UC Berkeley freezes eugenic research fund after Black professor raises alarm

The Genealogical Eugenic Institute Fund, a $2.4 million endowment, had been active at the college for decades.

The University of California at Berkeley is halting a eugenics research program after a bioethics professor pointed out to administrators that the practice is inherently racist. 

Eugenics is defined as “the philosophy and social movement that argues it is possible to improve the human race and society by encouraging reproduction by people or populations with ‘desirable’ traits (termed ‘positive’ eugenics) and discouraging reproduction by people with ‘undesirable’ qualities (termed “negative” eugenics).”

Osagie K. Obasogie, a University of California at Berkeley bioethics professor, got an email about the Genealogical Eugenic Institute Fund, for which faculty members were being encouraged to apply.

Research in the field has almost always identified positive traits as those possessed by able-bodied White people. 

The theory has been disavowed since the end of World War II, when Hitler used the eugenics to justify the Holocaust. 

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UC Berkeley had been offering an annual payout of $70,000 in research funds from the Genealogical Eugenic Institute Fund, a $2.4 million endowment that has been active at the university for decades. University professor Osagie K. Obasogie got an email about the fund, for which faculty members were being encouraged to apply. 

“I was shocked and dismayed,” Obasogie told the Los Angeles Times. He, along with a small group of faculty, raised his concerns with the email’s author, a former senior administrator.

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Established in 1960 then transferred to the school in 1975, the original purpose of the fund was “the improvement of the human race through research and education in that field generally known as eugenics,” Obasogie 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,” Dean Michael C. Lu wrote in a letter Monday to the School of Public Health faculty, of which excerpts were shared with the San Diego Union-Tribune. “It was wrong then. It is wrong now.”

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Lu noted that there is no evidence that the money was used for eugenics research but instead genetic counseling and other training programs. 

Numerous universities are seeking to distance themselves from past eugenics research conducted on their campuses. 

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Nazi Germany was not the only place where eugenics played a role in inflicting harm on non-Whites. In California, a eugenics law enacted in 1909 and repealed in 1979 led to the forced sterilization of 20,000 people. That state also had a law that barred marriage between “feeble-minded” people. New legislation was introduced just this year to ban involuntary sterilization of the disabled. 

Scientists note that eugenics exist today, as exhibited by genetics research that allows parents to choose sperm and egg donors with favorable qualities. The field is often referred to as “newgenics.” 

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