How bad is it to say "one of our students suggested that black people are genetically inferior to white people" when what the student wrote was "I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent"? There is a difference between "suggesting" something is true and conceding that you don't have a basis for excluding the possibility that something is true.
The language in the email places itself in the context of a continuing conversation, and any attempt to interpret it should acknowledge that we have it out of context — and that it seems to have been leaked by someone who was privy to the whole conversation. The phrase "I absolutely do not rule out the possibility...," implies that that during the conversation, the student was criticized by someone else for ruling out the possibility. What does that... suggest... about the full context of the email and the motives for leaking it?
AND: In the comments, Jon said: "[T]he student didn't say 'genetically inferior,' she said 'less intelligent.' Does Dean Minnow think that everyone less intelligent than her, is genetically inferior?"
It's possible — possible! — that Minow thinks that everyone less intelligent than her is inferior, but for reasons having only to do with nurture. This must be an interesting subject for her, because she's the daughter of a highly successful man, Newton Minow (the FCC chairman who called TV a "vast wasteland"). Does she trace her high intelligence only to environmental factors? Most likely, it's a subject about which she chooses not to speak. Not in public anyway. Perhaps she once emailed someone about that.
But consider Minow's other interpretive leap — that to be less intelligent is to be inferior. Why isn't that an even more outrageous statement than what the student (Stephanie Grace) said?
Are less intelligent individuals inferior? It's time for our lesson in Elementary Class Consciousness. From Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" (PDF, page 20-21):
“Elementary Class Consciousness, did you say? Let’s have it repeated a little louder by the trumpet.”Are the Alphas superior? They have to work so hard and wear grey... I’m so glad I’m a Beta. Betas don't think they're inferior! They are less intelligent though.
At the end of the room a loud speaker projected from the wall. The Director walked up to it and pressed a switch.
“. all wear green,” said a soft but very distinct voice, beginning in the middle of a sentence, “and Delta Children wear khaki. Oh no, I don’t want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They’re too stupid to be able to read or write. Besides they wear black, which is such a beastly colour. I’m so glad I’m a Beta.”
There was a pause; then the voice began again.
“Alpha children wear grey They work much harder than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m really awfully glad I’m a Beta, because I don’t work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don’t want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They’re too stupid to be able .”
Do you think the most intelligent people are the best? Let's hear from P.J. O'Rourke:
I’m sure up at Harvard, over at the New York Times, and inside the White House they think we just envy their smarts. Maybe we are resentful clods gawking with bitter incomprehension at the intellectual magnificence of our betters. If so, why are our betters spending so much time nervously insisting that they’re smarter than Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement?...
The C student starts a restaurant. The A student writes restaurant reviews. The input-worshipping universe of the New York Times is like New York itself—thousands of restaurant reviews and no place we can afford to eat.
Let us allow that some intelligence is involved in screwing up Wall Street, Washington, and the world. A students and Type-A politicians do discover an occasional new element—Obscurantium—or pass an occasional piece of landmark legislation (of which the health care reform bill is not one). Smart people have their uses, but our country doesn’t belong to them. As the not-too-smart Woody Guthrie said, “This land was made for you and me.” The smart set stayed in fashionable Europe, where everything was nice and neat and people were clever about looking after their own interests and didn’t need to come to America. The Mayflower was full of C students. Their idea was that, given freedom, responsibility, rule of law and some elbow room, the average, the middling, and the mediocre could create the richest, most powerful country ever.