Here’s a renegade scientist described by Canada’s conservative National Post, which must love articles like this. It is the tale of a person of color—Patanjali Kambhampati, an Indian physical chemist at McGill University who seems quite accomplished. He works on “quantum dots“, which are tiny semiconductors, has published 132 papers, on many of which he was first author, and has an “h index of 37”, which means he’s published 37 papers that were each cited 37 times or more. (The higher the index, the more widely you’ve been cited.)
One other relevant fact besides his scientific quality: he’s been subject to racism since he moved to North America from India at age four. He reports that he’s been verbally harassed, beat up constantly, and has been “harassed by U.S. border guards and racially profiled in Canada, too.”
But his scientific quality, his “person of colorhood”, and his oppressed past haven’t helped him get grants from the Canadian government. Why? Because he refuses to write the kind of woke diversity statement that the Canadian grant authorities demand.
Click on the screenshot to read:
Kambhampati has been turned down for his last two grants because of insufficient diversity statements, which are mandatory. And in Canada, if you don’t past muster with that statement, your grant gets canned without even being evaluated for scientific merit. I quote from the article, and I’ve put his terse diversity statement in bold:
Patanjali Kambhampati, a professor in the chemistry department at Montreal’s McGill University, believes the death knell for the latest grant was a line in the application form where he was asked about hiring staff based on diversity and inclusion considerations. He says his mistake was maintaining that he would hire on merit any research assistant who was qualified, regardless of their identity.“We will hire the most qualified people based upon their skills and mutual interests,” Kambhampati wrote on the application.
“I’ve had two people say that was the kiss of death,” said Kambhampati. “I thought I was trying to be nice saying that if you were interested and able I’d hire you and that’s all that mattered. I don’t care about the colour of your skin. I’m interested in hiring someone who wants to work on the project and is good at it.”
Kambhampati said he didn’t go public after the first grant was rejected but decided to speak out now because the increasing use by the government of equity, diversity and inclusion, aka “EDI,” provisions, as well as woke culture, are killing innovation, harming science and disrupting society.
“I believe this is an important stand to make. I will not be silenced anymore,” he said.
It is the kiss of death, for prizing merit above race, but being color-blind in your hiring (the now-outmoded view of Dr. King), is not the way to succeed. To get these grants, I’m assuming that your diversity statement has to including some affirmative action, which means elevating members of oppressed minorities above those whose indices of merit used by the school are higher.
As I’ve said, I believe in some forms of affirmative action in hiring, but I do not believe in diversity statements, for they are forms of compelled speech to which you must adhere, and Kambhampati didn’t. He paid the price. What’s even worse than diversity statements. though, is evaluating them as the first step in the grant-giving process, and then deep-sixing your application if the diversity statement isn’t up to snuff.
Like Dorian Abbot at the University of Chicago, Kambhmpati believes in hiring solely on merit. While I don’t adhere to that 100%, I adhere to it more than I do to the Canadian or University of California hiring systems, which use the DEI statement as a first-step “up or out” gateway to funding.
Because both applications were rejected at the bureaucratic level, it means that neither proceeded to the step where they would be forward to other scientists to review Kambhampati’s proposals.
But Kambhampati said he believes basing his hiring decisions on merit is a valid, moral position to hold.
“I think what’s happened is the woke and the social justice warriors have made a moralistic argument the way the religious right used to make moralistic arguments. And now people are afraid to challenge them. But I think it’s okay to say I believe that equality is a morally valid position. I believe that meritocracy is a morally valid position.”
The salt in his wound is the huge funding that Canada recently gave for a dubious project on preventing cancer using “indigenous healing practices” (for more on that, see the news section in this recent post of mine). The National Post says this:
Around the same time that Kambhampati’s latest application was turned down, another arm of the government, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, gave Dr. Lana Ray, a professor at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., a $1.2-million grant to study cancer prevention using traditional Indigenous healing practices. When the award was announced, Ray said “We need to stop framing prevalent risk factors of cancer as such and start thinking about them as symptoms of colonialism.”
