Get Out The Way

Update June 7, 2017: For a follow-up to this post, check out Piper Harron’s personal blog, The Liberated Mathematician.
Not to alarm you, but I probably want you to quit your job, or at least take a demotion. Statistically speaking, you are probably taking up room that should go to someone else. If you are a white cis man (meaning you identify as male and you were assigned male at birth) you almost certainly should resign from your position of power. That’s right, please quit. Too difficult? Well, as a first step, at least get off your hiring committee, your curriculum committee, and make sure you’re replaced by a woman of color or trans person. Don’t have any in your department?  HOW SHOCKING.

every woman of color is shocked

Remember that you live in a world where people don’t succeed in a vacuum; most success happens on the backs of others who did not consent. You have no idea how successful you would have been if you were still you, but with an additional marginalization (not white, or not male, or not cis gender, or with a disability, etc).

Right now, I want to talk about gender equality because the fact that women aren’t actually a demographic minority makes certain arguments easier, but please know that actual solutions require women of color and trans people. Remember having white cis women run the world is no kind of solution.

53% of white women y’all
they will not save us

Most of us have experience with (or at least have been inundated with media about) the cis het family (one cis man, one cis woman, dependents). Many would have us believe this family is the foundation of society, and maybe it is. Maybe this isn’t a good thing. It’s worth reconsidering some common dynamics many of us were exposed to growing up and still see around us today.

Suppose you are the sole breadwinner in your family. This means that your efforts get turned into money, and in a capitalist society, this money translates into status and worth. Attacks on your physical or emotional safety thus threaten the livelihood of the whole family. This feels like (and thus is) a burden, and it is a burden that you bear alone.

Suppose you are an adult who earns no income in your family. This means that your efforts are irrelevant to the status and worth of your family. Attacks on your physical or emotional safety affect you alone, and sometimes can be rationalized as benefiting the family (if the alternative would disadvantage the income-earner). This feels like (and thus is) a burden, and it is a burden you bear alone.

What does equality look like?

What does it look like when everyone’s needs are valued?

I imagine most of us do not have good models for what a feminist non-gender-binary family looks like. Most of us have seen families where one person was allowed to be more human than the other, but because everyone was IN LOVE people had warm fuzzy feelings about the inequality. It’s just the way life is, after all. Or we have examples of failed relationships because needs were not being met. Even in 2017, though, it seems unclear which unmet needs justify terminating a relationship. Divorce is still largely viewed as the sign of a mistake. Ask yourself who benefits when your sexist society views (“traditional”) marriage as sacred. Ask yourself how we’d talk about marriage and divorce if women were allowed to be. I’m convinced that mixed in with the homophobia that propelled conservatives to suddenly want government all up in our personal lives was misogyny that said it just isn’t “marriage” if you don’t have one man (ruling) and one woman (being ruled). It was decided that extending marriage rights to same-sex couples should be called “marriage equality,” but if same-sex couples do have equal partnerships it is certainly not an extension of cis het marriage.

Similarly, most of us do not have good role models for what a feminist math department would look like.

I have this talk that I give and afterwards, I will often get concerned white men asking me what they can do to fight sexism. But they’re not really thinking about ending sexism. They’re thinking about progress. They want to know which benefits the cis male hoarders-of-power can offer to women so that we don’t feel so bad and complain so much and contribute to such dismal numbers. This is natural, reasonable even, but sexist all the same.

What can we do? When every role model, when every concept you have, is steeped in sexism, what can you do?

I have no relationship advice. My husband and I are both exceptionally reasonable and good-intentioned people who think sexism is bovine poop. And yet the fact that society doesn’t support parents in general or women (and other people who are not cis men) in particular means that as we navigate life with a family and make reasonable decisions on how to cope with job insecurity and financial concerns, we end up recreating what we know. Inequality. It takes more than being good, reasonable feminists to make sure the stay-at-home parent’s needs get the same weight as the working parent’s needs. It takes more than being good, reasonable feminists to make sure that the marginalized parent doesn’t have undue burdens that they “agree” to because they feel more pressure to be reasonable by mainstream standards. My husband and I are committed to figuring out how to not just best divide family labor (which seems to be everyone’s benchmark for equality), but how to make sure each of us is actually equally free. It’s hard work, and we’re making it up as we go.

What can universities do? Well, that’s easier. Stop hiring white cis men (except as needed to get/retain people who are not white cis men) until the problem goes away. If you think this is a bad or un-serious idea, your sexism/racism/transphobia is showing.

It is worth considering your complaints. Are you worried it’s unfair to men? Are you concerned the quality if your institution would plummet? Are you worried about all the brilliant minds you’d be missing? List your reasons and ask yourself which ones you’d value over your own freedom. Women are not free, and even our allies tend to only want us equal-ish. As long as we get there on their terms, as long as they lose nothing.

If you are on a hiring committee, and you are looking at applicants and you see a stellar white male applicant, think long and hard about whether your department needs another white man. You are not hiring a researching robot who will output papers from a dark closet. You are hiring an educator, a role model, a spokesperson, an advisor, a committee person. When you hire a non-marginalized person, you are not just supporting this one applicant whom you like, you are rewarding a person who has been rewarded his whole life. You are justifying the system that makes his application look so good. You are not innocent. You are perpetuating a system that requires your participation if not your consent. When your female students of color have no role models in your department, that’s not “meritocracy”; that’s on you. Again, if you think the “great mathematicians” are disproportionately male because of meritocracy, then your sexism is showing.

every day of my life feels like this

I challenge you. When the applications come in, remember society makes dominant applicants look better than they are. Society makes marginalized applicants look worse than they are. There is no objectivity. There is no meritocracy. Fight for justice. Fight even yourself. Take the risk. Entertain complicated ideas. Recognize that letting your department overflow with women would not be to your detriment. Remember that without sexism, you would expect women to sometimes be over-represented. It is exactly sexism that makes sure that that has never happened.

