American scientists are mostly Democrats, with almost no Republicans. Is this lack of diversity a problem?

December 10, 2020 • 9:45 am

A letter to the editor appeared in the latest issue of Nature, decrying the political uniformity of scientists (click on screenshot below to access though I’ve put up the whole thing). And the link to the Nature poll described in the letter’s  first line is here, but the survey was not of Americans but of Nature readers from throughout the world.

However, there’s no doubt that, among American scientists, Democrats still greatly outnumber Republicans. The latest data I can find are in a 2009 Pew poll showing that not only are American scientists mostly liberal, but that there’s a huge disparity between the politics of scientists and of the American public in general. I suspect that, given what’s happened under Trump, this disparity has only increased. The data in 2009:

Most [American] scientists identify as Democrats (55%), while 32% identify as independents and just 6% say they are Republicans. When the leanings of independents are considered, fully 81% identify as Democrats or lean to the Democratic Party, compared with 12% who either identify as Republicans or lean toward the GOP. Among the public, there are far fewer self-described Democrats (35%) and far more Republicans (23%). Overall, 52% of the public identifies as Democratic or leans Democratic, while 35% identifies as Republican or leans Republican.

This disparity exercised Andrew Meso, a British computational neuroscientist (he’s also black), who wrote this letter:

Now Dr. Meso is mistaken that the Nature poll was of “US scientists”, but it doesn’t matter, for the “misalignment” he describes is still true. As an academic, I have long been aware of this, for the disparity exists not just in science, but in academia as a whole.

Meso’s implicit argument that we need to increase political diversity doesn’t carry near as much weight as an argument for greater gender and ethnic diversity, for there’s not a good argument that Republicans were oppressed in the past, nor that there is discrimination against Republican students being accepted to grad school or being hired as professors—at least in science. I’ve been on many hiring and student-acceptance committees, and not once have I ever heard of a candidate being touted or dissed because of their politics. Indeed, we never even know their politics! (This may not hold for faculty in areas like economics or sociology.) And I’ve never heard of a scientist being denied promotion or tenure on the grounds of their politics.

So it’s hard to make an argument that the dearth of Republicans in American science is due to bias or discrimination. Nor does the ideological slant seem likely to affect science: as I read somewhere (but can’t lay my hands on the reference), scientists’ politics don’t affect the nature or quality of their research.

Why the disparity between scientists and the public, then, if it’s not bigotry? Well, perhaps it’s preference.

For reasons we can speculate about, perhaps those with a conservative bent are less likely to go into science, or remain in science if they start studying this. Perhaps those with a liberal bent are more attracted to the empirical method and the techniques of science. I have no idea if this is right, but feel free to speculate.   But I’ll make one point: if people think that the differential representation is due to preference rather than bias, and it’s a preference based on political affiliation (which may be correlated with other traits), why are we so eager to assume that other differential representations, like those involving gender or ethnicity, are based solely on bias and bigotry rather than preference? As we know, this kind of representation is automatically assumed to be based on prejudice, but I’ve always said that we can’t assume that without the needed research.

Finally, is Meso right in raising the alarm that the Democratic “elitism” of American scientists could turn other Americans—many of whom are Republican—against science or against going into science? (He conflates “judging science” with “going into science” in his final paragraph.) If he were right, this in itself would be a form of preference, but could also involve bigotry if conservatives sense that scientists don’t like their politics.  And yes, Republicans are more anti-science than Democrats, though the difference has been exaggerated, but not to the extent that would explain the differential representation in science. To me, it seems more likely that the disparity is based on a preference connected to political affiliation, but that’s just a guess.

Finally, Meso’s conclusion—that liberalism in scientists turns others against science and against going into science, presumes that the public actually knows how liberal scientists are. But they don’t seem to, at least according to that Pew report:

Most Americans do not see scientists as a group as particularly liberal or conservative. Nearly two-thirds of Americans (64%) say they think of scientists as “neither in particular”; 20% see them as politically liberal and 9% say they are politically conservative.