As I said, Canada is woker than the United States. In terms of DEI statements and hiring they’re about equal, but to me Canadians seem more timorous about standing up to metastasizing Wokeism. Kambhampati did, but he’ll pay the price, because without outside funding, you can’t do experimental science.
27 thoughts on “Canadian government denies McGill professor grants on the grounds that his mandatory DEI statements describe color-blind hiring based on merit”
Hi. I agree with your assessment but there are some minor inaccuracies in timeline. Below stated in NP article:
Kambhampati, 50, was born in India and moved to the United States when he was four. He lived and worked in Minnesota, Texas and California, before moving to Montreal in 2003 to take up a professorship at McGill. As an immigrant he said he had experienced numerous incidents of racism.
“In childhood I used to get constant beatings and name calling,” he told National Post, adding that as an adult, he would also get harassed by U.S. border guards, and has been racially profiled in Canada, too.
Canada also has hate-speech laws, which means that speaking out can be legally dangerous. This is potentially a reason for Canadian timorousness.
True, but they are rarely applied, and jurisprudence has set a very high bar for their use. I doubt that explains it. There may be a chilling effect, but we have lots of people that say far worse things than complaining about wokeism.
For one, I cannot imagine what you would write in a diversity statement that would not sound artificial or ridiculous.
I wrote this in the training plan for an NSERC proposal that was rejected because it did not meet the EDI requirements:
“Over my career from #### through #### all of my graduate student trainees have been members of under-represented groups (women, people of colour, indigenous Canadians, members of linguistic minorities, members of the LGBTQ community). I’m proud of that record of training and support, which developed without making any specific efforts toward equity, diversity, or inclusivity.
“[Brief description of the small number of applicants I get for graduate school] Consequently, I have limited scope for choosing among recruits in order to advance the interests of members of under-represented and disadvantaged groups, but I am open to recruiting any qualified applicant. I hope that new research directions (especially involving blahblahblah) will lead to co-advising opportunities with my colleagues Dr. Blah Blah and Dr. Blah Blah. My long-time research collaborator Dr. Blah Blah (University of Blahblahblah) has also offered to coadvise students in the future.”
“I train students [along with other faculty members in a large multi-PI research group] to run lab meetings, coadvise students, and provide a stimulating and intellectually diverse setting. The atmosphere within the group emphasizes supportive constructive criticism. All of the [PIs] are committed to treatment of recruits and trainees that is equitable and unbiased. [The group provides] an inclusive and respectful research environment, and [my university] is committed to diversity in research training.”
You can judge for yourself whether that sounds artificial or ridiculous. I meant it sincerely. It was not good enough for NSERC.
I then wrote this the following year in a proposal that recycled the same new research plans and had the same elements of past research and training successes, but with this EDI word salad:
“[Graduate students at my university are grossly underpaid and stressed out about money] The problem of underpaid trainees is an equity and inclusion problem because Black and Indigenous HQP are less likely to have family resources to supplement their meager stipends (www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/05/01/three-ways-help-women-color-and-indigenous-women-graduate-students-thrive-opinion). To partially address that problem, I have committed to paying my graduate students a living wage [definition of a living wage].
“I promote a culture of EDI in my research group that provides opportunities for new trainees from all backgrounds to work together. All of my past and current graduate student trainees (####–####) are members of under-represented groups (women, BIPOC, LGBTQ). I am proud of that effort to support diversity and inclusion. However, my past success in increasing diversity among trainees was not based on a complete understanding of the barriers to equitable recruitment or the obstacles to inclusive mentoring. I realize now that I need a better understanding of how to ensure my trainees’ experience in our graduate program is even more inclusive and supportive. [My university] provides significant support for those efforts, including workshops by the [useless administrative unit] and by the [other useless administrative unit], and advice on best practices from the [useless senior administrator responsible for EDI]. In [my field of research], the history of institutional racism and its correlation with inadequate representation have been described, but the barriers to recruiting more trainees from Black, Indigenous, and other underrepresented communities are less well known. The training plan below includes two further efforts to improve on my record of recruiting and supporting diverse trainees.
