A chemistry professor who was born in India says he has been denied grants for the past two years because he hasn’t sufficiently pledged his dedication to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI).
Professor Patanjali Kambhampati told The College Fix that he develops “lasers and laser-based instrumentation to measure the motion of electrons and atoms in materials that might be used in anything from solar cells to flat panel displays to lasers to next generation computers.” Since 2003, he has been conducting his research at McGill University’s Department of Chemistry.
Over his 15 years of work, Kambhampati said, he has raised nearly $7 million from the Canadian government and from elsewhere.
“But everything seemed to change about a year or two ago,” Kambhampati told the Fix. “In the last two years the federal grants have begun to ask for equity, diversity and inclusion statements.”
“Initially, they started asking us to state our EDI position, which is a new thing,” Kambhampati said. “The newer thing happened in the last one year where the federal agencies said we’re going to look at your EDI statements first and foremost. That will be the gatekeeper.”
Kambhampati added that if a researcher didn’t write a statement that satisfied federal funding agencies, those agencies wouldn’t even look at the scientific merits of the work. All that mattered was the stated commitment to diversity.
From the Fix:
Kambhampati shared with The College Fix the EDI statement he included for one recent grant proposal he submitted to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
In it, Kambhampati highlighted the cultural and intellectual diversity of the students that work in his lab and the importance of “improving access and retention for underrepresented groups in STEM.”
He talked about how he is “a racialized minority, from the 3rd world, from three nations” and how, “With this lived experience [he] can leverage those experience[s] to provide a more inclusive and equitable environment for an ever increasing bandwidth of people aiming to do world class laser science.”
He emphasized his group’s “long history of inclusion of women into ultrafast laser science,” noting one particular woman he mentored is now a physicist with a tenure-track position in Germany.
This, apparently, was not enough to receive funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. His request was denied.
Kambhampati provided the denial letter to the Fix, which said that “The Equity, Diversity and Inclusion considerations in the application were deemed insufficient. The training plan did not adequately describe specific, concrete practices that will be put in place to ensure that EDI is intentionally and proactively supported in the training plan. Vague or generic statements are not sufficient and therefore the application is being rejected.”
Kambhampati told the Fix he found the letter frustrating as an Indian American working in Canada.
“Certainly speaking for myself,” he told the outlet. “I’ve dealt with a lot of racism in my life and as a result I try to treat people as equals and as individuals and apparently that wasn’t good enough. … I’ve actually supervised, you know, fifteen PhD students and three master’s students and they’re from all walks of life and apparently that success wasn’t good enough.”