If there’s no evidence in science of bias against Republican scientists or students, then there is no need to engage in affirmative action to bring them on board—unless they somehow bring a scientific point of view absent among more liberal scientists. But I can’t see one. (It’s not that evident amongst ethnic or gender groups, either.) But the reason I’m in favor of affirmative action is not so much to bring a diversity of ideas as to act as a form of reparations for those who were denied equal opportunity. And the reparations view, while holding for women and people of color, doesn’t seem to hold for conservatives.

But my dislike of affirmative action for Republicans in science doesn’t hold for college students, for I think ideological and political diversity is an innate good among undergraduates, as it stimulates discussion and exposes students to other ways of thinking. So while I can’t support a case for “affirmative action” for more Republicans in science, I can do so for college students. As for professors outside of science, I’m not so sure. It’s useful for students to be exposed to various political views, or lines of thought, from their professors as well. I can’t see hiring professors because they’re Republicans, but I can see making an effort to incorporate conservative points of view into academic departments.  Since we scientists are supposed to keep our politics out of the classroom, though, we don’t need to make this effort.

A kerfuffle about diversity and inclusion at the University of Chicago

November 29, 2020 • 12:00 pm

Actually, the word “kerfuffle” may not be appropriate here, as this is a pretty serious conflict between, on the one hand, a professor who takes issue with his department’s policies about diversity and inclusion, and, on the other, students and alumni, who, outraged by the professor’s opinion, have taken steps, in a letter/petition, to get the professor severely punished for expressing his views on YouTube.

The whole issue is concisely summarized by my law-school colleague Brian Leiter on his website Leiter Reports (click on the screenshot):

The (associate) professor is Dr. Dorian Abbot in our Department of Geophysical Sciences, who posted four YouTube videos, with slides, taking issue with some initiatives about diversity and inclusion. His talks emphasized the need for a meritocracy rather than “quotas” of minority applicants, and as well as asserting that it’s not the business of universities to promote social justice. Unfortunately, although I watched the videos earlier, Abbot has taken them down, though his slides are still online (see the first sentence of Leiter’s excerpt below). Here’s one slide that was guaranteed to cause problems for him:

Here’s another of Abbot’s slides. (The “Holdomor” refers to the Soviet genocide by famine of the kulaks (rich peasants) in 1932-1933 in Ukraine.

This stuff is guaranteed to anger those who see social-justice work, at present, as one of the most pressings things a university can do in its official capacity. Further, criticizing identity politics, when they’re the predominant kinds of politics on campus, is just not on. The backlash against Abbot was strong and severe (and probably predictable), and is summarized by Leiter below.

Have a look especially at the letter to Abbot’s department from 162 people affiliated with the University of Chicago and Geophysical Sciences (their names are unfortunately blacked out, though I think signers should make their names public). The letter demands all kinds of accounting and punishments for what Abbot did.  These including giving Abbot’s graduate and undergraduate students a way to opt out of his mentorship and teaching, making a departmental statement that Abbot’s videos were “unsubstantiated, inappropriate, and harmful to department members and climate” (the exact “harm” that occurred isn’t specified), and measures like this:

[The department should] Implement accountability measures to address patterns of bigoted behaviour in both the department’s hiring/promotion/tenure process and teaching opportunities. For example, faculty who persistently engage in bigoted behaviour should be prevented from taking on teaching roles, new graduate students/post-docs/staff, and committee responsibilities.

Below is part of Leiter’s post about the issue, and I have to say that I agree with much of it. I don’t agree with everything Abbot said on his videos or in his slides (as I’ve repeatedly said, I favor some form of affirmative action in hiring professors or accepting graduate students), but neither do I agree that Abbot, for exercising his free speech as a professor, and raising issues that do deserve some discussion, should be demonized and punished in this way.