“To improve knowledge of the obstacles to recruiting trainees from underrepresented groups, I will apply for support from [national advocacy organization] for a working group on equity and inclusivity in [my area of research]. [Advocacy groups] supports applications for a special topic stream of working groups aimed at improving diversity through equity and inclusion [web site]. The goals of the working group will be to survey [people in my area of research] for their views of equity and inclusion in [that area of research], synthesize their experiences in equitable recruitment and inclusive support of [trainees], and develop ideas for better practices in recruitment and support of diverse trainees specifically in the Canadian context. Deliverables may include the design for a workshop on equity and inclusion in [my area of research] that could be made available to other [research] groups in Canada.
“In parallel, I will continue to actively recruit undergraduate BIPOC trainees. My department chair has encouraged this approach to undergraduate recruitment as a tangible first step to address past inequitable treatment of members of those groups, and to boot-strap the representation of those groups in our department. This lack of representation at the level of faculty members has been more slow and difficult to address, but representation at the level of undergraduate researchers (where turnover is rapid) can be readily addressed by individual grant holders in the recruitment and hiring of undergraduate research assistants. This is an essential step toward better future representation at the faculty level.”
This is what researchers have to do now to get past the EDI gatekeepers. I considered this to be both ridiculous and artificial. But the proposal got funded, and I’m using the money for good things, mostly to support student trainees (who are mostly not straight white guys).
I anonymized the content here because my university administration is totally woke and it is unsafe for me to self-identify as objecting to these EDI considerations in grant funding. Possibly I’ve outed myself already with these posts. Oh well.
Thanks. I understand somewhat better now. Still, if you had not already had such experience, what could you have written?
Ha, yes, IDK the answer to that question. It’s a good one.
I have tried to change my mind about these things, and to adopt the Kendian principle that some antiracist discrimination is needed to redress past racist discrimination. I think this is how younger academics answer your question. But I can’t do it.
Yes, but you can practice affirmative action without mandatory diversity statements.
I agree one can to this. I don’t practice this because it seems unfair to the straight white guy who wants to work in my lab and has not himself practiced racism or other bigotry.
As I get older I have lost almost all of my allegiances to groups and institutions and identities, and I’ve become loyal to individuals who I love or admire or respect (present company included). So I just can’t practice this kind of group-based preference. But I do understand it and II don’t think anyone who practices affirmative action is necessarily doing the wrong thing.
Thanks for replying. Apologies for my over-commenting.
The Canadian imposition of “Diversity Statements” represents guilt over the institution of slavery— practiced not in Canada but 1000 miles south of it in the southern USA. In other words, the guilty act is a fad, an imitation of US academic fashions. This kind of mimicry is mysteriously widespread. In Sweden, 20 years ago, I detected signs of a comparable fad in some academic circles—“post-colonial” guilt over the historic colonialism, not of Sweden* but of countries to the south such as Britain and France. These fashions seem to spread elsewhere from the USA in the same manner as pop music, and make even less sense.
(*) It is true that the Swedish “Empire” included the south shore of the Baltic Sea for about 100 years in the 17th-18th centuries. The Swedish overlords of this mighty imperial project used it, among other things, to establish the first university in the Baltic region, which developed into Estonia’s University of Tartu. When I visited there 20 years ago, I notice the statue at its entrance: it is of the university’s founder, Gustav Adolf, king of Sweden (1611-1632).
> “The Canadian imposition of “Diversity Statements” represents guilt over the institution of slavery— practiced not in Canada but 1000 miles south of it in the southern USA”
Ummm…no. Slavery was practiced in Canada, not only by peoples of European descent, but also by various First Nation tribes.
There is an interesting book, “White Slaves of Maquinna”, that recounts the story of two English sailors captured and held as slaves in Nootka Sound for a couple years.
Thanks for writing about this. Dr. Kambhampati is a very good scientist. Although he’s a senior researcher, he still publishes a lot: five data papers in 2021, five more in 2020. His work should be funded by NSERC.
His is not an isolated experience. I also lost my research grant from a different grant panel at the same agency a few years ago for the same reasons. External reviewer evaluations of my past achievements and proposed research were glowing, but the administrators viewed my statement about diversity of trainees to be inadequate. I basically said I try to find the best person for each position, and then pointed to the racial and gender and sexual orientation diversity among my past trainees as evidence that this approach leads to equity.
