More on authoritarian diversity statements at the University of California

December 30, 2019 • 11:00 am

Last month I reported on a controversial essay written by Abigail Thompson, chair of mathematics at the University of California at Davis. In that essay, posted in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society (NAMS), Thompson, while favoring initiatives to increase diversity in her field, decried the mandatory “diversity statements” that the University of California now requires of all scholars applying for jobs. These were, she said, almost like the old loyalty oaths that the U of C used to require, as unless you adhered to a rubric provided by the University, you had no chance of getting a job. In these statements, you have to show tangible commitment to diversity, a track record of increasing diversity, and a plan for promoting diversity at the UC campus where you’re hired. As Thompson wrote:

Nearly all University of California campuses require that job applicants submit a “contributions to diversity” statement as a part of their application. The campuses evaluate such statements using rubrics, a detailed scoring system. Several UC programs have used these diversity statements to screen out candidates early in the search process.

A typical rubric from UC Berkeley specifies that a statement that “describes only activities that are already the expectation of Berkeley faculty (mentoring, treating all students the same regardless of background, etc)” (italics mine) merits a score of 1–2 out of a possible 5 (1 worst and 5 best) in the second section of the rubric, the “track record for advancing diversity” category.

The diversity “score” is becoming central in the hiring process. Hiring committees are being urged to start the review process by using officially provided rubrics to score the required diversity statements and to eliminate applicants who don’t achieve a scoring cut-off.

She decried this practice as a test of one’s political views:

Why is it a political test? Politics are a reflection of how you believe society should be organized. Classical liberals aspire to treat every person as a unique individual, not as a representative of their gender or their ethnic group. The sample rubric dictates that in order to get a high diversity score, a candidate must have actively engaged in promoting different identity groups as part of their professional life. The candidate should demonstrate “clear knowledge of, experience with, and interest in dimensions of diversity that result from different identities” and describe “multiple activities in depth.” Requiring candidates to believe that people should be treated differently according to their identity is indeed a political test.

The idea of using a political test as a screen for job applicants should send a shiver down our collective spine. Whatever our views on communism, most of us today are in agreement that the UC loyalty oaths of the 1950s were wrong. Whatever our views on diversity and how it can be achieved, mandatory diversity statements are equally misguided. Mathematics is not immune from political pressures on campus. In addition to David Saxon, who eventually became the president of the University of California, three mathematicians were fired for refusing to sign the loyalty oath in 1950. Mathematics must be open and welcoming to everyone, to those who have traditionally been excluded, and to those holding unpopular viewpoints. Imposing a political litmus test is not the way to achieve excellence in mathematics or in the university. Not in 1950, and not today.

This of course caused a big kerfuffle, with mathematicians and academics furiously gathering signatures on petitions and writing letters to the NAMS. You can see all of them by clicking on the screenshot below. These occupy 21 pages, most of the space taken by signatures on the two big petitions: one supporting Thompson’s stand and the other criticizing it and favoring diversity statements. There are also individual letters, most of them supporting Thompson. I won’t summarize these as you can read them for yourself. 

It would help clarify this mess if one could actually see the rubrics that the University of California uses to judge candidates. Fortunately, the one used by UC Berkeley is online, and lists the way they “grade” three aspects of a candidate’s diversity statement: their “knowledge about diversity, equity, and inclusion”; their “track record in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion”; and their “plans for advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion.” You can get from 1-5 points in each of the three areas, with a minimum score of 3 and a maximum of 15. Apparently the university uses cutoffs, so that if a candidate’s diversity score falls below a threshold, they would be removed from consideration without looking at their c.v.s or other information. (I am not 100% sure about this, but Thompson implies that this is the case.)

If you want to see how these things are scored, click on the screenshot below (there are two pages in the document; don’t try to read the tiny print!):

After looking over this draconian document, I find that I agree even more with Thompson. To get passable scores, you simply cannot just have been in favor of increasing diversity, or have done only activities “that are already the expectation of faculty as evidence of commitment and involvement” (i.e., welcoming students to a lab regardless of background, or mentoring women students without having an outreach program to bring them in). That is, if you are gender- and color-blind, and treat everyone equally, or even mentor minorities or women without outreach, you’re not going to make the cut.