My preferred response, were I a student or faculty member who took issue with Abbot’s claims, would be counterspeech: rebutting them. The anger evinced in the letter to his department seems to me a huge overreaction, but in line with many responses to “anti-woke” stuff on college campuses. But of course the letter-writers have every right to say what they want about Abbot and demand that he be punished. I don’t think he should suffer demonization in this way, as it represents a chilling of speech: if you oppose the au courant ideology, you will be attacked big time, and who wants to undergo that?

I recommend you look at the links. From Leiter, and  note that there’s a petition supporting Abbot’s freedom of speech that you can sign:

You can see the slides that formed the basis for his presentations to his colleagues here,  herehere, and here; his own account of events is here.  I agree with some of what he has to say, and disagree with other parts.  But his views are not “hateful,” “harmful” or out of place in a university that values free discussion on important issues.

For dissenting from “diversity” orthodoxy, Professor Abbot has now been subjected to a disgraceful public denunciation by postdocs and graduate students in Geology (and other UChicago science departments (complete with fictitious claims about “aggression” and “safety”).  The public version of the letter omits the names of the benighted grad students and postdocs.  But some faculty and postdocs have gone public with their delusional responses:  for example, Assistant Professor Graham Slater’s Twitter thread is here  (do review the actual slides to see how unhinged this take is), and the reaction of a geology postdoc at Chicago, Michael Henson (also here).

There is now a petition in support of Professor Abbott here which I encourage readers to sign.

Leiter adds this:

There’s very little extramural speech that ought to have any bearing on hiring or promotion decisions in universities, but open contempt like that above for academic freedom and lawful expression–which are foundational to the academic enterprise–probably should count against someone.  (We’ve touched on this issue before.)  If people like Slater and Hanson carry on like this now, what kind of damage will they do to their departments and disciplines once they have tenure?

I don’t like anyone being punished or demonized for exercising freedom of speech, but the people who will suffer from this are not those who came out against Abbot, but Abbot himself. Perhaps he didn’t realize what a beehive he was entering with his YouTube videos, for much of the country is simply unaware of social-justice conflicts. But freedom of speech is paramount, and if people don’t like what Abbot said, they can avoid him, leave his mentorship (but not his classes, I think!), or criticize him. And that’s as far as it should go. We needn’t call for his head on a platter.

Should scientific journals strive for “diversity” of reviewers and authors?

November 17, 2020 • 12:00 pm

The New York Times recently had a piece by their new and woke science reporter, Katherine J. Wu, which is basically an indictment of science journals for not keeping track of the “diversity” of authors and reviewers of the papers they publish or reject. The implicit message is that science journals are racist, discriminating against papers by minoritized authors.

Click on the screenshot to read the article:

Wu’s implicit assumption is twofold. First, that a paucity of diversity—which of course means ethnic diversity, but minus Asians since they are surely overrepresented among authors—reflects racism on the part of scientific journals and reviewers.  There is no consideration of whether a lack of diversity may represent simply a paucity of minority authors and reviewers. That itself may reflect racism, past or present, that narrows the opportunities of would-be scientists, but the article implies that it’s racism acting on Ph.D. authors trying to submit papers.

The second assumption is that more ethnic diversity in journals means better science. Well, that’s true in the sense that the more people who get the opportunities to become scientists, the higher the average quality of the science that is published. But I’m not at all convinced that members of any group, be they groups involving genders, religions, incomes, or ethnicity, have a special “point of view” based on their group identity that makes them do science differently. Science is science, and I don’t feel that Hispanics, say, have a different “way of knowing.” (There may be one exception here, that I’ve mentioned before: I think women scientists are responsible for shifting the focus in sexual selection from male traits alone to female preferences as well. But many men were also involved in this shift). In the end, the best science comes from giving everybody equal opportunities, not practicing remediation based on race at the publication level.

