A mathematics professor at the University of California, Davis, who published an essay slamming university-mandated “diversity statements” that are used to determine the advisability of hiring prospective applicants has been bitterly attacked in a letter signed by hundreds of academics around the country, who also attacked the American Mathematical Society for even publishing her essay.
We should continue to do all we can to reduce barriers to participation in this most beautiful of fields. I am encouraged by the many mathematicians who are working to achieve this laudable aim. There are reasonable means to further this goal: encouraging students from all backgrounds to enter the mathematics pipeline, trying to ensure that talented mathematicians don’t leave the profession, creating family-friendly policies, and supporting junior faculty at the beginning of their careers, for example. There are also mistakes to avoid. Mandating diversity statements for job candidates is one such mistake, reminiscent of events of seventy years ago.
Thomson recounted the history of the Regents of the University of California, who in 1950 required all UC faculty to sign a statement asserting that “I am not a member of, nor do I support any party or organization that believes in, advocates, or teaches the overthrow of the United States Government, by force or by any illegal or unconstitutional means, that I am not a member of the Communist Party.” She pointed out “thirty-one faculty members were fired over their refusal to sign. Among them was David Saxon, an eminent physicist who later became the president of the University of California.”
Then she got to the meat of the matter:
Faculty at universities across the country are facing an echo of the loyalty oath, a mandatory “Diversity Statement” for job applicants. The professed purpose is to identify candidates who have the skills and experience to advance institutional diversity and equity goals. In reality it’s a political test, and it’s a political test with teeth. What are the teeth? Nearly all University of California campuses require that job applicants submit a “contributions to diversity” statement as a part of their application. The campuses evaluate such statements using rubrics, a detailed scoring system. Several UC programs have used these diversity statements to screen out candidates early in the search process.
She added, “The diversity ‘score’ is becoming central in the hiring process. Hiring committees are being urged to start the review process by using officially provided rubrics to score the required diversity statements and to eliminate applicants who don’t achieve a scoring cut-off.”
Why is it a political test? Politics are a reflection of how you believe society should be organized … Requiring candidates to believe that people should be treated differently according to their identity is indeed a political test. The idea of using a political test as a screen for job applicants should send a shiver down our collective spine … Whatever our views on diversity and how it can be achieved, mandatory diversity statements are equally misguided … Imposing a political litmus test is not the way to achieve excellence in mathematics or in the university. Not in 1950, and not today.
The letter signed by the academics stated in part:
We are writing because we support diversity statements as one tool to encourage a more inclusive and equitable mathematics profession … We are writing because we are disappointed by the editorial decision to publish the piece which contradicts the AMS’s commitment to diversity affirmed in its own diversity statement. Clearly, this is something that people needed to talk about, but the AMS has chosen to spark this conversation by giving its imprimatur to a piece that undermines productive discussion and causes real danger and burden to the marginalized members of our community … Diversity statements help assess a candidate’s ability to effectively teach a diverse group of students. If our goal as mathematicians and educators is truly to reach as many students as possible, thinking about diversity and inclusion is necessary.
They added a direct attack on Thompson, who humbly began her essay by stating simply “This essay contains my opinions as an individual.” They wrote, “While Dr. Thompson attempts to spin this issue with partisan wording, diversity statements are a small yet necessary step towards creating a more equitable and inclusive community.” They added an attack on AMS for publishing Thompson’s piece: “The AMS and Notices bear responsibility for amplifying views that fly in the face of research-based practices and that falsely equate evidence-based approaches to teaching and professional practice with the blacklisting of people based on political ideology, all in direct contradiction of the AMS’s stated commitment to diversity.”