To get scores of 4 or 5, you must have a pretty deep knowledge of diversity and intersectionality (along with data about them), a long track record of promoting diversity in multiple ways, and specific ideas of how you would advance equity and inclusion at Berkeley. You must also agree “to be a strong advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion within the department/school/college and also their field.” That specifically means that you have to swear fealty to an ideology, and act on that fealty. I invite you to read these two brief pages to see the kind of nonacademic and ideological requirements for getting an academic job in the UC system.

I hasten to add that I am in favor of diversity in academia as both an innate good and as a way of compensating groups who have been held back by oppression, racism, or sexism. I favor a limited form of affirmative action in hiring, which means, to put it plainly, that there are occasions when academic quality must bow before other needs. But I do not favor the UC’s brand of ideological purity test, in which candidates must not only swear their commitment to diversity, but have a long track record of promoting it.

Track records will of course differ depending on many things, including a candidate’s involvement in academic matters or in useful activities that don’t directly increase diversity (popular writing, lectures in high schools, and so on). And I favor initiatives on the part of departments and colleges to increase diversity. But let us not have these purity tests, loyalty oaths, and cutoffs if your record of social justice activity isn’t up to snuff. That is a recipe for authoritarianism, for stifling needed discussions and free speech, and, not least of all, it’s an invitation to lie and distort. I still can’t accept that the purpose of universities should be to engineer society in specific ways beyond teaching the current knowledge in all fields and helping students learn how to think clearly.

One of the signatories of the anti-Thompson letter is Chad Topaz, a professor at Williams College whom we met before. He actually runs an organization that, in return for your donations, will help one or two people you designate write a diversity statement*. How honest can a statement be if you write it with the “help” of an organization that specializes in crafting diversity statements in return for money?

*Note: this link is likely to disappear, as Topaz, a real piece of work, redirects links from people he considers “white supremacists” (i.e., me) away from his site and to the Southern Poverty Law Center. But try copying this link into your browser (it won’t connect directly because Topaz is an ass):

UPDATE: In response to a reader question, Topaz does seem to think I’m a white supremacist. Here’s a screenshot from his Facebook page that appears on someone’s website:

h/t: BJ

42 thoughts on “More on authoritarian diversity statements at the University of California

    1. He seems to “think” I’m a white supremacist, so he’s probably using a peek at the http “referrer” field. Not even bothering to keep track of IP addresses though, so it’s real easy to get around.
      What a waste of oxygen.

    2. “White supremacist” is another term that the SJWs have used with such abandon as to strip it of meaning.

      If used to mean a white person who wanted to live in a whites-only society (or one where non-whites were not citizens and lacked civil rights).

      Now it means “anyone who is white and who disagrees with me”.

      1. Sorry, I forgot, Candace Owens is a “White Supremacist”, so scrub the first half of that definition.

        (On third thoughts, they’ve probably also redefined “white” such that Candace Owens is “white”, so retain it.)

  1. I don’t know where all this is going, but it is in the wrong direction. In your spare time you cured cancer. Sorry, you should have been working on diversity. No room for you. Where do these people come from?

    1. And how did they get there?

      ” The Year of the Oath” by George R. Stewart …and others… of UC. 1950.

      As a culture we seem to have periodic spasms of ‘purity testing’.

  2. I thought that the end result of awarding all those degrees in grievance studies was going to be legions of fry cooks and retail assistants with pointless college degrees. I was foolish.

    Instead, they function as a virus. They infiltrate organizations, change the purpose of the organization/organism to that of producing more like them, and lower the immune system of the organism so that even more can enter and replicate.

    I suppose once they gain control, they walk around in the organism’s animated corpse until it has decayed to the point where it is no longer useful to them. Then they move on to the next victim.