Although grant proposals to NSERC are not rejected outright for failing to emphasize affirmative action approaches to equity, proposals do get a separate rating for the training plan section (which includes the EDI statements). The rating for that section must be relatively high to get any funding. High ratings for the other two sections of the proposal (the past success of the researcher; the quality and importance of the proposed new research) won’t compensate for a training plan that is deemed inadequate (for EDI reasons or any other reasons). Mine failed the EDI test.
Dr. Kambhampati works on physical chemistry of quantum dots, so maybe he can shift his work toward engineering and find grant funding that way. IDK. His recent papers all acknowledge NSERC grant support. I do pure basic research that can’t succeed without NSERC grant funding. There are no other grant funds in Canada for the work I most love to do. So I could switch research fields entirely, or toe the line at NSERC. I did the latter by rewriting the same grant proposal the next year but with a lot of EDI word salad. Voila, grant money.
The trouble with merit is that there is always a subjective component to it. Unless your sole hiring criteria is performance on an examination, and you hire the person with the top score, you are applying your biases in your determination of merit. Those biases will manifest in the various criteria you use to determine merit.
I think it’s a worthwhile endeavour to examine those biases, but these DEI initiatives are an extremely heavy-handed and performative way to do that.
If I was in this professor’s position, I would write something like this:
“We will hire the most qualified people based upon their skills and mutual interests. We will make the hiring criteria transparent, and we will examine those criteria closely to ensure they are objective, related to the requirements of the job, and do not reflect our personal biases. In the event we have multiple candidates who are equally qualified, we will make an effort to hire candidates such that our team is representative of McGill’s community.”
That last statement is really want they’re after. They want to know that all else being equal, you aren’t just going to stuff your department with the people just like yourself. But I think there’s still room to say that you are hiring on merit.
“…without outside funding, you can’t do experimental science.”
Without competent people, you can’t do experimental science, either.
I want to say “awesome” but getting a grant trashed is not awesome. However, the professor is clearly sticking to principles.
I gather the associate professor position is with tenure.
Assistant professors without tenure have more to lose with the same decision-making – such as tenure.
Canadians generally like government a lot. Through subterfuge and redistribution it shields most of us from the hard realities of the world and rarely asks us to make difficult choices. Natural resources, free trade with the U.S., and sloughing off our national defense to our allies have made us rich. If a problem arises, there is nearly always domestic Dane-geld to make it go away. We are suspicious of merit and success because we associate them with “excess profits”, even though our successful business and scientific ventures are pale reflections of what happens in the U.S….which we take as evidence that our hostility is working as intended. Saddling an enterprise with diversity deadwood makes it work more like the federal civil service and prevents its leaders from becoming too big for their britches. It makes Canadians feel good about themselves. The malcontents can always leave. And it buys the all-important social peace. For now.
Because our Prime Minister is, for all practical purposes, an elected dictator who runs the entire federal establishment from his office, there is really no way for the average Canadian to influence the policy of the government or its many agencies. If he is performatively woke, everything he touches or even casts an eye at is, too. This is not a partisan observation directed at the incumbent. All Prime Ministers have progressively emasculated Parliament beginning in the 1960s, not just here but in all the Westminster systems, including the U.K. itself. The only checks and balances are
1) the Supreme Court (whose justices are appointed by the Prime Minister and not subject to any kind of public confirmation)
2) the news media, which is mostly leftist in Canada. Too much of it is publicly funded. We call the National Post right-wing but it’s really centrist. All except the tiny alt-right have become cheerleaders for indigenous exceptionalism, which underlies Canadian woke-ness.
3) the voters, who get to choose based on their gestalt of what they think of the government every 2-4 years.
Now if only the constitutional law foundations would take as much interest in this area as they are currently with anti-vax lawsuits, there might be some avenue of attack. They have in the past on academic free speech.
