Hopes for a new Editor-in-Chief

In June, as part of #ShutDownSTEM, I challenged the AMS to replace me as Editor-in-Chief of this blog. In particular, I challenged them to replace me with a Black mathematician by reconsidering how this position is valued. It is clear that we need to center, value, and support Black voices in mathematics and in this work. I hope that a strong pool of applicants can articulate many ways that the AMS can value this work, but there are two that I suggest.

First, I believe this position should be compensated. Black scholars in particular, and faculty from many groups minoritized in the academy in general, are asked to do a lot of unpaid labor for professional institutions and organizations. It is my understanding that currently all of the Editor-in-Chief positions for the blogs hosted by the AMS are paid 100 AMS Points per year, which is also what I have been offered for reviewing a book for the AMS. Here is the AMS’s language about how these points can be spent.

Each AMS Point entitles you to a \$1 discount on purchases of AMS publications, gift items and membership dues (up to a maximum discount of \$20 may be applied for membership dues). AMS Points may not be used for meeting fees or books distributed (not published) by the AMS. More information may be found on the AMS Points at: https://www.ams.org/membership/amspoints.

In contrast, this role of Editor-in-Chief has required energy from me comparable to responsibilities for which I have been compensated with (i) a course release or (ii) an annual stipend of more than $6000. As a white person, I am also protected from some of the most draining elements of this position. Most people who have been frustrated with me in my role have sent me substantive, respectful notes; and when people from outside our community have left angry comments for me, they mostly speculate that I must be bored or stupid to write the things I have written about justice and mathematics. My colleagues who are people of color, queer, and women have received death threats, so I expect that a new Editor-in-Chief who is Black would deserve to be compensated for significantly more labor even than what this role requires of me. It is my understanding that the AMS views itself as a volunteer organization and that the small compensation with AMS Points for the EiCs represented a big change in practice when it started.

This brings us to my second suggestion. I believe that the AMS needs to continue reconsidering this stance as a volunteer organization. Justice work needs to be core to the work of all professional organizations, including the AMS. I have been pleased that in recent years the MAA has taken up a responsibility for making sure that everyone at their events is asked to consider justice as part of our work, and I think it would be very powerful if the AMS were to insist that all mathematicians participate in this work, including people who up to this point have thought of justice as separate from their work as abstract researchers. I see this blog as doing vital work in our community under the auspices of the AMS, and it seems appropriate and perhaps necessary to frame it as such; moreover, I think that centering Black editorial voices in this work is critical. I have not considered every AMS blog in detail, but I suspect that many other editorial boards see themselves as doing vital work that we believe ought to be part of the public efforts of our largest professional organization. I do not mean to imply that the AMS is doing nothing to fight injustice, but I do think that work of the blogs should be re-imagined as a core part of the work of the organization.

In particular, I think that the relationship between the editorial voice of this blog and the AMS needs to be reconsidered. Right now, we are almost completely independent: in exchange for the AMS hosting the website, they ask us to follow some basic expectations, and an AMS committee formally approves any new Editor-in-Chief. I certainly appreciate that the AMS does not have or try to exert any editorial control over the blog, but in practice I think this means that these conversations are sustained by individuals rather than the organization, which has significant implications for how this work is supported. This is especially important when we account for the ways that white people often discount Black voices when they talk about justice; more formal and overt support for these voices from the AMS is one important element in a response to the structures of racism. Perhaps a new Editor-in-Chief would want to maintain the current arrangement, but I think it needs to be a part of the conversation with the next EiC.

So I hope several readers will apply to be the new EiC of this blog, and I am especially here to help push the AMS so that Black mathematician applicants can feel more confident they would be supported and valued if they accept the position.

Here is the call for applications for the Editor-in-Chief position. The deadline for submissions is 10/26/2020.

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