Most of us would not feel comfortable traipsing through a homeless shelter wearing $5,000 worth of accessories, and lighting money on fire. Instead of recognizing our unfair privileges, though, we just build walls around us and project our way of life as normal. Any story you tell about how you got where you are that doesn’t include land theft, profiting off of forced, unpaid labor, illegal occupation, murder, assault, theft, psychological and physical warfare, exploitation, and a culture of complicity is, you know, a lie. How are we going to fight for others when we think we are entitled to everything that was stolen for us?

This is not about shame or guilt. Those things are useless. This is about shifting perspective. I know you’re not going to quit your job, but I want you to understand that you should. And to understand that by keeping your job and your other unearned privileges, you are running a continued debt to marginalized people and you should always be seeking ways to pay us back.

Not to alarm you, but statistically speaking you are the problem. Your very presence. I can’t tell you what is the best strategy for you to stop blocking my path. I can just ask that you please get out of my way.

ADDENDUM: Since last Friday, this post has been getting lots of comments, some of which are very inappropriate. We would like to remind our readers of a few things:

  1. This is a blog post, an opinion piece, and a provocation to think. As Piper says, it is about “shifting perspective”. It is not being written by a university president, nor is it something we are acting upon. We are not actually firing anyone. A common argumentation device is to take something to the extreme to really help us do the shifting (and often with things regarding race and gender, this is an effective device, albeit upsetting for some). This also does not necessarily represent the opinions of the AMS and its members, it represents the point of view of the author.
  2. We assert our right to express controversial opinions in a civilized way, because it is legal to do so. We are not even the first or most extreme, we are just doing this from a different point of view.
  3. Please do share your comments if you disagree, but recall our guidelines for posting comments (see below).
  4. Any comments containing profanity, insults, personal attacks, or suggestions of violence will not be approved, no matter how carefully reasoned the rest of your comment was.
  5. We will try to respond to comments, but the sheer volume is making it hard to do so in a timely manner. Rest assured that if your comment follows the guidelines (and see item (4)) it will at least be posted.
  6. Thanks for reading the inclusion/exclusion blog.

— Adriana Salerno, Editor-in-Chief, May 18, 2017.

We are shutting down comments, at least temporarily, because of the huge number that we’ve received. Thanks for your interest.

This entry was posted in hiring, racism, sexism, women in math. Bookmark the permalink.

91 Responses to Get Out The Way

  1. John Golden says:

    Privilege is hard to recognize and hard to compensate for.

    We are forbidden to hire for race or gender, of course. And its hard as hell to even remove barriers to make it an even playing field. NSF ADVANCE grants (STRIDE groups in particular) put together some good recommendations. See U of M’s for example:

    About the search committee, though. One of the things that comes up is that under-represented groups are over-represented in search and service, because of the desire for representation. What we really need is faculty committed to equity, and not to over-burden the under-represented. Maybe till they’re tenured and promoted, at least?

    Thanks for provoking post.

    • Piper says:

      I definitely agree we need faculty committed to equity! It is true the under-represented are over-burdened. It’s expected that representation is only a concern for those who are under-represented (everyone else can just think about math!). That needs to change.

      Re “forbidden to hire for race or gender”: It’s funny how you aren’t allowed to discriminate based on race or gender and yet somehow it is perfectly legal to be consistently unimpressed by white women and people of color. 🙂

      • Mike from out east says:

        “I definitely agree we need faculty committed to equity!”

        As a student I always preferred facility committed to excellence in the subject matter and teaching ability. Equity does not bar excellence but they are not the same thing. Putting a commitment to diversity first can come at the expense of excellence and in doing so fail the students.

        • Adriana Salerno says:

          You are definitely missing the point, especially when you define “excellence” as the people who excel in the status quo. That is just confirmation bias.

    • Charlize Hegin says:

      >Here is a Breitbart piece on the exact counter-argument, which I found deeply offensive

      Good point, Adriano.

      The article was about the same level as the stuff Milo writes at Breitbart.

      • Adriana Salerno says:

        That is not my name, and that is not the point I was making. I was pointing out that I did not have a fit on someone else’s blog because I disagreed with something they said. But you are not interested in what we are saying.

  2. Diana Jackson says:

    We need to decouple success in mathematics from IQ. IQ is a social construct that cishet white men devised that defines “intelligence” on the basis of culture. Sadly, there is a direct correlation between high IQ and “earning” a PhD in a STEM discipline, which is all too reflective of how white cishet men have designed disciplinary concepts to reinforce their own power structures.

    It is fundamentally unfair and marginalizing for IQ tests and mathematics curriculum to be designed around the same white supremacist, cisheteronormative standards, thus marginalizing women of color. What we need isn’t just “fair hiring;” we need a radical reconceptualization of mathematics in a decolonizing framework.

    Our friends in the fine arts lead the way here. A century ago, white male composers like Beethoven and Mozart were considered mastered, while the authentic cultural expression of nonwhite peoples was denigrated using words I won’t repeat here. The advances of critical theory have helped guide musicians into recognizing that the music of the Bantu people is just as worthy of learning and study as that of any baroque composer…so should we not follow the same lead? Is not our problem is that we have allowed white cishet men (nearly all of whom had utterly disgusting views about race and gender) to define “mathematics,” “logic” and “proof” for us? We should recognize that there are many kinds of math, many kinds of logic, and many kinds of proof, and assemble a new concept of math from the mosaic of cultural expression that humanity affords.

