Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion statements in the hiring process

With the publication of the December edition of the AMS Notices this week, equity-minded mathematicians have once again taken time out of our busy lives to respond to an editorial by AMS Vice President Abigail Thompson. In it, Thompson suggests that hiring committees should not be required to ask for diversity statements, and that forcing people to use rubrics she deems as “bad” to evaluate diversity statements from candidates is tantamount to asking for a loyalty oath a la McCarthy era. This is a false equivalence, a weak argument, and frankly a dangerous one on par with “reverse racism” claims. Asking for people to identify how they will create an environment (for students and colleagues) that allows EVERYONE to flourish and be welcomed into mathematics is not equivalent to political persecution. Disliking an enforced rubric is fine, but jumping from that to the Red Scare is overly dramatic and problematic. Anyway, much of this has been said already, in different places, very well. We at inclusion/exclusion wanted to do two things with this post:

  1. Give a forum for people to comment on the Notices piece (“A Word from… Abigail Thompson”), beyond responses in the form of letters to the editor. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. We will post disagreements with our stance and counterarguments, too, as long as they are made in good faith (read: racist/sexist/homophobic comments and ad hominem attacks will not be approved).
  2. Give a few resources that we find particularly useful when thinking of these issues. For example, if you want to learn more about WHY people might want to require diversity statements, read this terrific piece by Chad Topaz. If you want to read what some really smart people are saying on Twitter, threads by @MBarany, @dagan_karp, @stanyoshinobu, @dtkung, @j_lanier and @mathprofcarrie are particularly insightful, in different ways. If you want to read a letter some of us drafted to send to the AMS Notices, you can go here (and if you agree, you may want to consider signing the letter).

Finally, even though we are disappointed by the publication of this opinion piece, we are heartened by the response of many in the math community who care about and support processes that lead to more equitable and inclusive math departments.

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17 Responses to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion statements in the hiring process

  1. Kenan Ince says:

    In my diversity statement, I reflected on: using inquiry-based learning, math that fits students’ passions, countering stereotype threat, + joining a group for queer students in STEM. Hardly the “political litmus test” akin to McCarthyist loyalty oaths Thompson suggests.

    It is political /not/ to address the deep inequities in math. It is political to ignore them, just as it is political to take concrete action to address them. It’s just that one of these actions maintains immense historical inequities while one attempts to counter them.

    Of the ~38% of students in a recent study (Seymour-Hewitt 2019) who left STEM, 52% cited “Lacks sense of belonging, negative culture of STEM” as a factor, compared to 8% of students who stayed in STEM.

    Prof. Thompson’s editorial, solicited and approved without major revisions by the AMS, argues we don’t have to do anything to address these issues except “treat all students the same”. We’ve tried that, and it isn’t working.

  2. Carol Schumacher says:

    Well said, Adriana. Thanks for lending us your voice on this.

  3. Anonymous says:

    You are misrepresenting Thompson’s argument : She is not saying that “hiring committees should not be required to ask for diversity statements”, she is saying that “hiring committees should not negatively evaluate a candidate based on not being a diversity activist”. If you looked at the score-card provided by the UC system you will see that it puts rather stringent requirements on what is considered a satisfactory “diversity statement” and that it indeed is a political test.

    • Adriana Salerno says:

      This really depends on what you care about. If you want, we could also not negatively evaluate a candidate on not being a good teacher? or a good researcher? In the end, she’s saying that we shouldn’t care (rubrics and requirements are needed to decide whether performance in a given dimension is satisfactory or not). Not caring about equity and inclusion is your personal right, as is some people’s not caring about their teaching. I do think that when we think of hiring “the best” candidate, this should be part and parcel of the hiring process. In the end, your argument is that she didn’t say that we should not that have diversity statements, she just said that we shouldn’t have high standards for people. Regardless, I still disagree.

      • Anonymous says:

        Indeed at many R1’s candidates are not negatively evaluated on not being a good teacher. Prof. Thompson is making the argument that “diversity work” should fall in the same rubric at UC’s (which are R1’s).

        I (essentially) agree with your abbreviation of her argument as “we shouldn’t have high standards for diversity work (at R1’s)” and that “it shouldn’t be a criterion of academic excellence (at R1’s)”. I’m glad that we had a (short, but) constructive conversation.

  4. abc says:

    The “terrific piece” by Chad Topaz states:

    “For those of you who are in mathematics, advise grad-school-bound undergraduate students – especially students who are minoritized along some axis – not to apply to UC Davis. Advise your graduate student and postdoc colleagues not to apply there for jobs.”

    This is a call for a boycott. Does Prof. Salerno endorse it?

    • Adriana Salerno says:

      Suggesting not to apply for a job is not a boycott.

