December’s Notices of the American Mathematical Society contains a surprising column on Page 4, given that mathematicians have not been on the front lines of debates about diversity and campus speech.
The column, by Abigail Thompson, chair of math at the University of California, Davis, and one of the society’s vice presidents, says that today’s diversity statements are like the political litmus tests of the McCarthy era.
“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,’” Thompson says. Those who refused to sign were fired.
Now, “Faculty at universities across the country are facing an echo of the loyalty oath, a mandatory ‘Diversity Statement’ for job applicants.”
The “professed purpose” of these statements is to identify candidates “who have the skills and experience to advance institutional diversity and equity goals,” Thompson wrote. But “in reality it’s a political test, and it’s a political test with teeth.”
What are the teeth, Thompson asks? Nearly all University of California campuses require that job applicants submit a “contributions to diversity” statement as a part of their application, and campuses evaluate such statements using rubrics, “a detailed scoring system.” She doesn’t name names, but says that “several UC programs have used these diversity statements to screen out candidates early in the search process.”