But the question is whether journals should be publishing more papers by members of minority groups. That is, is there a bias against, say, black or Hispanic authors that needs to be rectified by that form of “affirmative action” on the publication level—taking steps to accept more papers by minority authors?

It’s my opinion that the answer is “no”. This presumes that a paucity of papers by such authors is prima facie evidence for bias, when it may reflect only a paucity of minority-group members in the field, or of minority scientists submitting papers, or submitting fewer papers,—rather than reviewers deliberately discriminating against papers by minority authors.

It may be worth investigating this issue, but I consider it hardly worthwhile for two reasons.  First, figuring out whether a paucity of papers from minority group members is due to racism at the reviewing level is very hard to do, though not impossible (see below). More important, it’s certainly true that the disparity between the proportion of minority-group members in the population and the number of papers published by members of that group is due largely not to racism but to an underrepresentation of Blacks and Hispanics in science. Figuring out why that disparity exists is the best way to achieve more proportionality in science, if that is your goal. And that’s really where our efforts should be going.

Here are the data given in the NYT piece from two scientific organizations showing disparities between population proportions and publication/reviewer proportions. The article makes the point that most journals, though, do not keep records of the ethnicity of authors and reviewers. (To clarify for non-scientists, when scientists submit papers to a journal, those papers are sent to several reviewers—usually two or three—who are experts in the area of research. Based on the reviewers’ assessment of the paper, the editor then decides whether or not to publish it. If the decision is “yes,” there is often some revision of the paper required, either in the discussion or the scientific analysis.)

I’m going to discuss authors here, not reviewers, because it is the quality of authors‘ work that, by and large, constructs the quality of the journal. How do we know if a journal is discriminating against minority authors? You can’t simply use a difference between the proportion of people in the field, or the proportion of people submitting papers on the one hand, and the proportion of papers published on the other, as a criterion for bias. That’s because members of different groups may submit papers less often, or of lesser quality, and that this would lead to differential representation that would not reflect racism. Bias must be proven, not assumed.

There are two ways to solve this problem. The first is the equivalent of doing “blind” auditions for orchestras—auditions in which those seeking an orchestral chair perform behind a curtain. That “blind” system removes all bias against sex or race. To do this with a paper, you simply remove the names of the authors, their institution, and the acknowledgments from the manuscript, so the reviewers don’t know who wrote the paper. (There are, of course, ways to guess, like if an author cites herself repeatedly, but in many cases this will indeed lead to quality appraisal ignorant of the author’s race or gender.)

I hit upon that system in the late 1970s when I was a postdoc, full of piss and vinegar and concerned that papers were getting preferentially published not because of race, but because of reputation. My idea was that famous people had an easier time publishing their papers than small fish (like me!). I wrote letters—real letters—to the editors of about 30 journals in my field, proposing that manuscripts be reviewed blind this way. I got only one response, and that was from an editor who said that he preferred knowing the authors, because famous authors were more likely to submit better papers! That may be true on average, but it’s not the best way to ensure the quality of papers in a journal! In fact, famous authors may get by more easily with shoddier work because of their reputations.

At any rate, some journals have now wisely decided to adopt the blind-author technique, and more power to them! It seems to me a step in the right direction to eliminate animus not just against groups of people, but against your scientific “enemies” or in favor of your scientific “friends”. (Believe me, this kind of bias is rife in science.) While you can get around this system by guessing, I think it does help ensure objective reviewing and thus higher-quality papers. (I should add that the NYT music critic opposed blind auditions because he said that while it increased the proportion of women in orchestras, it didn’t eliminate racial inequities; his view was clearly that equity trumped orchestral quality.)

The other way would be to do an experiment submitting identical sets of manuscripts with fake names that give clues to the gender or ethnicity of the authors. If manuscripts with women or minority authors are rejected more often than the same manuscripts with “white” or “male” names, that surely indicates bias. This was what was done in a laborious study of grant reviewing, using made-up “black”, “white”, “male” and “female” names on identical proposals. The study showed no evidence of racial or gender bias in grant evaluation. Needless to say, you don’t hear much about this study, even though it was a good one, as the results went against people’s certainty that there must be sex and gender bias in reviewing.

