A WORD FROM...
Abigail Thompson, a Vice President of the AMS
This essay contains my opinions as an individual.
Mathematics has made progress over the past decades towards becoming a more welcoming, inclusive discipline. 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.
In 1950 the Regents of the University of California 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.” Eventually
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. Enter your cut contents here.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.
A typical rubric from UC Berkeley1 specifies that a statement that “describes only activities that are already the
expectation of Berkeley faculty (mentoring, treating all students the same regardless of background, etc)” (italics mine)
merits a score of 1–2 out of a possible 5 (1 worst and 5 best) in the second section of the rubric, the “track record
for advancing diversity” category.
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. Classical
liberals aspire to treat every person as a unique individual, not as a representative of their gender or their ethnic
group. The sample rubric dictates that in order to get a high diversity score, a candidate must have actively engaged
in promoting different identity groups as part of their professional life. The candidate should demonstrate “clear
knowledge of, experience with, and interest in dimensions of diversity that result from different identities” and
describe “multiple activities in depth.” 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 communism, most of us today are in agreement that the UC loyalty oaths of the 1950s
Courtesy of University of California, Davis.
December 2019 Notices of the American Mathematical Society 1779
were wrong. Whatever our views on diversity and how it can be achieved, mandatory diversity statements are equally
misguided. Mathematics is not immune from political pressures on campus. In addition to David Saxon, who eventually
became the president of the University of California, three mathematicians were fired for refusing to sign the loyalty oath
in 1950. Mathematics must be open and welcoming to everyone, to those who have traditionally been excluded, and to
those holding unpopular viewpoints. Imposing a political litmus test is not the way to achieve excellence in mathematics
or in the university. Not in 1950, and not today.