University of Massachusetts STEM faculty push back against the politicization of their University and its morphing from research and teaching to social engineering

February 22, 2022 • 10:00 am

Not long ago, according to the “open letter” from faculty below, the University of Massachusetts at Boston issued a new and provisional draft statement of its “Mission and Values”. It’s pretty short, so I’ll put it below (bolding is mine except for the headers)

Mission statement draft:

As an academic community of global and local citizens, we are committed to becoming an anti-racist and health-promoting institution that honors and uplifts the cultural wealth of our students. We intend to engage reciprocally in equitable practices and partnerships with the communities we serve. We support various and diverse forms of knowledge production that enrich the lives of all communities, especially those historically undervalued and underserved. We are a public urban university dedicated to teaching, learning, and research rooted in equity, environmental sustainability, social and racial justice, innovation, and expansive notions of excellence.

Vision statement draft:

We aspire to become an anti-racist and health-promoting public research institution where:

  • Diversity, equity, shared governance, and expansive notions of excellence are core institutional values.

  • Wellness and an ethic of care are embedded throughout our campus culture and all policies and practices.

  • We invest in a resource-rich learning environment to support the development and success of students of plural identities and from diverse socio-economic, racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds.

  • Climate, environmental, and racial justice align with sustainable economic and planning decisions with local and global effects.

  • Community engaged scholarship, service, and reciprocity are embedded in University practices that promote the economic, social, and cultural well-being of the communities we serve

We hold ourselves and each other accountable to ensure these values drive all decision-making in research, pedagogical innovations, resource allocation, and the development of policies and practices.

if you compare this to the OLDER published statement published here, you’ll see quite a difference. For example, here’s how the old Mission Statement begins:


The University of Massachusetts Boston is a public research university with a dynamic culture of teaching and learning, and a special commitment to urban and global engagement. Our vibrant, multi-cultural educational environment encourages our broadly diverse campus community to thrive and succeed. Our distinguished scholarship, dedicated teaching, and engaged public service are mutually reinforcing, creating new knowledge while serving the public good of our city, our commonwealth, our nation, and our world.

And while there is a small section on “diversity and inclusion”, note that the diversity refers to “variant perspectives and values” of people of all ages regardless of “national or cultural origins.”  The word “race” or “ethnicity does not appear in the old statement. What you see just below is inclusive, not divisive, and refers to “community building”

Diversity and Inclusion:

Our multi-faceted diversity is an educational asset for all members of our community. We value and provide a learning environment that nurtures respect for differences, excites curiosity, and embodies civility. Our campus culture encourages us all to negotiate variant perspectives and values, and to strive for open and frank encounters. In providing a supportive environment for the academic and social development of a broad array of students of all ages who represent many national and cultural origins, we seek to serve as a model for inclusive community-building.

That’s quite a difference, isn’t it? The old statement gives the main mission to do research, and foster teaching and learning (with both urban and local engagement) This, indeed used to be the main purpose of a University, but in the last two years that’s all changed. Not only has the main mission morphed into this:

we are committed to becoming an anti-racist and health-promoting institution that honors and uplifts the cultural wealth of our student,

but now the University seems to be far more about pushing an ideology and involving its members in social engineering of equity: “anti-racist” is mentioned twice, “racial justice” twice, and “racial backgrounds” once. Further, we see the “other ways of knowing” trope:

We support various and diverse forms of knowledge production that enrich the lives of all communities, especially those historically undervalued and underserved.

In the new draft, “research” appears only in the last sentence of the mission statement, as opposed to in the first in the older draft.

Notice also that they’re now committed to “expansive notions of excellence.” This can mean but one thing: “less meritocracy”.  And that translates to fewer or no standardized tests, less emphasis on grading, and more emphasis on personal qualities like “spunk.”

If you compare the old with the new draft, you’ll conclude that three things have changed:

1.) The mission of the university is now to achieve social justice, and that has become a priority standing above doing research and teaching. In other words, the Universitiy’s mission is ideological and political—a form of social engineering rather than knowledge production and dissemination

2.) What we see is the morphing of of a good university into a large and expensive site of individual and group therapy, promulgating “wellness and an ethic of care.”

3.) New forms of “knowledge production” are to be used, especially forms of “knowledge production” that aid minorities or those historically oppressed. What, exactly, are the “new forms of knowledge production”? Are they those involving “lived experience” rather than facts, or “special ways of knowing” said to be characteristic of different groups?

This is a huge change in the mission of this university, and it’s not just UM Boston, but almost everywhere—even my school. The historical function of the university, outlined in the old mission statement, has now become antiquated.