That experiment could be done with paper reviewing too, and really must be done before you can start making implicit accusations of bias.  But I favor the blind-reviewing technique. You don’t have to do any experiments to see if that one makes things more equitable because, by eliminating a source of bias from the outset, it almost has to. It is my feeling that a “fake name” study wouldn’t show evidence of bias in pubication, but that’s my feeling alone. Better just to practice blind reviewing rather than speculate or do experiments.

In the end, my feeling is that affirmative action should not be applied to reviewing papers by people who already have doctorates, and, while I believe in affirmative action, I think it has to stop at some point in the hierarchy. My point comes after faculty hired hiring. I think it’s okay and useful to take race and gender into account when hiring junior faculty, as well as in college and grad-school admissions, but that’s where it stops. Ethnicity and gender should not be a consideration in getting tenure, full professorships, or in getting papers published—areas where merit alone should be the only criterion. Again, this is my view, and others may disagree.

Some of those who disagree think the whole system of a scientific meritocracy is flawed—that there isn’t even a scientific meritocracy. The NYT article says that:

Publishing papers in top-tier journals is crucial scholastic currency. But the process is deeply insular, often hinging on personal connections between journal editors and the researchers from whom they solicit and receive manuscripts.

“Science is publicized as a meritocracy: a larger, data-driven enterprise in which the best work and the best people float to the top,” Dr. Extavour said. In truth, she added, universal, objective standards are lacking, and “the access that authors have to editors is variable.”

To democratize this process, editors and reviewers need to level the playing field, in part by reflecting the diversity that journals claim they seek, Dr. Kamath said. “People think this is a cosmetic or surface issue,” she said. “But in reality, the very nature of your scholarship would change if you took diversity, equity and inclusion seriously.”

This whole section is to imply that there is little correlation between the merit of a paper and the chance of its being published. I think that’s a foolish conclusion, with the caaveats that Wu gives meant to imply a weak correlation at best. This is not my experience in reviewing papers or assessing published papers. Yes, sometimes a terrible paper gets published in a good journal, and a great paper gets rejected by a good journal, but there is surely a correlation between the quality of a paper and the chance that a. it will get published, and b. that it will get published in a prestigious journal.

No, to democratize the process, just do blind reviewing. That will go a ways toward eliminating bias. But even in the absence of that procedure, journals would be hard pressed to construct a system that would give preferential publication to papers by ethnic minorities. Regardless of what Katherine Wu thinks, science largely is a meritocracy, at least when it comes to publication, and I don’t think it would be good for science as a whole to bump papers up or down based on the race of their authors.

 

“Segregated” events at the University of Chicago?

October 12, 2020 • 10:45 am

I’m a bit flummoxed by the following announcements of University-sponsored Zoom meetings emailed to us by our local Diversity and Inclusion Office.

Group Wellness Coaching for Students of Color
Monday, October 12: 6 – 8 p.m.
Zoom
Join the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA) and UChicago Student Wellness for this opportunity to work through shared wellness concerns and experiences in an open and supportive environment. Students will design wellness action plans and set goals for enhancing well-being. The session will be led by health educator Cassidy Wade. It is open to students of color in the College, graduate divisions, and professional schools.

Virtual Community for Black Women: Group Wellness Coaching
Thursday, October 15: 6 – 8 p.m.
Zoom

Join OMSA and UChicago Student Wellness for an opportunity to work through shared wellness concerns and experiences in an open and supportive environment. Students will design wellness action plans and set goals for enhancing well-being. The session will be led by health educator Cassidy Wade. It is open to Black women, femmes, and gender non-conforming folx in the College, graduate divisions, and professional schools.