    It’s time for a new scientific revolution, if you ask me…this one led by the folks shut out of the last one.

    • Raymond Rabke says:

      No. 2+2 is always 4, no matter what Orwellian social structure tries to tell you otherwise. Mathematics was invented in China, in India, in Arabia, in Africa; these are universal truths that bind all humanity together and prove there is a deep structural similarity in the brains of all humans, no matter their external looks. Yes, mathematics has been dominated by Western white culture but that is an artifact of colonialism and poor thinking that led to people like Ramanujan being almost ignored. But that doesn’t mean you should retreat and create a ‘black mathematics’ or a ‘feminist mathematics’ if such things could even exist. Of course, this is all coming from a very white, very cis, very het man so ultimately I can’t know your experience. But I know you know 2+2 is 4. And that a^2 + b^2 = c^2 in a right triangle. And the Chinese remainder theorem.

      • Piper says:

        decolonizing doesn’t mean making a “black mathematics,” and anything that could be made feminist (and anti-racist etc) should be.

        things i haven’t read, but need to:

        • Morgan Scott says:

          If you want to study how racist scientists of the past were, or how minorites were trampled, by all means, be my guest. That isn’t science, that is history.

          The only thing that matters in STEM is: Do your models have consistent predictive capability. That is the only standard we can focus on. If you want to accept a poor model, or reject a good one based on the race/sex of the creator of the model, congratulations, you are a racist/sexist!

          Look at the panel at Cape Town university on “Decolonizing” science. A man was silenced and almost expelled from the room for remarking that the reason using black magic to call lightning didn’t fit within the Western model of science was because the legend wasn’t true. I am all in favor of other approaches to Math/Science, or of people of any race/sex/whatever being involved. But they have to make good models.

          • Adriana Salerno says:

            It is not as simple as this. I agree that once on an equal playing field, the thing that should matter is the science/math itself. But we don’t start on equal footing. Here is a good place to start reading about all this:

        • The Triggerati says:

          @Adriana Salerno This delusional presumption of the moral necessity ‘an equal playing field’ is especially ironic considering that the requisite IQs to even be a player in STEM are 4 standard deviations from the mean MINIMUM.

          It’s laughable that such a naive, subjective, conceited and blatantly politically motivated viewpoint could become so virulent among otherwise brilliant people. Certainly this is proof that ideological coherence or agreement with reality is not a requisite of high human intelligence. Proof positive is the fact that a RELIGION (intersectional feminism) has taken over academia.

          NOWHERE in nature is equality or uniformity rewarded. Dominance hierarchies are ESSENTIAL to the survival and progress of EVERY species. Only in academia could so many people convince themselves that humans should somehow create a social system that goes against the universal dynamics that allowed our species to triumph in the first place.

          • Adriana Salerno says:

            Paragraph 1: Your claim about IQs is unsupported and in some cases proven false.
            Paragraph 2: Your views on intersectional feminism being a religion are also unsupported opinions (unless something happened while I wasn’t looking). If you’re so interested in rationality, please stick to your own rules.
            Paragraph 3: I hope you live in a cave and hunt your own food, because that is the only way to be consistent with your “nature” argument.

    • Susan says:

      Ah, yes… Science and proof and reason and logic are so cisheteronormative. Your response reads like satire… I only hope that it is.

    • chris says:

      Commit to meritocracy rather than victimhood. No one stalled your studies but you. Did your particular personal privilege allow for opportunities in academia? Yes. So it’s up to you, just like for everyone else, to get where you want to go. Equality in opportunity, not in results.

  3. Mia says:

    Dear original poster,

    People, regardless of who they are, deserve to be in whatever they want to be. Telling people to quit something that they’ve worked long and hard for simply because you have some sort of prejudice against them is ridiculous. It’s like telling a gay person to stop being gay or a trans person not to get that hormone replacement they worked hard for.

    That’s right, it’s stupid and you make yourself look ridiculous with this post. Is there privilege? I won’t deny that there’s a degree of privilege, but there are people of every spectrum who has fought tooth and nail to get where they are. Again, saying someone should step down because they are a certain color is stupid. You want something, work for it, otherwise you’re claiming diversity for diversity’s sake without any work to back it up.

    Also, applicants make themselves look better or worse than they are on a resume. It’s a piece of paper; don’t inject this society nonsense into your argument. Half the time computers are checking applicants to see if they fit so your point is moot.

    Frankly speaking, your judgement of equality is anything but. You claim you want it but then you trample on people who also work hard to attain what they want. Equality is looking at two resumes that are equal and hiring both, not just the black person or the white person. It’s not looking at both resumes, saying, “Hey eff cis people,” and throwing it in the trash to hire the other person. Equality is when the person who works the hardest gets the job. It’s when the people in power get there through their own efforts, not because of their orientation, ethnicity or background. Telling people to quit their jobs because you refuse to work harder is sad and you have my pity.

    • SG says:

      Original poster: “I know you’re not going to quit your job, but I want you to understand that you should. And to understand that by keeping your job and your other unearned privileges, you are running a continued debt to marginalized people and you should always be seeking ways to pay us back.”

      In the second-to-last paragraph. Where the conclusion goes. This is not “telling people to quit their jobs.” It’s making a point about how to change the system for the better.

  4. Hank Janrhett says:

    Awesome Blogpost Thanks for sharing.

  5. Jonathan Beardsley says:

    Somehow I have not been keeping up with your writing. I heard murmurs about you doing this AMS blog thing but have been completely behind in actually seeing what you’re up to over here. Anyway, this is awesome, you’re awesome, hope you keep writing. I do read what you write (eventually) and try to modify my behavior accordingly.