However, some faculty won’t go gentle into that good night. If you click on the screenshot below, you’ll see a letter signed by (so far) 40 members of the University’s College of Science and Mathematics who oppose the new draft Mission and Vision statements. These are brave people, as surely there are more who feel the same way but don’t want to go public about it.

These faculty (erroneously, I think) attribute the warped new statements as “likely accidental” because “the College of Science and Mathematics only has one representative on the committee [that drafted the statement] despite being the second largest college on campus.”

Well, they may be right, but I doubt it. It is the humanities and social sciences that are most vocal and active in this type of authoritarianism, and why would omitting scientists and mathematicians be an “accident”, anyway?

Do read their entire response, which is a heartbreaking plea for the University of Massachusetts at Boston to return to its traditional mission. That’s not going to happen, and the way things are, in ten years there will be no public (and few private) universities in America who don’t see their main mission as social engineering and therapy.

One quote from the faculty’s response, which at the end calls for a “significant revision” of the draft mission and vision statements. (Bolding is the authors’, not mine.)

We believe the Mission and Vision Statements trample on the fundamental role of the university: to facilitate the creation, curation, and dissemination of knowledge. To elaborate, we believe that the main goals of a university are to empower the pursuit of knowledge, to cultivate lifelong learning, to foster the exchange of ideas, to encourage critical thinking, to unequivocally support free inquiry, and to instill respect for a diversity of ideas and viewpoints.

Under no circumstances can political or ideological activism be the primary purpose of a public university. This is not to say students, faculty, and staff cannot be activists. Quite the contrary: individual people are the agents of social change, and as such they should be encouraged to organize and fight for a better society. Moreover, the public university can play an active role in educating students on pressing issues of social injustice as well as effective methods of activism. However, in this regard the role of the university is to empower people to take action themselves – not to coerce students, faculty, or institutional units to do so.

It is important to emphasize that the fundamental role of the public university can neither be political nor ideological activism. In part, this is due to the illegality of compelled speech in public institutions and our legally binding commitment to academic freedom as outlined in the so-called “red book” on academic personnel policy. Additionally, ideological activism cannot be a central goal of the university because at times it will conflict with education and research. The search for truth can never be subjugated to social or ideological beliefs.

We raise these points about the purpose of the public university because we believe the current drafts of the mission and vision statements radically depart from these fundamental tenets, and instead promote a chilling environment for the pursuit of truth. This is most evident in the Vision Statement which discusses diversity, equity, expansive notions of excellence, wellness, an ethic of care, plural identities, climate justice, environmental justice, and racial justice, and then states that “We hold ourselves and each other accountable to ensure these values drive all decision-making in research, pedagogical innovations, resource allocation, and the development of policies and practices.” That is, these values – which have very distinct ideological interpretations – must drive the direction of every researcher and department on campus, and as a community of scholars we will hold people accountable when their research does not actively promote these values.

  • If your research on quantum computing is not perceived as promoting climate, environmental, or racial justice – will you be held accountable and your resources re-allocated?

  • If your department makes the data-informed decision to support the use of standardized tests as a measurement of student learning or preparation, but the campus views this as being opposed to wellness, an ethic of care, equity, or an expansive notion of excellence, will your department be held accountable and its resources re-allocated?

This is, to me, very sad. The American University is disappearing, and with it its traditional values of research, teaching, and learning. It is now becoming a vehicle for the ideology of the Far Left. I’m on the Left, but wouldn’t want for a minute to make my own politics into a “mission statement” for my universities

And universities should not be the vehicle for ANY ideology. The University of Chicago’s Kalven Report prohibits, with very few exceptions, any official moral, political, or ideological statement by the administration or units of the University, such as departments. This is because those kind of statements involve the chilling of speech—of making university members afraid to speak up if they have problems with “official stands”. (We of course welcome individual or signed group arguments, but not official ones.)

The third paragraph of the excerpt above explicitly echoes the Kalven Report’s statement.  Without such a rule in place, there is nothing to prevent universities from degenerating into units that push their own political beliefs on students and postdocs.  How can you learn to think, or even learn, period, when you are afraid to speak up against official statements issued from on high?

h/t: Anna

19 thoughts on “University of Massachusetts STEM faculty push back against the politicization of their University and its morphing from research and teaching to social engineering

  1. What is justice outside the court called – extra-judicial justice?

    It isn’t really a new idea, is it – “justice” independent of the law.

  2. In the tradition of Microsoft, who, in the Bill Gates days, had the best mission statement ever

    A computer on every desk, in every home, running Microsoft Software

    I can’t think of one much better than that stated in the letter

    to facilitate the creation, curation, and dissemination of knowledge.