At first I thought these looked like “safe spaces”, but the idea of University-sponsored “safe spaces” was rejected by our administration in a letter sent by the Dean to incoming first-year students in 2016:

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called “trigger warnings,” we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual “safe spaces” where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

Yet these meetings aren’t clearly ones where individuals even have the possibility to “retreat from ideas and perspectives not their own”. That may be part of this, but it seems to be about health—or “wellness”, whatever that means in this context.  Are these “less safe” or “more safe” than intellectual safe spaces?

What bothers me about this are that first, I do recognize that students of color, or gays, or any other group that wants to talk amongst themselves, should be able to do so. After all, second-wave feminism was moved forward by the presence of many women’s support groups, with no men allowed, and I remember these well. But the groups above don’t seem to have much to do with social progress. Rather, they seem to be about the health of groups (mental, physical or both?). If that’s the case, what health concerns are unique to students of color?

And, in the second seminar, what health concerns are unique to the mix of students of color, femmes, and gender non-conforming “folkx”? (Is “folkx” a new woke word?)

Further, these seem to be opportunities for discussions of wellness that are limited to certain ethnic groups or groups with an atypical gender or sexuality profile. Are these opportunities denied to other people? Do, say, students from very poor backgrounds need such an opportunity as well, or perhaps older students? It seems to me that everyone could benefit from such a discussion—or at least the opportunity to be part of such a discussion.

Finally, it seems to me that university-sponsored segregated events—events that explicitly bar people of some races and genders—should be offered only under the most extreme circumstances, if at all. And I can’t see what about these events warrants such segregation. If a group of students wants to organize their own meeting, then that’s fine, but having this happen with University approval makes me unsettled. Yes, these are Zoom meetings, and I’m not sure if that means you can participate and hide your visage, sexuality, and the like—but that would be duplicitous. It’s ironic that exclusion is practiced by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Perhaps I’m timorous about criticizing something put on by my own university, and perhaps I don’t understand what these events are about, but as written they disturb me as not inclusive but divisive. Am I wrong to feel that way?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sets new diversity standards

September 9, 2020 • 10:30 am

According to both the New York Times and Variety, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the annual Oscars, has set new diversity standards for the Best Picture award. The standards, though they don’t apply to other categories like Best Actor, could apply to other awards like Best Animated Feature and Best International Feature, and, according to Variety (which has the better of the two articles), these categories will be addressed later.

The action is a response to the outcry about the lack of diversity in awards as well as the composition of the Academy, which led to the well known #OscarsSoWhite campaign in 2015. In response to the lack of diversity (racial diversity, though the adjective is rarely mentioned), the Academy did make and fulfill a promise to double the number of women and minority members between 2016 and 2020. This new initiative is meant to address diversity in films, both in front of and behind the camera.

The changes come in two steps. First, for the 2022 and 2023 Oscar nominations, Best Film applications will have to submit a confidential form to the Academy about “Inclusion Standards” if the film is to be considered. There’s no word on what this form will ask.

Then, beginning in 2024, any Best Picture nomination has to meet at least two out of four sets of diversity standards, one for the actors in the film; another for diversity of “creative leadership and department heads” (casting director, makeup artists, cinematographer, composer, etc.), “other key roles”, and “overall crew composition (e.g., 30% of the latter must be from underrepresented groups); the third for “industry access and opportunities” (fellowships and internships for minorities as well as special training opportunities for those from underrepresented groups”; and the fourth set for “audience development” (marketing, publicity, and distribution must involve individuals from “underrepresented racial or ethnic groups”).

Remember, the Best Picture nominees have to fulfill at least two of the four requirements. And some areas, like actors, can be satisfied by meeting a minimal number of standards within the class. For example, here are the standards, as given by Variety, for “On-Screen Representation, Themes, and Narratives”. To meet this one of the four sets of standards, the film must meet one of the following three criteria:

To achieve Standard A, the film must meet ONE of the following criteria:

A1. Lead or significant supporting actors

At least one of the lead actors or significant supporting actors is from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group.