    • SG says:

      No. He will “understand that by keeping your job and your other unearned privileges, you are running a continued debt to marginalized people and you should always be seeking ways to pay us back.”

      And he’ll also undoubtedly continue to read commentaries all the way through before he weighs their merits.

    • Charlize Hegin says:

      All you need to do mathematics is pen and paper.

      All you need to learn mathematics are books and articles, all of which are available in libraries and online for free.

      All you need to convince people that you are good at mathematics is proving novel/interesting/useful things.

      If Perelman were a woman, we wouldn’t have been less impressed by his work. But a woman didn’t prove his theorems, he did. Working from his parents’ basement basically.

  6. R Karpman says:

    Thanks for this post! Reminds me of the famous Ruth Bader Ginsburg quote:

    “People ask me sometimes, ‘When do you think it will be enough? When will there be enough women on the court?’ And my answer is when there are nine.”

    • N C C says:

      This. Equality, at this point, wouldn’t mean an equal number of chairs in every university. It would mean unquestioned dominance for the next couple centuries, and then maybe a revisit after that.

      • Soysoy says:

        Attitudes like this will only reinforce the belief of the sexists to simply keep hiring males. Equality is equality. It’s not about getting revenge, it’s about being equal. If that doesn’t suit you, at least use the right words.

        • N C C says:

          Saying that you’re equal after you’ve got an equal number of seats in a culture shaped and created completely for and by straight white men is really too narrow. Equality is about having institutions that reflect all, and serve all, colors creeds and points of view, not institutions with the right number of butts of each color and label in their seats

  7. Ursula says:

    I love your “researching robot” line!

  8. Chad Topaz says:

    White males — of which I am one — should listen hard to the above post, which is spot on.

    Women and people of color face systemic barriers to inclusion (not to mention a whole bunch of implicit and explicit bias at the individual level) that you do not face. If you are a mathematician who prides yourself on facts and logic, and yet if you object to my previous sentence, I challenge you to actually look at the research consensus on these matters.

    If you care about the field of mathematics being the best it can be, you should want more women and people of color involved at every level. In addition to the research and teaching contributions excluded parties would make, plenty of research demonstrates the benefits of group diversity for decision making, creativity and more.

    If you feel hostile to the ideas expressed in the article above, you should question what about yourself makes you feel that way.

    I applaud the author and full-throatedly support a drastically more diverse professoriate.

    • anonymoose says:

      >I challenge you to actually look at the research consensus on these matters. –

      So, what is the research consensus, and (most importantly) has it been widely replicated by a diverse group of social scientists? Remember, the social sciences aren’t nearly as objective as we would hope them to be, and many serve an agenda rather than a pure objective take on the facts.

    • SG says:

      To S: Of course Chad can agree without quitting. Did you read the post to the end? Including the part about how white males are not actually going to resign? It’s about reflecting on the uneven playing field and how it did or didn’t benefit you, your colleagues, and your applicants.

  9. William Brown says:

    Your Princeton PhD with a Fields Medal advisor, along with having your spouse at your research university give you more “privilege” than most math PhDs could dream of, hypocrite.

    • Piper says:

      I am open about my privileges. Reread the entire post. I know I should get out of the way of more marginalized people. I work to make space for them.

      • sca721 says:

        “I work to make space for them.”

        How, personally?

        What *individual* sacrifices have *you* made in order to “get out of the way”?

        You allude to, but don’t specify them.

        Please specify them.

    • Izabella Laba says:

      We could argue about whether Piper has more privilege than, say, a less well connected white woman and which one of them should be hired or given a public forum. Along similar lines, we could argue for instance about whether a female job candidate should be hired instead of a male candidate supported by a female faculty member who is currently isolated in her research area, etc. Or we can say, as Piper does, that the right answer is “why not both” and that this would be completely doable if we did not prioritize the majority groups and their needs at every step of the way.

      • William Brown says:

        “if we did not prioritize the majority groups and their needs at every step of the way.”

        As you know, there are major affirmative action programs, and indeed entire conferences devoted towards promoting women in mathematics. And I believe you are counting women as minorities here. The NSF makes every effort to have half of grants given to women despite them making up around a third of math PhDs. You are minimizing the efforts people are making to fight inequality.

        • Izabella Laba says:

          If we use quantifiers in their mathematical sense, then yes, efforts to fight inequality exist. I just don’t think that they are in any proportion to what would be needed to actually change the situation. “Entire conferences for women” are always mentioned, but in the 28 years since I started graduate school, I’ve been to a grand total of 2 of them. I don’t know about the NSF today, but when I was on a panel some years ago, there was no effort to give half of grants to women. IIRC, only one or two women were funded through that panel. And so on.

          I think what you are missing is this: activities that promote women are almost always organized through formal channels, advertised widely, and reported on websites and to funding agencies. This means that they don’t go unnoticed, and so it’s very easy to get the impression that there are so many of them. A lunch or networking event for women at a conference will always be listed in the conference program. Meanwhile, a lunch or networking event for men is just some guys going out for lunch or drinks. Happens all the time. A conference with 25 male and 2 female speakers is never advertised as a “conference to promote men”, it’s just a conference. Efforts are made, and we are still swimming against a powerful current. Both things can be true at the same time.

  10. Pat Mann says:

    ‘Get out of the way!” is right on point. It means allow space for others who are marginalized by historical burdens of race and gender and ability (as in disability/ability).

    If you want to help please start by being aware that every human has biases and many are implicit. These biases mean you expect your mathematical faculty to be white, abled , cis, and men. When you are surprised professor Anderson is a Cherokee woman, with bilateral hearing aids that is your bias calling out to wake the heck up. The reason you are surprised is because the doors have been blocked to her for so long, you forgot she existed.

