Press "Enter" to skip to content

Math Prof likens mandatory diversity statements to McCarthyist loyalty oaths

From InsideHigherEd, here:

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. [Full disclosure: My Dad had to sign one of these – apparently helping liberate North Africa, Sicily, and France was not enough proof of his loyalty.]

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.” ..

UO requires these statements for hiring and promotion. Originally they were bargained for by the faculty union, as a way for women and minorities to get credit for the high service burdens they face. The administration quickly picked up on them as a way to increase their control of faculty hiring and promotion. The most blatant example is from AVP Melanie Muenzer’s “search advocates” initiative, which puts mandatory “thought partners” on faculty hiring committees, which starts off as if it’s about ensuring efforts are made to get diverse candidate pools on the basis of race and gender – something easy to agree with – but then goes on in a way that can be read as if it is about making sure that new hires subscribe to particular beliefs, which of course reduces intellectual diversity:

  • Providing guidance and serving as a thought partner to the search committee during the review of candidates including the steps to select candidates for phone or online interviews, invitations for campus visits, and final selection
  • As needed, making recommendations to the provost on extensions or continuation of searches that may be struggling to recruit candidates or have challenges during the review and selection phases of the search

This concern about is strengthened by the fact that the new instructions for Provost Phillips’s Institutional Hiring Plan warn that departments that lack collegiality are unlikely to be given lines for new hires.

So if your department has a lot of plainspoken faculty who vocally disagree on intellectual matters no new hires for you until you zip it and sign that loyalty oath.


  1. CSN 11/25/2019

    Combine this story with the IU story below — UOM, very interested in your (and others’) reaction to such a “thought partner” saying to the relevant IU department: “Eric cannot serve on a search committee?” Or how about “Eric cannot participate in search-related activities?”

    I think they’ve already said “Eric cannot participate in tenure-promotion-related activities” which I take to mean “hey, we have some non-straight-white-men in our school and we don’t want to be sued for encouraging a hostile work environment.”

  2. Conservative Duck 11/25/2019

    And this is why I am legitimately scared to wear my MAGA hat on this campus. Physical assault or losing my career here are very real possibilities. Being labeled a Nazi, racist, misogynist bigot by people who, ironically, don’t even know the definition of the word…

    • Dog 11/25/2019


      Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon


      whatever could go wrong?

    • honest Uncle Bernie 11/25/2019

      Duck — do you really have a MAGA hat! — if you do, I think you are smart not to wear it — it really could get very unpleasant, even dangerous.

      Meanwhile, I read today of TWO reputable polls that find that support for Trump among blacks is at 34% (funny what record low unemployment will do, isn’t it). If this is true and it holds, Trump will blow the people you fear out of the water. They will probably go completely insane.

      • charlie 11/28/2019

        Might be that the other 66% of black people have more sense than just to look at record unemployment rates, and also peruse Civilian Labor Force Participation Rates.>civilian-labor-force...

        Executive summary: Lot lower than what it was back in ’99.

        While you’re at it, maybe you should look at what’s occurring with the people who actually pay the university’s freight.

        Student Loan Debt: 2019 Statistic and Outlook
        www. > Personal Finance > Banking > Student Loans

        Something you might find interesting in that article. About 27% of people who entered college in 2003-2004 year have since defaulted. The trend is for increasing student loan defaults, not decreasing. Apparently, the economy ain’t creating all those great jobs we’ve been hearing about.

        Seems as if the bulk of the jobs of the future will be low wage, low skilled, which makes taking on increasing student loans a waste of time. Doesn’t sound too MAGA to me, hey, but not that I’m an economist, or anything…

    • Steve Holt 11/25/2019

      How privileged you are that a simple removal of a hat will spare you unpleasant and dangerous encounters.

      May every person in this country have that privilege.

      • uomatters Post author | 11/25/2019


      • honest Uncle Bernie 11/26/2019

        In other words, he better realize that he’s so lucky he doesn’t get the shit beat out of him around here for letting his support of President Trump be known.

      • Conservative Duck 11/26/2019

        Steve Holt, you assume I’ve never been attacked for being white, which is a bad assumption. How privileged you are to have no experience being hated by a minority for being a part of the majority. May every person in this country have that privilege!