Very astute, Leslie. “Saddling an enterprise with diversity deadwood makes it work more like the federal civil service and prevents its leaders from becoming too big for their britches.” In the USA, perhaps this beneficial step will apply to all kinds of research generally—and bring all those snooty STEM fields to the wholesome level already achieved, not only in local Departments of Transportation and licensing bureaus, but in academic departments of X Studies.
Speaking of Canadian wokeness, I have discovered that certain of its memes are imitated south of the border—the reverse of the usual mimicry. I googled “First Nations Studies”, and was charmed to find that such programs are by no means limited to Canadian institutions of higher learning. They can be found in US institutions as well, particularly (for some reason) in Wisconsin. The Green Bay branch of
the U. Wisc. advises us that “First Nation Studies reflects the holistic worldview of the indigenous people of Turtle Island (North America).” This presumably means Turtles all the way down.
Bravo to this distinguished immigrant scientist of color who refuses to turn back competent candidates because of their sex and race, to treat female and non-white scientists as too dumb to succeed by merit, and to give up and shut up!
I hope that he and his team don’t pay too dearly for this.
I hate to say it, but this references a fascinating deeper point. In much of the developing world, employers hire very skilled immigrants (who are of minority populations relative to the local demographic) to provide adequate training to populations who have not historically excelled. Those skilled immigrants would be thrown out (fired or deported) if they only wanted to teach students who met their minimum standards. the primary difference is that they are training underperforming majority populations (in the developing world) rather than underperforming minority populations (in the developed world). It’s fascinating to watch how modern policies across much of the developed world are now mirroring those in the developing world.
I disagree. (I had written a longer reply but the Internet seems to have eaten it.) I don’t see anything in common between the Third World and the Western policies. The locals of poor countries may underperform, but the immigrant teachers are expected and required to select the best of them, to give them the best instruction they can, and to set standards. The poor country has no high performers who are turned back to give space to underperformers, like now the West does. Third World policies are reasonable, developed-world policies, to my opinion, are insane. The latter punish high performers – mostly the majority, but also any minority that excels, e.g. Jews and Asians, and reward underperformers.
Kudos to Professor Kambhampati. It’s sad that the lunatics are increasingly running the asylum.
Does Kambhampati even refer to himself as being “of colour”?
If it is really the case that grant applications are rejected by know-nothing bureaucrats in this way without the selection committees ever seeing them, that is very bad, period.
Many decades ago I got treated very well by NSERC and its predecessor. However, from younger colleagues I do realize that bureaucratic stuff is much worse these days in several ways, even the department chair 8 years after me had all sorts of extra stuff I was able to avoid, irritating stuff from several directions in addition to the Canuck feds.
However, if it is available, it would be nice to see the actual rejection in complete detail to be sure we are getting the entire relevant truth in these cases. I do know that rejections re grants, and re publishing papers, can sometimes be greatly lacking in detail. In any case my wish above is not paranoid or casting suspicion, just a natural desire of someone with a scientific mindset for detail.
I would remark that the writer for the National Pest—oops, sorry, Post—didn’t exactly bend over backwards to find anyone who might know additional facts, any person other than the unhappy chemistry prof himself. At least he didn’t mention any such attempts.
Perhaps, not chemistry itself, but rather chemistry departments themselves bring out a bit of prejudice on my part, as it seemed, from a pure math department prospective, that the chem. dept. was the most unreasonable often in the competition for resources within my university. And to hint at one aspect of that, one hopes in counting contributions to the literature it was not the case that the average number of authors of each of those papers mentioned was not also approximately 37. When that kind of statistical bragging came out in squabbles within Faculty or entire University committees in my days of too much committee work, we mathematicians would count that as an average of 1 paper per author, whereas the pure math number would change the 37 to something less than 2. It does however seem that now there are more papers in math with 3 or 4 authors than say in the 1980s.
“A request for comment from NSERC was not answered on Tuesday.”
Sent to them 5 minutes before deadline perhaps?
But good point. We’ll see if anything further develops.
I liked your point about the multi-authored papers. There is a joke in Medicine that small case series often have more authors than there were patients or subjects in the Methods.
The social pendulum is indeed swinging to another extreme.