    Allow space-as you said. Actually make space and take the burden for the lack of space and the burden of needing to make the space, if you happen to be the stereotype you expect to see in your place of power.

    If you read this and it offends you and scares you, perhaps you need to look at yourself to understand why.

  11. mathgirl says:

    Thanks for writing this post! It should be required reading for hiring committees.

  12. SG says:

    This blog post has, unsurprisingly, received some backlash. If it makes you uncomfortable, I totally get that. It makes me uncomfortable, too. But here’s the important part: it’s SUPPOSED to make you uncomfortable. That’s kind of the point. So please, sit with your discomfort for a good while before you respond. And consider responding offline, by talking it over with your colleagues and reassessing your role in your own professional life.

  13. xl says:

    Thank you Piper for having the courage to say something that needs to be said. What you write challenges me into becoming a more thoughtful, sensitive and justice-oriented person. And also thank you for giving me some arguments I can re-use in conversations of my own 🙂

  14. Matt Davis says:

    A simple statistical exercise for the skeptics: Let’s test the hypothesis that men and women are equally likely to be hired for a given job in your department. Compute the probability of getting the current distribution of sexes in your department assuming that hypothesis. Think hard about that p-value.

    • Frank Ch. Eigler says:

      “hypothesis that men and women are equally likely”

      Straw man hypothesis. It is plainly obvious that we don’t have equally qualified men and women candidates, in equal numbers, at uniformly distributed locations, at interchangeable levels of predicted career commitment, so the “equally likely” condition just doesn’t arise.

      • Ursula says:

        If you do the same exercise with the rate of women who have new PhDs in math & stats (which has been flat around 30% for years, according to AMS statistics) it is still illuminating. If you don’t want to work this out by hand, there’s a fun little simulator here:

      • Adriana Salerno says:

        You’re just proving Jonathan’s point.

        • Jacob G says:

          I don’t believe he is. A low p-value indicates that we should reject the null hypothesis, but that is only meaningful if the design controls for extraneous sources of effect. We cannot come to the conclusion that the effect comes from a systemic selection bias because we have not controlled for any of the myriad things Frank lists.

  15. AC says:

    I just wanted to thank you and encourage you to keep writing and making people uncomfortable, myself included. Those of us in mathematics, computer science and other fields in which women, people of color, trans people and others are underrepresented need to start listening to voices like yours.

  16. Gerdiene says:

    Great Post Dr. Harron. If you are white and male and think this is unfair because you NEED and DESERVE your position, you have some hard thinking to do about what you have and how you got it.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Thank you this great post! I have gut reactions to the scenarios discussed here that I couldn’t previously begin to explain, and you have articulated and explained their many facets. It’s nice to have my inner confusion reduced, and to be more aware of the biases held by all humans.

  18. KH says:

    Thank you for writing this thought-provoking article. I intend to reread all of it more than once, but right now this sentence about taking a hard look at what it means to be a university professor is really standing out in my mind: “You are hiring an educator, a role model, a spokesperson, an advisor, a committee person.”

    There is a common feeling in mathematics that people who have accomplished sufficiently high-quality research (whatever “sufficient” means) should have a place in academia regardless of reprehensible behavior. This feeling is motivated by the concern that potential mathematical discoveries will be lost. But implicit here is the insidious assumption that the damage done — most often to the careers of members of marginalized groups — is not also setting the field back because such people are not considered to truly have mathematical potential themselves. Creating more opportunities for more people to get training and shifting the culture to one of more collaboration is what will really push the field forward, not the accomplishments of a handful of people. Mathematics needs to stop being the last holdout of people subscribing to the “Great Man” theory of history. Thank you again for writing this piece urging us to challenge our assumptions.

    • N C C says:


      Reminds me of some of the stuff the author of Inventing The Mathematician brings up too

  19. AK says:

    Thank you for continuing to say what needs to be said.

  20. Piper says:

    Hi Mia,

    Thanks for leaving a comment. Clearly, you don’t know how this works. When you leave a comment, it goes into “moderation.” This means that a moderator (hello!) has to read the message and approve or delete. Reasons a comment may not be approved: it is racist/sexist/transphobic/obscene etc, it is derailing, the moderator is literally asleep, the moderator is a human person that hasn’t had time to figure out whether the comment was posted in good faith and is thus a worthwhile contribution to the conversation, comment got lost in a sea of other comments that fell into one of the above categories, other.

    When someone leaves a negative comment that is not entirely inappropriate, the moderator has to make a decision. They must discern between constructive criticism and someone just vomiting anger and insecurity. There are certain “negative responses” that are really not worth airing here. This is a place for furthering knowledge; not all comments do that.

    Look, I posted something that goes against the mainstream. ALMOST EVERYONE IS GOING TO DISAGREE WITH THIS POST. That is the entire point. So it’s actually not *interesting* to read everyone being like OMG she said I should Quit My Job that is SO RUDE and she doesn’t know me at all or how hard I worked we ALL DESERVE to get what we have earned. blah blah blah. I already know that. That sentiment is the backdrop of my post. It would be like if I submitted a manuscript and my editor was like WELL HOW ABOUT YOU FILL IT WITH 500 BLANK PAGES, you know, AS CONTRAST.

    Anyway, for the moment, I’m not going to approve your original post, because I have to get back to work, and you said this: “Telling people to quit something that they’ve worked long and hard for simply because you have some sort of prejudice against them is ridiculous.” Which tells me that you didn’t even Try to understand my post.

    inclusion/exclusion covers topics you may not have considered, and some of it is going to make you uncomfortable. That is the point. Instead of lashing out when you’re uncomfortable, try asking questions so that you might learn something.