    • Stephanie Chang says:

      It’s not a boycott. If the department won’t enforce or facilitate a healthy or safe space for their students’ growth and identities, there is nothing wrong with advising marginalized folks to not apply. This isn’t asking people to not apply for the sake of not applying to make a statement. It’s advising people to not apply, asking them to put their own mental health and wellbeing first.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I also agreed with Dr. Thompson’s letter. There needs to be robust processes in every department to ensure that people may report discrimination and expect their concerns to be investigated and adjudicated fairly. But writing a “diversity statement” does nothing to prove that a job candidate will or will not discriminate – it is just to ensure that those in power (and let’s be honest about the political composition of those in academica) get to choose others that will think like them.

    A more broad concern is why math departments constantly pull their hair out about diversity. I remember seeing this graphic in IHE which showed gender imbalance in PhDs earned across various fields:
    https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Screen%20Shot%202017-02-07%20at%204.18.56%20PM.png (original article: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/02/08/study-sees-gender-gaps-phd-programs-discipline-and-prestige )
    and was greatly surprised at the variation. With decades past since the bans on women and people of certain races were lifted, we would have expected the proportions of various groups, absent any systemic efforts, to have approached their equilibrium. I don’t, for a second, believe that mathematics as a field happens to appeal to implicitly biased white men, while ecology magically attracts “equity-minded” researchers, and that that somehow explains their gender imbalances. We can allow people to pursue their interests, and welcome everyone who happens to have the same interests as us. If the proportions do not exactly match that of society at large, that does not constitute proof that we need diversity statements/bias training/whatever diversity committees are planning next.

    • mathematician says:

      Theorem 1: More faculty in positions of leadership/as professors/as mentors that satisfy criteria X increases success of students that satisfy criteria of X. (Rich get richer)
      Corollary 1: To increase success of a diverse student faculty, there exists a solution in which you hire diverse faculty.

      Theorem 2: Probability of success and innovation increases with diversity.

      Theorem 3: Organizations and communities are more likely to be sustainable and adaptable if and only if they are diverse.

      Hiring with diversity in mind -> increase institutional, profession, and community success for all. (Proof trivial)

    • APL says:

      I agree with you that:
      “We can allow people to pursue their interests, and welcome everyone who happens to have the same interests as us.”
      You are very right and I know from this statement that you come from a good place. However, being in academia myself I have witness time and time again well meaning colleagues make terrible mistakes. I have seen 2 students in the same math class ask for help and get very different responses (even when their grades and standing is very similar). The white student will get: you have to work harder, here are some resources. the non-white student will get: maybe you should look into majoring in something outside STEM.

      I think requiring candidates to at the very least reflect on issues of race and gender in STEM will give search committees a better picture of who they are planning on hiring. I don’t need all my colleagues to take up the `fight’ but I ask that at least they know when to refer their students to other faculty who might have a different approach or might be willing to help.

  6. Anonymous 2 says:

    Thank you for posting this!
    Here is the link to the official response by UC Davis:
    it makes very clear how the statement and the rubric are aligned with the UC system mission and vision. Also, it makes clear some of the background an the process.

  7. anonymous says:

    I think a large fraction of the math community will agree with Thompson’s letter. I certainly do. The fact that Thompson was elected Vice-President of AMS is no accident (see September 2018 Notices).

    I’ve become very cynical about these matters after seeing how diversity initiatives play out in practice. For example they are surrounded by clouds of nontransparency, it is considered legally risky to say what they are actually doing.

    • Algebraist says:

      It is one thing to discuss the best way of using diversity statements to further our profession’s goals of equity and inclusion. It’s another for a member of the AMS leadership to compare their use to a McCarthyist loyalty oath.

    • Stephanie Chang says:

      Well, I think a large fraction of the math community disagrees with Thompson, given the 500+ people that signed the letter to AMS (see Chad Topazs’ blog post on QSIDE). And just because someone was elected Vice President of AMS doesn’t make them exempt from terrible opinions (saying that writing a diversity statement is akin to signing loyalty oath is not the same) along with trying to stir anxiety and fearmonger.

  8. RMLogician says:

    I completely agree with the statement,”Disliking an enforced rubric is fine, but jumping from that to the Red Scare is overly dramatic and problematic.” I have been involved in search committees at both an R1 and a community college; both required applicants to submit a diversity statement, and neither used those diversity statements in a way that evenly vaguely resembles what Dr. Thompson describes. An institution could mandate rubrics for evaluating research and teaching statements, and those rubrics could be poorly constructed, but that wouldn’t take away from the general usefulness of having candidates write such statements.

  9. JN says:

    Diversity statements provide excellent information, and in general I think equating them to loyalty oaths is absurd. But there is one area where the ‘political/cultural’ aspect seems hard to ignore, and that is how they interact with the domestic/international division. My impression, is that it is extremely difficult for an international applicant to write a diversity statement that conforms with the expectations we have in the states–inclusion is conceptualized quite differently in some other countries. Even international students who studied in the US can have quite a hard time framing the issues in the way that we would expect in the US. I have tended to evaluate these on a curve, but I don’t know what the right answer is, and it seems to me that there are reasonable arguments on both sides for this particular issue: (i.e. they will be working in a US context vs. inclusion means you should partly be hiring on potential…)

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