  3. Apologies in advance for the ad hominem, but I can’t resist. Chad Topaz has got to be his stripper name.
    Apart from that, either he’s confused or I am. How is this pro bono? “For any individual who donates $500 or more, the benefactor can, if they wish, designate two people who should receive one hour of consulting services.”

  4. Note that the requirement is a commitment to “equity”, not merely to “equality”.

    A colour-blind, treat-everyone-equally ethos is “equality”. Equity requires non-equal treatment, affirmative action for groups that are regarded as under-represented.

    So unless you declare fealty to affirmative action, they won’t hire you.

    1. Traditionally, the powers of a judge sitting in equity, rather than law where they must abide by considerations of equal protection and application, were practically limitless, restrained only by political considerations and the judge’s own ambitions and temperament.

      There’s a reason why “equity” is so much more popular now than old-fashioned “equality”.

  5. Very cult-y dynamic, especially the idea of hysterically applying labels like “white supremacist” to anyone who offers even mild criticism. It’s like the far Left version of nut jobs on the Right who claim the government is plotting against them.

  6. Oh how I hate the term “rubric”😖 In my latter days of teaching High School Math we were forced to mark tests, quizzes, and even homework following all kinds of asinine rubrics.

      1. The outcome which filters out white males seems not to comply with initiative 209 which expressly forbids discrimination by race and gender. I guess the thought police at Berkeley would argue that it is not discrimination, it’s because white males are just not doing their part to advance diversity.

      2. I agree, I’m pretty sure that this is not legal. Surely it would fall foul of the case law around the 1950s loyalty oaths.

    1. That is a really interesting document. A lot of time was spent evaluating the diversity statements of the candidates, presumably to get people who value and work for diversity.

      But then they say this:
      “Both the ‘cluster search’ and the ESPM search yielded significant increases in URM candidates advanced to shortlist consideration:”

      (URM = under-represented minorities)

      The tables show white percentage in the short lists approaching 0, with notable increases in hispanic and other groups, and a shift from male to female.

      What they are really pleased with is not that they are getting people with better attitudes to diversity, but that they are getting more diverse candidates.

      It is really just a very elaborate way of picking fewer white male candidates and more in the other categories, without having to say that is what they are doing.

  7. Topaz’s group is willing to ghost write diversity statements in exchange for “donations” seems to me a deeply disturbing violation of professional ethics. If one of his students availed themselves of any number of on-line paper writing services, they could expect to be severely reprimanded, even expelled. Topaz claiming his group is a 503(c) organization “so it’s ok if we call them donations” excuse just doesn’t cut it. There MUST be a faculty ethics board at his university and I suspect they are looking at this now. Or at least they should be.

  8. The fact that the evaluation of the diversity statement comes before the evaluation of the candidate’s academic qualifications says all you need to know about this practice. Here is a diversity statement that is unlikely to pass muster, but a good one nonetheless (or perhaps because).

  9. Jeezus, whatever happened to just being good at your job?

    This Topaz scam reminds me of the ‘health-&-safety’ BS everyone had to go through a few years back (maybe still do). In order to qualify for public contracts tenderers had to submit screeds of irrelevant paperwork including their ‘Health & Safety Policy’. Which was pages long, usually impractically vague and pompous, and in the case of many small contractors you knew they hadn’t written it and probably hadn’t even read it and it had been written for them for a suitable fee by one of the vulture-like parasitic firms that had mushroomed in the health&safety industry.

    It’s a scam, it has nothing to do with any genuine commitment to health&safety (or diversity, or whatever the current mantra is).


    1. And what if a superstar faculty candidate with a Nobel prize, which Berkeley loves to recruit, scores low on their woke-o-meter, what then? I’m betting there are work-arounds.

      1. If you were a superstar with multiple suitors, would you even submit to this? I think getting far away from it might be one of the thing I’d use my bargaining chips for.