  21. Indigenous says:

    This is on point! I agree. We need non-cis white people in the academy. For example, hirng a non-Indigenous person to do Indigenous work despite there be more than enough qualified Indigenous persons capable doing the work is NOT fair.

  22. Courtney Gibbons says:

    I appreciate your contribution to this blog! Thanks for raising the difficult issues and for volunteering to take the heat for it.

    We come to greater understanding by holding divergent views in tension. Again, thanks for pulling the average in a different direction.

  23. Becky H. says:

    I think that a better first step would be to stop admitting white, cishet, male graduate students (or, at the very least, stop funding them). If we’re going to stop hiring white, cishet male faculty members, let’s not waste 5+ years of their lives with graduate school, and let’s focus our resources (time & money) on the students who we want to hire. Additionally, the members of the grad student selection committee often operate with more autonomy than the members of the hiring committee. Also, the effects of this action will resonate beyond our own departments when our students graduate and take faculty positions elsewhere.

    • Kale Fenneman says:

      So open discrimination against students is your end goal? When they pay and work hard. The public should fund your ideological goals at the expense of their own children? I cannot believe the evil that social justice breeds in people’s hearts.

    • Ben James says:

      That’s called affirmative action and it already happens

  24. Noah Weiss says:

    This was a challenging read, but I think that it is important to see what is going on for those who are not white cishet men. Granted, I am a white cishet man, but I don’t exude auras of superiority, and attempt to treat my students equally. In some of my classes, the female students outperform the male students, and I do not diminish the achievements.

    This does raise a question, though: how does the normativity affect the teaching side of math differently from the research side of math?

  25. VP says:

    Thank you for writing and bringing to light such a sensitive topic with so much thought. Even though I am a minority within the mathematical community (I think), I realised through this post that I also harbor many internal biases, without wanting to or knowingly. The mathematical community seems to have ingrained in itself ‘what a mathematician looks like/should be like’. Mathematics will thrive and progress further with diversity! And change begins with knowledge, so thank you once again for writing such an enlightening piece.

  26. Aaron Hostetter says:

    Thank you for writing this. White folks often think that overcoming their own racism will be easy, that they just have to be “good people” themselves and not challenge or sacrifice any of the unfair advantages they enjoy–they love their privilege. That’s hardly realistic, and it sucks, but it sucks worse for everybody else who’s been excluded for no good reason. Time to end privilege, teach real history, share the favors, decolonize our institutions for good — these things may not be possible in a capitalist system, but we have to move forward anyways.

  27. John says:

    It’s interesting how class is so frequently omitted from these sorts of missives, particularly when the writer comes from something like an ivy league background (or exactly that).

    This can have the appearance of the writer rather conveniently drawing the lines to leave theirself on the “us” side of things, as opposed to the “you” side of things (the people who should be stepping aside).

    Largely, I see the sort of thinking displayed here as encouraging us to make gross assumptions about people and their experiences based on superficial knowledge of them (like that they went to an ivy league school, for example). Maybe that’s just an unfortunate byproduct of an otherwise useful or even necessary mindset, but it seems no less dehumanizing to me.

    And while I might be inclined to consider this all merely provocative (in a good sense), the writer chastens me against this:

    “If you think this is a bad or un-serious idea, your sexism/racism/transphobia is showing.”

    Again, “If you in any way question my ideas, you’re a bigot,” is a *rather convenient* (to the writer) position to take up. It’s not the sort of mindset I’d generally associate with people who are actually interested in tangible change, but rather those who’d prefer espousing idealistic but totally impractical notions (but at least they’re ideologically pure!).

    But then, maybe the writer is no hypocrite at all. Maybe if I said, “What can universities do? Well, that’s easier. Stop hiring ivy league grads until the problem goes away. If you think this is a bad or un-serious idea, your classism is showing,” they’d be totally on board.

    If so, I congratulate them on their ideological purity. Although, I suspect satisfaction in in that is the most they can realistically hope to achieve.

  28. Nancy Scherich says:

    Thank you for this post. It has taken me an embarrassingly long time to see the privilege that I have as a cis white woman. It is hard to see the depth of the struggle of others when you are so busy focusing on your own struggles. Thank you.

    …until there are nine…

  29. Math Colleague says:

    Dear Piper,

    I find myself writing this message anonymously because of the nature of your response to those who do not agree with your message. I hope you carefully read, consider, and post this message.

    Your circle of friends have created an echo chamber around you, and are giving you terrible advice by encouraging you to commit “career suicide”. Anyone who has been on a hiring committee knows that what you write here is *toxic*, and discriminatory under both Title VII and Title IX. Your blog post is needlessly inflammatory and it will hinder your career.

    We are all painfully aware of the inequalities in faculty composition and trying hard to fix it. *Every* math department I know of is trying really hard to hire every qualified minority and female applicant out there (and by qualified I mean: a *very* generous ballpark within the hiring range of each department). The real problem is that there are not enough such candidates, and most departments end up making offers to the same few that are available in the market each year. By the way, our departments are aware of the problem, and so are our Deans and higher administration. In my experience, they are all very supportive of us hiring under-represented minorities, even offering additional positions when such opportunities occur, *as long as we conform with the laws*, and as long as the hire is within the ‘generous ballpark’.

    Title VII and Title IX are in the books to help minorities. Your blog post undermines those laws by harshly advocating for discrimination on the other end. Your post advocates for illegal practices. Everyone I have talked to in my and other departments agrees that you have gone too far. In fact it will probably have the opposite effect, destroying the efforts by the rest of us, and even less minority students will try to go into academia (where we are waiting for them with open arms).