• Asian
• Hispanic/Latinx
• Black/African American
• Indigenous/Native American/Alaskan Native
• Middle Eastern/North African
• Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander
• Other underrepresented race or ethnicity

A2. General ensemble cast

At least 30% of all actors in secondary and more minor roles are from at least two of the following underrepresented groups:

• Women
• Racial or ethnic group
• LGBTQ+
• People with cognitive or physical disabilities, or who are deaf or hard of hearing

A3. Main storyline/subject matter

The main storyline(s), theme or narrative of the film is centered on an underrepresented group(s).

• Women
• Racial or ethnic group
• LGBTQ+
• People with cognitive or physical disabilities, or who are deaf or hard of hearing

The standards for the other three categories can be seen in the Variety article. These standards were developed by a committee appointed by the Academy.

How will these be enforced? According to the New York Times article, “the standards will be enforced via spots checks of sets and through dialogue between the academy and a movie’s filmmakers and distributors.” For the first category—films—that seems impractical, because how do you know a film will be applying for a Best Picture award when it’s being made? And after it’s made, there are no more sets, though I suppose the ethnicity of actors will be available.

When I first read this, I assume that all four areas would have to meet the standards, and I was distressed—as were a few readers who sent links to me—that pictures would have to fit a given mold of diversity. For surely there are some movies that simply can’t meet these standards, like those portraying times or situations when there were no minorities around. Those movies wouldn’t get a chance to be nominated, no matter how good they were. But then I read the standards and realized that you don’t have to fulfill the criteria for actors, but can do so by meeting two out of the other three categories. And I don’t have any problems with those standards. Then I thought, “Well, just leave out category A and ask that movies meet two out of the three remaining standards,” but then then narrows the possibilities for minority actors; so I think it should stay.

Thus, despite the superficial appearance of a draconian and authoritarian change in movies in the name of diversity, the initiative looks pretty reasonable to me. But other people should weigh in.

Emory University’s ideological indoctrination of its students and its hedging about free speech

May 25, 2020 • 10:30 am

Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia reports that, at the urging of students and by a big majority of faculty, it has instituted a general education requirement that “focuses specifically on the histories and experiences of people of color.” This will be a required course for all students, though there may be different courses in different departments that meet the requirements approved the College Senate (the resolution to create this course was passed by 73% of voting faculty). You can read about this in the article below, from Emory’s independent student newspaper (click on screenshot):

The Wheel notes that there were predecessor courses in the 1990s about diversity, though I suspect from the description of those in the proposal that these were far less political, focusing mostly on the different groups that made up America: not only blacks, but Native Americans, Jews, Italians, Asians, Irish, Germans, and so on. (This is just my guess, but I remember such courses when I was a child. But of course those courses downplayed ethnic and nationalistic tensions.)  Now, of course, the national diversity of People of No Color will be neglected, though we all know that the Irish, Jews, and Italians were also subject to discrimination in our history. As were the poor.

The idea for these courses arose after the group Black Students at Emory demanded such a course in 2015:

The proposal stated the 2015 Black Students at Emory demands occurred in light of “sudden political tumult that had occurred in November of that year,” and was also a “reflection of the continued and intensified alienation and precarity that black students and students of color have experienced on Emory’s campus.”

The demands brought a “conversation already ongoing within the faculty” to the fore and was the driving force behind the proposal, the proposal reads.

In fact, I have no objection to a course outlining the way America became a “melting pot,” nor how the different groups met diverse obstacles to acceptance. What I object to in this course is that it’s specifically about groups that have pigmented skin (presumably including those from the Middle East, who were historically considered Caucasian), and, especially, that it seems designed to push an ideological point of view—that of Critical Race Theory. Will there be freedom of speech in this course? Will people be able to question affirmative action or the idea of reparations? I doubt it.

