The expected parties have taken the expected positions on academic freedom and so on. One interesting take is by conservative Ron Unz, who says he has independently researched the issues himself, and thinks Richwine is just wrong on the facts. Whatever one may think of either Richwine or Unz (and Unz has written some misinformed things about Harvard), this part of Unz's piece raises an interesting governance point.
Richwine’s doctoral work was performed at Harvard’s Kennedy School for Public Policy, which is separate from the main graduate school containing academic disciplines such as evolutionary biology, psychology, and sociology. The typical Kennedy School graduate receives a Masters Degree in Public Administration, and is often a mid-career government official, seeking to burnish his academic credentials. The three faculty members who evaluated Richwine’s dissertation—George Borjas, Richard Zeckhauser, and Christopher Jencks—are noted social scientists, but with the possible exception of Jenks, who was apparently a late addition, none seems to have a strong background in IQ issues; otherwise, they surely would have brought the facts I have cited above to Richwine’s attention and required him to properly address them. And once the media mob began baying for blood, Richwine’s advisors immediately backpedaled on any familiarity with IQ issues and quickly disassociated themselves from the dissertation they themselves had approved.What catches my eye here is that none of the members of the dissertation committee is a member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Borjas and Zeckhauser are economists, but neither is a member of the Economics Department; nor does Jencks seem to be a member of any FAS department. But the PhD is granted by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences; to be precise, it is the Faculty of Arts and Sciences that takes the ritualized vote on the Monday before Commencement to recommend to the governing boards that they award the PhD to the candidates who will be assembled on Thursday. In this case, the PhD is being granted in the subject of Public Policy (there is a separate PhD program in Social Policy, or rather, two of them).
FAS has insisted that only it, and not any of the other Faculties, can award the PhD degree. Philosophically, the point is that the PhD is a scholarly and not primarily professional degree. It has always been a worry that if the professional faculties could offer the PhD on their own, the value of the currency might be debased, for example if advocacy or skill-training were to eclipse the impartial pursuit of the truth.
So when it is proposed to create a new PhD program, jointly with another Faculty, it is the Faculty of Arts and Sciences that must discuss and approve the program (first in the Committee on Graduate Education, then in the Faculty Council, and finally in a vote of the full Faculty). I remember when the PhD in Education was approved a couple of years ago, part of the FAS discussion was about requiring that at least one member of every dissertation committee be a member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. I don't remember how that came out in the Education case, but that seems not to be the rule for the PhD in Social Policy. In the case at hand, a dissertation about the social policy implications of IQ was approved by a committee of social policy experts lacking anyone from the Psychology or Sociology department with professional expertise in psychometrics. In fact, while I haven't checked all the names on the Public Policy Standing Committee, it seems to have very limited (if any) FAS representation. By contrast, the list of Core Faculty for the PhD program in Social Policy includes a number of members of the Sociology and Government Departments, some of whom have the relevant expertise to critique a thesis on IQ.
Of course, sticking an arbitrary member of the FAS on a thesis committee does not guarantee that any high standard of scholarship will be met. But perhaps, if the people at Harvard with the right expertise share Unz's skepticism about the soundness of Richwine's psychometric findings, the question that needs asking is whether the governance over the many interfaculty PhD programs is strong enough to provide the quality control that is the rationale for the nominal FAS hegemony over the PhD degree. Because if Richwine's findings of fact are wrong, and the members of the dissertation committee did not see fit to pull in anyone with the relevant expertise to check the details, then this PhD is, in the words a colleague used to describe a different Harvard embarrassment, a stain on the uniform we all wear. Why, if the central facts of this dissertation are wrong, should the public trust that any of our PhDs mean what we claim they mean?