    You will probably retort well then “hire *me*” as in a previous blog post. And all I can say is that if you did not get a tenure-track offer already, it is because you didn’t apply to enough places. If you what you want is a job at a top research institution, then you’ll need to prove that you are in the ‘generous ballpark’ of the research level you aspire to. I’ll be blunt: you have no grants, one publication, and the one paper is co-authored with your advisor. Write more papers, and we will hire you.

    You have great potential to make a difference for minorities and women in mathematics. Come up with a reasonable plan to help minorities, and NSF will fund it. But this post is unnecessarily destructive, discriminatory, inflammatory, and counterproductive to our inclusion efforts.

  30. Mike Best says:

    This article literally sounds like satire. Total equality, is not total freedom, it is in fact the opposite. Why not just get the government to randomly assign people jobs at Birth? In fact why not get them to control every damn thing about their lives then we can all be equal in absolutely everything.

  31. Tom Shultz says:

    “Remember that you live in a world where people don’t succeed in a vacuum; most success happens on the backs of others who did not consent”

    Is that also true when minorities succeed? Is all success some kind of moral crime?

    I am an immigrant. I had to learn a new language, a new culture and faced many obstacles. These were challenges which I overcame through hard work. I in no way consider my current success as happening on the backs of “others who did not consent”.

  32. Keith Cole says:

    Stop hiring white people men? How is this NOT racist? Because white men hold privilege over others so they should quit their jobs (because of their skin color) and hand them over to another person (who is of a specific skin color)? In your misguided attempts to solve racism, you are undoubtedly promoting a racist idea.

  33. Jacob G says:

    Isn’t the problem really far more complicated than this?

  34. Jorge H says:

    Right. So can you all first world people just kinda go and let us marginalized third world people get into your priviliged houses and jobs? Just for a couple decades, you know because, colonialism and all.


  35. Concerned Human Being says:

    Is this b8, or are you one hundred percent legitimate with this post? I am so confused, and convinced that you think this way. Please tell me otherwise.

  36. Jmyers says:

    The problem with this is it judges by OUTCOME rather than merit, skill, and individual character. No one should LESSEN themselves so another may increase based upon a numerical notion of “equality” as if the concept deserves something. This collective group thinking is inherently flawed from it’s presupposition.

  37. Derek says:

    “Human beings are born with different capacities, if they are free, they are not equal. If they are equal, they are not free.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

  38. Academic Colleague says:

    I work in academia and would like to provide a brief anecdote regarding search committees.

    I recently served on a search committee. Our top pick was a black woman—she rejected our offer because she found a better deal elsewhere. I realize this is anecdotal, but in her case she had offers from multiple institutions. Also, we did not choose her because she was black or a woman, but simply because she was more qualified in her field than all of the other candidates. If this means that we “live in a world where people don’t succeed in a vacuum; most success happens on the backs of others who did not consent” then so be it. She was better than the others, so we chose her. She found a better offer from a (presumably) better institution, so she went there instead. Hierarchies do exist. If you can find me a place and time where this hasn’t been the case, please let me know and I’ll join you there tomorrow.

    • profInMidwest says:

      Several similar experiences at a mid-sized, very white public institution in the midwest. We are regularly turned down on by people from marginalized groups and the few people from underrepresented groups that we have hired in our department have been involved in the “two-body” scenario.

  39. Steve DeAngelo says:

    “Remember that without sexism, you would expect women to sometimes be over-represented… that has never happened.”

    It’s patently false to say women are “never” over-represented. For example, 71% of public sector employees in Canada are women, and 58% of medical students are female. Over half of university students are female overall, and overwhelmingly so in the humanities and social sciences.

  40. cannot be bothered says:

    “most success happens on the backs of others who did not consent.” – contrast this to Newton saying ““If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants.”

    If you really want to play the group-identity game instead of recognizing individual human rights: the modern era has been created mostly by white men, such as Newton, Einstein, Bohr, Wittgenstein, Von Clausewitz, Paine, Maxwell, Von Neumann, etc. etc. Asian men are about to take over, and professional victims are here to speed up the process.

    • Adriana Salerno says:

      As someone has already said, the fact that you think that ONLY white men could have made these discoveries is very telling. Also, how could it have been any other way, when women and minorities were literally locked out of Academia until not too long ago?

  41. Comrade Colleague says:

    I’m not a mathematician, but I work in higher education, and I commend you on this essay. Higher education usually argues in favor of progress but regularly acts to preserve a status quo, and the cognitive dissonance is painful. I have had a trans student tell me that a professor literally told her that by being at our school she was taking up a spot that could be occupied by someone who was actually likely to succeed in the field. This might just be an anecdote, but the fact that a prof allowed herself (yeah, it was a woman, but clearly not one who gets intersectionality) to say this out loud means that we have a long way to go before newcomers to academe aren’t seen as illegitimate interlopers in a zero-sum game.
    I think that some of the negative responses to this are mis-interpreting the provocative statement that white cis-het men should quit (partially because everyone knows that when a tenured prof retires, their office isn’t filled with another tenured prof, cis-het or otherwise, but rather a few desperate adjuncts without health insurance!). If these readers can’t recognize provocative argumentation, or can’t get their minds wrapped around the simple idea that there are multiple kinds of privilege (of which everyone starts out with various pre-sets, whether they like it or not), then I’m concerned about their capacity to do academic work.
    I’m no scientist, but I do know that ecosystems with monocultures don’t tend to thrive. I also know that scientists share data sets, so claiming something isn’t true because you haven’t experienced it personally is unscientific. I’m not a mathematician either, but the idea that the right man for the job is almost always a man, based purely on talent, seems statistically improbable.
    Since we know that anyone who has an academic job is unlikely to relinquish it based on principles, I would hope that “woke” men could pitch in more on the unpaid feminized labor in their departments (organizing of the details of panels and workshops, supportive advising, mediating egos in meetings, supporting colleagues at conferences), and actively seek out female (or PoC, or non-cis-het) colleagues for the more prestigious roles where they get bypassed (keynote speakers, research grants, etc). I also hope that people in academia can work to make sure that educational inequality is dealt with from a much earlier age, because if they want any credibility on critiquing uni-level affirmative action policies, they should be busting their asses to create an *actual* meritocracy.