  3. Jim Walsh 11/25/2019

    This sounds like the articles of association that were presented for signature just before the start of the shooting in the revolutionary war. If you refused to sign you were suspect at best; at worst they would come and burn your home and steal your cattle and other property. At the time of revolution there is no “safe space”.

    • uomatters Post author | 11/25/2019

      For the record this blog’s opinion is that the War of Independence against the Tyrant George III was on balance a good thing, though as you say it did require a certain amount of rustling, as well as debasement of the currency, quid pro quo with the french, and some insufferable hypocrisy from the slaver Thomas Jefferson about Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

  4. thedude 11/26/2019

    They are. And our new teaching evals might become the same thing with our reflection statements.

  5. apt 11/27/2019

    Diversity Equity Inclusivity etc (DEI) is such a social and capital force now that any sort of “justice” work is so watered down. Look at the empty and vague language and rhetoric. Think of all the DEI consultants making a buck in just about every industry, including and especially higher ed. Usually not a fan of this column in IHE but it seems like the authors had a light-bulb moment:

    The most interesting insight, for me: that talking about identity in terms of power, privilege and oppression is no longer the woke insurgency, but rather the cultural establishment. If you talk in this way, you are not showing your subaltern stripes — you are flashing the badge of insider dominance. The badge of power.

    I still believe that identity is a powerful place to ground an interrogation of power and there’s certainly plenty of scholarly and activist work to get into in that regard. But there’s none of that in empty diversity statement requirements.

  6. Truman Blue 11/28/2019

    Diversity statements are good examples of what progressives like to call “moral grandstanding” and center-conservatives more often call “virtue-signalling.” The real practices of justice and inclusion happen at a far more fine-grained level, and are not matters for boasting or CV-inflating, but the folks in power are more interested in power than in the true and the good, so of course they care more about structures and the control of institutions (and lesser people).

    It’s interesting that this piece comes from a mathematician, since mathematicians have been mostly left out of the hyper-racialization-of-everything-in-the-world. Interesting, too, that it comes not long afer Seattle schools were highlighted for planning on teaching ethno-mathematics to children in their math classes.

    For more and more people, it seems as if all knowledge, math included, is simply power and forms of power, and that all knowledge should be subordinated to something like a racially (etc.) aware sociology of knowledge. This would help to explain the legitimacy of placing non-expert “thought partners” on search committees. Expertise is, from this point of view, an illusion. The real game is power and getting control over what will count as knowledge in the future. The project is logically self-defeating, but then who cares about that?

    • just different 12/02/2019

      Please get your information about the Seattle curriculum from someplace other than right-wing blogs. Seattle is trying to engage students who have been very poorly served by existing curricula by making it directly relevant to their lives by, for example, showing them how mathematics can be used to exacerbate or ameliorate inequality. Of course the right is upset about this.

  7. Anonymous 12/01/2019

    So, not to rain on your parade here, but what a search advocate actually does is ask you questions. That’s pretty much it. The questions are things like: you seem to be basing your preference for this candidate on the opinion that a candidate who studied at Yale for their undergrad degree is inherently more qualified than one who studied at Cal State Fullerton. Is there any evidence that’s true? Is there any chance that there were reasons this second candidate may have not had access to Yale, and is that relevant?

    And then maybe there is evidence, and maybe no reasons that come up are relevant, and everything moves along. Or maybe there is no evidence and so the committee passes the CSF candidate along into the next phase of consideration, where they in fact may still not get an interview, etc.

    It’s true that if every candidate in the pool turns out to be a white man who is coming here from an Ivy, we probably have a recruiting problem because that’s not what the population looks like and the odds suggest that shouldn’t happen, but it’s not true that in that case there is a requirement that the search be halted or reworked; there is the likelihood that the search advocate will start asking questions about the recruitment process and where the job was posted, is all.

  8. just different 12/02/2019

    She’s dead wrong and the McCarthy analogy is lazy, inflammatory nonsense. Whether or not you are a card-carrying communist on your own time has never had anything to do with university priorities.

    Wanting to provide greater opportunities to underrepresented groups *is* a legitimate institutional priority. The point of a diversity statement is to describe how you personally would work towards that goal. If you have no intention of doing that, your prospective employer has a right to know. Don’t worry–you can still enjoy being a bigot when you get home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *