people.
Eugenics was used as a justification for Hitler’s Nazi Germany to kill 6 million Jewish people, and U.S. authorities to forcibly sterilize more than 60,000 people in California and more than 30 other states largely in the early 20th century.
But Berkeley’s eugenic research fund has been very much active.
The $2.4-million fund was offering an annual payout of about $70,000 in fiscal year 2020 to support research and education on policies, practices and technologies that could “affect the distribution of traits in the human race,” including those related to family planning, infertility, assisted reproduction technologies, prenatal screening, abortion, gene editing and gene modification, the email said. That “modern definition of eugenics” included “perspectives that shed light on not only the benefits but also the limitations and the ethics of these alternative approaches to improving the human race.”
“I was shocked and dismayed,” Obasogie told the Los Angeles Times. He, along with a small group of faculty, raised their concerns with the email’s author, a former senior administrator.
Those alarm bells prompted the school to freeze the fund and launch a review into how the university could have accepted such a gift in its modern past — it came from a family trust to the University of California Board of Regents in 1975 — for research under the banner of a now-reviled ideology.
On Monday, School of Public Health Dean Michael C. Lu disclosed the existence of the fund to the wider school faculty. Lu, who took the school’s helm in July 2019, has asked for feedback on renaming and repurposing the fund, along with potential actions such as a public apology and a public education project on eugenics across UC campuses.
No evidence has yet surfaced that Berkeley used the money for eugenic research. Instead, it funded a genetic counseling training program, among other uses. But that does not absolve the school, Lu said.
“By accepting and using these funds over the past four decades, we must acknowledge that Berkeley Public Health has been a part of this horrific legacy of eugenics and its disastrous impacts,” Lu wrote in a letter Monday to the School of Public Health faculty. “It was wrong then. It is wrong now.”
Berkeley’s announcement comes as campuses across the nation are stepping up efforts to repudiate those who promoted eugenics, including high-profile university leaders, amid the nation’s intensifying racial justice movement.
In June, USC stripped the name of former university President Rufus B. von KleinSmid from a prominent campus building. Stanford University announced this month it would remove the name of its founding president, David Starr Jordan, from campus buildings and streets, while a high school bearing his name was recently changed to simply Jordan High by the Los Angeles Board of Education.
At the California Institute of Technology, hundreds of alumni and faculty are petitioning to strip its buildings of the name of Robert A. Millikan, a towering figure on campus who was Caltech’s first Nobel laureate — but also a leader of the Human Betterment Foundation, a Pasadena-based group whose advocacy of eugenics and forced sterilization influenced Nazi policies. Pomona College recently announced it would rename its Millikan Laboratory after nearly 1,000 community members signed a petition….
The above comes from an Oct. 26 story in the Los Angeles Times.