Letter to the Editor: Notices of the AMS
The following letter will be sent to Notices of the AMS in response to the article: "A Word From... Abigail Thompson, a Vice President of the AMS" that appeared in the December 2019 issue. If you support the letter, please add your name and affiliation at the end of this form.
Here is the list of people that have signed the letter:
Due to vandalism, we have re-enabled the setting requiring a google account to sign. If you signed on 29-30 November please check that your name is on the list of signatories and re-sign if not.
The math community values a commitment to diversity
We are a group of concerned mathematicians writing in response to AMS Vice President Abigail Thompson’s editorial, invited by the AMS for publication in the December 2019 edition of the Notices. In this editorial, Dr. Thompson states her personal opinion against the mandated use of faculty diversity statements in hiring decisions and compares such requirements to McCarthyist loyalty oaths.
We are all members of many mathematical societies, including the American Mathematical Society. Some of us serve on committees in these societies or are chairs of committees in these societies. Some of us are or have been chairs of departments, some of us are or have been chairs of search committees, and some of us have written or reviewed diversity statements as part of search processes. We have all thought deeply about the role of diversity statements and related tools, such as student success statements.
We are compelled to write because the AMS leadership’s actions have harmed the mathematics community, particularly mathematicians from marginalized backgrounds. We are writing because we support diversity statements as one tool to encourage a more inclusive and equitable mathematics profession. We are writing because we wish to correct the misleading impressions readers might have of such statements from Thompson’s editorial: Thompson’s opinion does not represent the opinions of many other members of the mathematics community. We are writing because not everyone is in a position to raise their voice. We are writing because it matters how our community and its leaders talk about diversity, especially in our profession’s most prominent publication. We are writing because we are disappointed by the editorial decision to publish the piece which contradicts the AMS’s commitment to diversity affirmed in its own diversity statement. Clearly, this is something that people needed to talk about, but the AMS has chosen to spark this conversation by giving its imprimatur to a piece that undermines productive discussion and causes real danger and burden to the marginalized members of our community.
Diversity statements are widely used in academic hiring as one component to assess candidates’ qualifications for the job. Each statement one requires as part of a hiring process – research, teaching, mentoring, service, or diversity – helps paint a picture of how a candidate will contribute to the work of an institution. Increased use of diversity statements reflects a growing recognition in higher education that faculty contribute in positive ways to the campus community by acknowledging, appreciating, and collaborating with groups of students, staff, and fellow faculty who are diverse along varied axes. In acknowledgement that this is part of the work of a faculty member and of the hiring process, we recommend that graduate programs explicitly prepare their graduates to contribute to this work and to write and talk about it meaningfully, and we commend the programs already undertaking this work. There are plenty of legitimate questions about how to use diversity statements effectively and how (more broadly) to create diverse and supportive faculties. In order to reduce bias in the evaluation of candidates, hiring committees evaluate statements according to criteria that indicate evidence of these important contributions, grounded in the missions of higher education in general and their institution in particular. Asking for and evaluating diversity statements are not quick solutions to the complex challenge of justice and inclusion in higher education, but they can help hiring committees to evaluate candidates’ skills in doing this portion of our professional work.
Diversity statements help assess a candidate's ability to effectively teach a diverse group of students. If our goal as mathematicians and educators is truly to reach as many students as possible, thinking about diversity and inclusion is necessary. Good teaching is necessarily inclusive. If we willfully ignore an important area of pedagogy that demonstrably helps more students succeed in math, then we will continue to reproduce systems of inequity, and we will do a great disservice to our students. We will therefore not be effective teachers.
Suggesting that actively attempting to include more students in mathematics is equivalent to the Red Scare is ignorant (about both history and the present) and dangerous. Claims of “reverse racism,” which equate critiquing privilege with oppressing the privileged, have a long and unsavory history in and beyond higher education. Without understanding the history in which these discussions are rooted, it is possible to profess support for the ideal of equality while acting in ways that lead to exclusion and inequity.
While Dr. Thompson attempts to spin this issue with partisan wording, diversity statements are a small yet necessary step towards creating a more equitable and inclusive community. Higher education in the US is shifting, student populations we serve are changing, and our understanding of how to better serve all students is advancing. We need a rehumanization of mathematics that can affirm students’ cultural funds of knowledge while examining and combating its own roles in supporting power structures. We need leadership at all levels, from professional societies to presidents, boards, deans, and chairs, to recognize this reality, advocate for students and faculty from a variety of backgrounds, and move us forward.
Dr. Thompson’s preface that the letter is her “personal opinion” does not alleviate our concerns, nor does the fact that she seems to be referring primarily to the use of these documents at the UC system. The fact remains that the Notices made an editorial decision to give Thompson’s essay a national (indeed, international) platform, and in a prominent position within the publication. Notices is a publication of the AMS, and Dr. Thompson is identified as an AMS officer in her byline. According to Notices editor Erica Flapan, Dr. Thompson’s position in the AMS leadership led the AMS to solicit her letter. These contextual details send a message to the profession about how diversity is viewed by those with power and responsibility in the AMS and a major university department. The AMS and Notices bear responsibility for amplifying views that fly in the face of research-based practices and that falsely equate evidence-based approaches to teaching and professional practice with the blacklisting of people based on political ideology, all in direct contradiction of the AMS’s stated commitment to diversity.
AMS’s own diversity statement claims, “The American Mathematical Society is committed to promoting and facilitating equity, diversity and inclusion throughout the mathematical sciences... We reaffirm the pledge in the AMS Mission Statement to 'advance the status of the profession of mathematics, encouraging and facilitating full participation of all individuals,' and urge all members to conduct their professional activities with this goal in mind.” While merely publishing Dr. Thompson's letter demonstrates the AMS’s lack of commitment to this statement, the fact that it was written by and credited to an officer of the AMS raises even more serious questions about the statement’s sincerity.
We strongly disagree with the sentiments and arguments in Dr. Thompson’s editorial, and we hope that the AMS will reconsider the way that it uses its power and position in the mathematics communities in these kinds of discussions. However, we primarily write this letter to our fellow mathematicians and students of all kinds who might have wondered if inclusion work is valued in our community. We want students and faculty, especially those with multiple identities that are minoritized in mathematics, to know that many mathematicians see this inclusion work as integral to our community and identity.
Carrie Diaz Eaton, Bates College
Victor Piercey, Ferris State University
Chad Topaz, Williams College
Alexander Diaz-Lopez, Villanova University
Drew Lewis, University of South Alabama
Stan Yoshinobu, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
Spencer Bagley, Westminster College (UT)
Brian P. Katz, Smith College
Alicia Prieto Langarica, Youngstown State University
Rachelle DeCoste, Wheaton College (MA)
Kenan İnce, Westminster College (UT)
Jessica M. Libertini, Virginia Military Institute
Dana C. Ernst, Northern Arizona University
Dagan Karp, Harvey Mudd College
Meredith L. Greer, Bates College
Michael J. Barany, University of Edinburgh
Adriana Salerno, Bates College
Send me a copy of my responses.
Never submit passwords through Google Forms.
This content is neither created nor endorsed by Google. -
Terms of Service