    It’s short, to the point and easily memorable. Of course, adopting it would mean going back to doing that.

    1. And then the definition of “desk” and “home” changed, not to mention “phone”.

      Couldn’t help writing that.

  3. It’s interesting that the people from the College of Science and Mathematics are much better writers than whoever composed the Mission and Values statement draft. It shouldn’t be surprising that the Science and Mathematics people communicate well and clearly, but it’s sad that it’s so MUCH better than the fundamentalist DEIsts behind the proposed changes, who are presumed (by me) to be largely from the humanities departments.

  4. Well, Jerry made a clear prediction:

    “in ten years there will be no public (and few private) universities in America who don’t see their main mission as social engineering and therapy.”

    I would like to modify this as follows:
    In states run by Republicans, Republican governments and legislatures will get involved and try to prevent this politicization. After all, public universities are tax-payer funded. Also, in states run by the democrats, that push for the politicization of the university will peel more voters away from the Democrats (like the pushing of the radical transgender agenda by the Democrats).

  5. These faculty (erroneously, I think) attribute the warped new statements as “likely accidental”

    It’s almost certainly designed with the purpose of letting the administration save face if they make a revision or a u-turn.

    If you want your opponent to surrender, you make it as painless as possible for them to surrender.

    1. “Expansive notion of excellence” =

      For undergrads: we will award whatever encomiums the parents are willing to pay top dollar for.
      For grad students: M.S. and Ph.D. rate, nothing else matters.
      For professors: grants and publications, nothing else matters.

      Which is really ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’, only with perhaps a slightly bigger emphasis or giving the parents of undergrads a really nice diploma they can frame for whatever their kid chose to do.

  6. Let us hope that the splendid U. Mass letter inspires similar statements from STEM faculty elsewhere, in a long overdue rebellion against official DEIdeology in academe. The fallacy in the DEIish vision statement was exposed particularly well in this comment by one of the signatories of the letter:
    My key difficulty comes with the phrase “these values drive all decision-making in research.” *All?* There is something backwards about the wording: My research in the foundations of quantum theory is determined by where my mathematical nose takes me (nothing else).

  7. Probably a comic aside but, on reading the new mission statement, I was reminded of those afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome, shouting out taboo or otherwise irrelevant words at frequent moments.

  8. “expansive notions of excellence”

    No matter what is instituted, that “expansiveness” will end up being a relaxation of standards and a dumbing down.

  9. I wish them well.

    I just wish it were easier to distinguish between STEM (Science, technology, engineering, math) fields (which I support) and STEM-only educational policies (which I do not, at least not before high school, AND not for students who don’t opt in). As we see far too often in education, it seems like the name ‘STEM’ is in the process of being co-opted. Before the STEM-only movement came onto the scene, we referred to the ‘hard sciences’. Most people I know who work in the hard sciences want students to have a well-rounded education, including the humanities (arts, history, cats). The STEM-only educational movement is giving us schools where literature, foreign languages, history, etc., are now being defunded.

    It is tough to pick sides anymore, not because there aren’t players I like (there are), but because all of the major sides seem to be co-opted by players I don’t.

  10. I say, start offering two of each STEM course: One using the scientific method and another using “other ways of knowing.” Require graduates to pass an exam for graduation. See which classes have more students. Modest proposal, yes, but I’d love to see it happen.

  11. I’m a UMB grad (’81) and I agree with and support the efforts of STEM faculty to uphold proven standards of excellence and success while committing to help all students reach and surpass those legitimate standards rather than diluting or distorting them in service of a social engineering agenda.

    Let’s fight for the funding needed to achieve broad=based excellence. Let’s not lower standards and celebrate that as though that represents anything other than lowered standards – which is simply another term for the failure of the current educational system to meet the needs of all its students. It’s pretty simple: If given a choice between a surgeon who has achieved excellence and a surgeon who is less-qualified, but on staff because of diversity requirements we all want the best and we all choose the best for ourselves and those we love. So bring adequate funding and creative imagination to helping more students achieve excellence and reject the damage that lowering standards actually does.

  12. This already happened at my small university. To add to it, we have something called “merit pay”, for which you write a letter about your excellence in one of three areas. I always pick “Professional Development”, and write about research accomplishments (peer-reviewed papers, art shows, etc. used to be the main things they wanted to see). A few years ago, they decided that “PD” had to be evidence of attending teaching workshops of DEI.

    They ran out of money for the “merit pay” 8 years ago. I didn’t bother applying after the change, but now they are back to not making these requirements. I am sure it will swing back to DEI with the recent increase in these sentiments again.

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