  10. Although I grasp the above on an intellectual level, I still find it weird — and worrying — that sizable parts of the student population in the US, plus this wokeness thing, should have created an ambiance in which diversity has acquired overtones of authoritarianism. Real diversity includes tolerance, openmindedness, ‘humanism broadly conceived’, and should be the antidote of rigidity & uniformity in spirit.

    Prof. Coyne. You are merely the messenger, and an important one, to whom I turn regularly to understand what’s going on across the pond (I am in Rotterdam, the Netherlands). It must be tough on you and your fellow atheists/humanists/scientists to retain a measure of idealism, cheerfulness, and hope (Idealism is not meant as the opposite of [philosophical] materialism of course). How do you do that? I read both your wonderful books, and can’t help wondering whether there’s third one in the making.

    You need not answer this question. Wishing you a great 2020, I remain

  11. “That is a recipe for authoritarianism, for stifling needed discussions and free speech, and, not least of all, an invitation to lie.”
    Unfortunate that the many authoritarian regimes from Albania to Zimbabwe regularly self-described as of the Left. By the way, one recalls that normalized lying was what particularly galled people like Vaclav Havel.

    In this new academic variant, I also detect another thread. Applicants are graded on their “knowledge about diversity, equity, and inclusion”; and on swearing “to be a strong advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion within the department/school/college”. Could it be that the DEI priesthood is advancing its own professional interests with these tests? Could such lofty idealists be doing
    something like that? Perish the thought.

  12. “Apparently the university uses cutoffs, so that if a candidate’s diversity score falls below a threshold, they would be removed from consideration without looking at their c.v.s or other information. (I am not 100% sure about this, but Thompson implies that this is the case.)”
    If true, the UC system will probably suffer significant declines in the next decades. The far left seems to have developed a talent for screwing up the world.

  13. Isn’t it time that all students and junior academic staff who are on the autistic spectrum rise up and file a legal claim against this posturing? They are often the most brilliant candidates for an academic position and yet we discriminate against them because they don’t have the skills (or desire) to navigate between the rocks of diversity statements and whirlpools of political correctness. I personally know of a very gifted young autist who played with mathematics and physics like they were toys. In a protected undergrad environment he got a triple major with honours (Maths, Physics, Philosophy), but on moving to a larger vastly more political university for postgrad he discovered he could no longer just do his work. Decline and fall followed. He will end up with his brain wasted in a minimum wage job, when once upon a time a university would be glad to tolerate a little eccentricity in return for some brilliance. If we replace the smart academics with the bland, how can one expect things to turn out for the best?

    1. I hope you’ll let him know that there are still places in the world where brilliance is what matters. If he really is talented, I’d encourage him to go hang out at the university anyway, talk to math and physics professors about his ideas, and if he has any novel ones, try to get something published anyway. Or, go into industry.

      I wouldn’t call myself brilliant, but I’ve built a decent career out of a high school diploma – and not via any fancy social skills or connections. He shouldn’t consign himself to a minimum wage job.

  14. PCC, I agree with your analysis.

    There’s one additional point to make: as a job interviewer, I find the notion of 3 metrics for diversity experience alone to be pretty troubling. A good set of evaluation metrics should probably only be 3-5 metrics in total. The fact that they have 3 for just this sub-section of job experience tells me they probably have way too many in total. This can lead to confusion and hidden bias, as a system with a very large number of metrics can be manipulated to give any result the hiring committee wants.

    So I’m very much in agreement with darwinwins too. The evaluation system seems designed not to ensure the committee makes transparent, qualification-based hiring decisions, but to give them so many options as to why someone is hired as to provide top cover for any arbitrary decision they want to make and work arounds on legal requirements in hiring.

  15. UC Davis is running searches using similar rubrics this year to weed out candidates.

    Davis Rubrics (nearly identical to ones in use) can be found publicly at Purdue.

    How to weed out everyone not URM: “Clear knowledge of experience with, and interest in dimensions of diversity that result from having URM identities.”

  16. I have just now been looking into this Chad Topaz character.
    He really IS an abject Knuckle-F–ker!

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