Emmanuel College Dissociates from Cofnas (updated)

Emmanuel College, Cambridge University has “cut ties” with Nathan Cofnas, a philosopher on a Leverhulme Trust fellowship there, because of his research on race and intelligence. However, Cofnas retains his fellowship as part of the Faculty of Philosophy at the university, so it is unclear whether this is merely a symbolic gesture by the college or a decision that affects his academic freedom.

Emmanuel College’s decision was a response to blog posts by Cofnas earlier this year that prompted the Leverhulme Trust to launch its own investigation of him, and which spurred a student petition calling for the university to dismiss Cofnas. The posts received attention for their racism. Here’s one example:

According to Varsity,

Cofnas received a letter on the 5th of April notifying him of Emmanuel College’s decision to terminate his research affiliation with the College… The letter sent by Emmanuel College reads: “The Committee first considered the meaning of the blog and concluded that it amounted to, or could reasonably be construed as amounting to, a rejection of Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI and EDI) policies.”

“The Committee concluded that the core mission of the College was to achieve educational excellence and that diversity and inclusion were inseparable from that. The ideas promoted by the blog therefore represented a challenge to the College’s core values and mission,” according to the letter.

More here and here.

UPDATE 1: Andrew Buskell writes in with some helpful information:

It’s important to distinguish Junior Research Fellowships (JRFs) from what Cofnas had at Emmanuel College. JRFs are positions funded by, and operated through, an Oxbridge college. Termination of a JRF affiliation — like, if I remember right, the case of Noah Carl — would be equivalent to terminating the position and stifling the ability of the individual to conduct research.

Cambridge college affiliations of the kind that Cofnas had are much looser, typically allowing the “fellow” access to room booking, the senior common room, and possibly internal pots of money. In addition, the fellow gets a few free meals per week, and other small perks. These are not, in other words, significant affiliations and some post-docs at Oxbridge do not pursue affiliation with a college if they arrive with an independent source of funding (like a Leverhulme Fellowship).

So it is not just symbolic — Cofnas is losing some perks of being at Cambridge — but it does not impact his ability to conduct research or draw a salary. Those resources are granted and managed through his primary affiliation. In this case, the Faculty of Philosophy.

UPDATE 2 (5/2/24): Several people, including a number of philosophers, have signed onto a letter to the editor of The Times in regard to the Cofnas case. Here’s the text:

Sir, We were dismayed to learn that Dr Nathan Cofnas, a researcher at Cambridge University’s Faculty of Philosophy and a research associate at Emmanuel College, is to be expelled from the college and is the subject of investigations by the faculty and the Leverhulme Trust on the grounds that he made controversial comments about race and academic ability (“Cambridge in free-speech row over researcher’s ‘race realism’ blog”, Apr 19). Cambridge University’s initial response seems to us to have been completely correct. Professor Bhaskar Vira, pro-vice-chancellor for education, issued a statement that began: “Freedom of speech within the law is a right that sits at the heart of the University of Cambridge. We encourage our community to challenge ideas they disagree with and engage in rigorous debate.” Given this, we do not understand why the philosophy faculty is conducting an investigation. Members of the college or university who disagree with Dr Cofnas’s views could issue statements repudiating those views and explaining why they believe them to be mistaken.

We urge Emmanuel College to reverse its decision and the Faculty of Philosophy and the Leverhulme Trust to call off their investigations. There is nothing to investigate. This should not need to be said, but given the present climate we would like to add that signing this letter does not indicate endorsement of Dr Cofnas’s views.

Roger Crisp, Oxford University; Sir Partha Dasgupta, Cambridge University; Marie Daouda, Oxford University; Paul Elbourne, Oxford University; Jonathan Glover, KCL; Coleman Hughes, author; Matthew Kramer, Cambridge University; Brian Leiter, Chicago University; Jeff McMahan, Oxford University; Francesca Minerva, Milan University; Steven Pinker, Harvard University; Robert Plomin, KCL; Peter Singer, Princeton University; Amia Srinivasan, Oxford University


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