Update on January 27: According to emails sent to students in CHEM 313 and Science One obtained by The Ubyssey, Sherman has been replaced as the instructor for both of those courses and is now on “indefinite leave.” UBC confirmed that an email was sent to students in CHEM 313 informing them of this instructor change, but referred The Ubyssey back to its earlier statement quoted in this article when asked whether Sherman was on “indefinite leave.”
This article contains mention of racist stereotypes.
A UBC chemistry professor is under investigation after making comments about race and IQ during class.
On January 19, Dr. John Sherman told his CHEM 313 class that Black people do poorer than white people on IQ tests and that Asians score higher than white people on the same tests. He then questioned if it was racist to ask whether Asian people are smarter than white people and if white people are smarter than Black people based on this statement.
The comments were made during a break in class when Sherman was discussing the semantics of calling something a fact or racist.
“Do you ever know what anyone means when they say someone is racist? … It can mean all kinds of things,” he said.
Sherman read out a student comment — “I think it’s pretty clear cut” — before talking about the IQ test scores of BIPOC people.
“I don’t think it’s racist [to say Black people do poorer on IQ tests than white people and that Asians score higher]. But that’s just a historical fact, for however many decades … that’s been a historical fact. You can get into all kinds of reasons for that certainly,” he said, according to a video of the lecture posted on YouTube. "So it is grey ... I think, what's racist and what's not.”
A student also posted a transcript to the UBC subreddit.
Sherman said people can “get into a long debate” over whether the difference in IQ test scores is the result of genetics or one’s environment, but still said his comments were facts.
While the exact cause of the Black-white test score gap remains unclear, a 2012 paper in Education Economics found that genetic make-up — which is stable throughout peoples’ lifetimes — cannot explain how the score gap “changes fast and even moves in opposite directions depending on grades.”
The reliability of IQ tests to measure intelligence is also questionable. A 2012 study in American Psychologist found that IQ tests cannot measure other forms of intelligence such as emotional or social intelligence.
According to the transcript posted on Reddit, students in the Zoom chat called the professor’s comments racist. The chat could not be seen in the video to confirm this.
Matthew Ramsey, director of university affairs at UBC Media Relations, said the university was aware of student concerns in a statement to The Ubyssey.
“While we cannot comment on the specifics of human resources matters, the university takes matters such as this very seriously and has a variety of measures and policies in place with which to address them,” he added.
While Sherman is under investigation, Professor Gregory Dake will teach his CHEM 313 section, according to a screenshot of the class’s Piazza page. Dake is also listed as the instructor on the SSC.
The Ubyssey did not hear back from Sherman in time for publishing.