  42. Martin Fouts says:

    I do not know what the author’s intent was with this blog entry, although my guess is that it was well meant. The comments indicated that it accomplished preaching to the choir and polarizing the group that was called out. If the goal was to stir people into awareness as a step towards resolving the problem of hiring bias, it accomplished exactly the opposite.

    The result was to antagonize some white men while providing an echo chamber for those who agree with the author.

    Language meant to antagonize the oppressor seems to be becoming common place. This is an unfortunate trend, and a disservice to those actively trying to address the problem, including the author of such language. As with many of things we do as humans, it may feel good at the time, but it rarely results in a positive outcome.

    • Adriana Salerno says:

      This post is much more subtle than that. By writing a provoking post, you make people engage with the subject. I’m glad you are engaging. Now please try to think about why we would post this, from a point of view that gives us the benefit of the doubt, not one that dismisses us immediately. Please read it again.

  43. Sara says:

    Dr. Harron,

    Thank you for your thoughtful and reflective post. It is interesting to me that many of the comments in this thread appear to not have actually read your post or offer nothing more than disingenuous responses.

    In particular, this comment is striking in its tone deafness and paternalism:

    “The real problem is that there are not enough such candidates, and most departments end up making offers to the same few that are available in the market each year.”

    The poster does not appear to recognize that white spaces such as mathematics and physics are by design. It is not a coincidence (as you rightfully point out) that this is the case; yet, this comment is another example of (male) voices criticizing the very people who have been excluded in the first place! That there are only a ‘few’ qualified candidates that are non-white cis male should be a moment of pausing. Why is this the case? You do a great job of making this clear.

    The visceral reaction to posts like these should be simply made into a multiple choice survey or checklist to save the trouble of repetition to offended parties of your post. e.g.:

    I. but not all men…

    II. your request for math departments to be actively anti-racist is racist

    III. I’m white and I’ve been a victim of reverse racism (no. no you haven’t)

    Lastly, here are some quotes I find worth repeating here:

    “Race is not a construct of the powerless or the dispossessed. It functions to keep a particular set of power relations in place and to make whiteness hegemonic and positioned as the site of normativity” (Ladson Billings )

    The general attitude among mathematicians is marked by gender blindness and equity issues are still perceived as women’s responsibility. This attitude is supported not only by the culture in the mathematics departments but also by a surrounding society with a great tension between a political equity discourse and a strong gender division in the labour marked and in higher education. Some mathematics departments form part of an engineering faculty, also strongly male dominated, even if the gender balance is changing faster within engineering as a whole. Mathematicians may compare mathematics to other male dominated areas and let these parallels consciously or unconsciously justify the imbalance within mathematics. Gender equity requires a true sense of responsibility within the mathematical community as a whole, including the leaders and management of mathematics departments. Without determined actions involving also cultural and social aspects, we undoubtedly will still have to wait many years for a gender balanced situation. (Brandell 2008, p. 671-672)

    • Math Colleague says:

      I don’t think you read my post. I’ll quote myself: “We are all painfully aware of the inequalities in faculty composition and trying hard to fix it. *Every* math department I know of is trying really hard to hire every qualified minority and female applicant out there […].” The same goes for undergraduates and graduates: we are trying to empower every female and minority student too, in every way we can. It is not easy, but we try. A post like this is a big step backwards.

      I find it amusing that you assume my gender – do you believe there are no women in hiring committees, or that they are not aware of the laws and regulations that hiring needs to follow?

      Another piece of advice. Do not trust what I or anyone says on this forum. Go to the Title IX officer on your campus and ask them if calling for white males to quit, or disregarding all white males from the hiring pool violates federal law.

  44. Miriam says:

    Not sure if this is supposed to be satire…. It would be sad if alot of people got pushed into positions that they clearly didn’t merit. It would call into question the competence of anyone matching those characteristics. Untenable in the long run.

  45. Porsche Majeure says:

    Back in the 90s, I had two friends (American white boys) who wanted to do graduate mathematics. They went to a good state school. One of them lasted one semester, the other two semesters. The head of the department, explained to them that they wouldn’t be able to compete against all the Chinese students at the school, who had much more rigorous undergraduate math in China.

    And I’m reading a blog post about white male dominance of mathematics?

    • Adriana Salerno says:

      This is not a counter-argument. It is an anecdote. And it sounds like your friend was in a terrible department.

  46. Joseph Tomaras says:

    This is approximately how most of the comments on this post now sound:

  47. Peter says:

    Those who preach inclusion should not themselves be advocating the exclusion of others on ground ONLY of race and gender. How to lose allies to the cause. MLK would be spinning in his grave. He said he looked to a day when we judged others on the content of their heart and not on the colour of their skin. A person’s skin colour and gender does NOT (repeat NOT) say ANYTHING about the content of a person’s heat. How dare you harass other people SIMPLY on the basis of colour and gender.

    • Adriana Salerno says:

      You are right, so it’s a good thing that it’s not what we are doing. But you seem to be uninterested in the content, past the first paragraph.

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