And of course there are the issues of class differences in America, which are profound and pervasive. Any kind of social issues beyond discrimination based on race is neglected, and I suspect there are no required courses for those. But I object to any course that tries to force students think in a certain way, and to discourage their exploring thinking in other ways. If you think these courses welcome diverse opinions, you think wrong.

For example, here is a list of what must be the objectives of the new courses taken from the proposal passed by the Emory Faculty:

This seems to me more like teaching and forcing adherence to a certain point of view (for example, that of the New York Times’s 1619 Project), than an “educational” experience. In other words, you learn to think in a certain way and to adopt certain viewpoints—those of the Authoritarian Left—rather than to absorb information and discuss it openly. These seem more to me to be thinking objectives rather than “learning objectives”. Critical thinking won’t be especially prized. Note the emphasis on intersectionality and respectful communication, the latter being a worthwhile goal but sometimes contravened by valuable and necessary free speech (i.e., discussions of affirmative action).

UPDATE: In a comment below, reader Historian notes that the article is 11 years old (my bad for not noticing the date), and a FIRE update shows that Emory gets green lights (the “best” rating) for most of its free-expression policies.

Indeed, as this article from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) suggests, Emory is not particularly interested in diversity of thought or speech. This is one of several articles in which FIRE evaluates the commitment to free expression of the U.S. News & World Report list of America’s 25 best schools (click on screenshot). However it gets low ratings (“D” and “C” respectively for due process for non-sexual misconduct and sexual misconduct respectively). So ignore most of what is written below the following headline and pay attention to the material above.

FIRE has given Emory its worst rating for free speech—a “red light” rating, for the following reasons:

  • Despite Emory’s official commitment to “the widest possible scope for the free circulation of ideas”, it restricts speech in several ways.
  • Students in Emory’s residence halls are prohibited from “acts of intolerance”, which are defined so loosely that they could prohibit parody, satire, and other socially valuable forms of speech
  • Emory prohibits electronic communication “that is perceived by its recipient as sexual or discriminatory harassment”, which defines harassment as based solely on perception, though legally it must also be based on objective evaluation to be considered impermissible under the First Amendment.

There are other objectionable policies of Emory as well.  All in all, abrogation of free speech nearly always goes hand in hand with ideologically-based courses such as the one above, for both are premised on offending as few people as possible. And that strategy is directly inimical to the way education should work.

Diversity in colleges: How much and how long?

May 22, 2020 • 9:00 am

Few colleges, I think, are immune from the growth of “Diversity and Inclusion” (D&I) initiatives, including ours. And they’re spreading over time, not only among colleges but also within them, so that D&E programs are often quite large. (This is of course also happening in the workplace—since colleges are apparently not “workplaces.”) The College Fix (a right wing site, but the only source of statistics I could find readily) reports that the University of Michigan has 100 full-time diversity officers, and UC Berkeley a full 175.!  In 2018, the budget for the Michigan diversity office was almost $8.4 million per year.

These initiatives are aimed largely at increasing the enrollment of students of color, generally including African-Americans, Latino(s), sometimes Asians (though Harvard apparently tried to reduce the overrepresentation of Asians), and students from the Middle East. Other forms of diversity, like ideological, class, or socioeconomic, are not the main goal. (The University of Chicago does explicitly try to increase socioeconomic diversity.)

Although the Right rails at these initiatives, I think there’s much of value in them—so long as they construe “diversity” more broadly than just racial diversity. The expansion of D&E programs brings up three questions. I’ll pose them to readers, and also proffer my own take.

1.) Do we need these programs? My answer is “yes”, but mostly as a form of reparations, rather than the “innate good” that, in the view of the courts, is the “compelling state interest”for affirmative action (this started with the Bakke decision in 1978). The reason I take the reparations-oriented view is that it seems easier to identify those who have been denied equal opportunity on the grounds of race, class, sex, or other characteristics rather than decide what diversity constitutes the optimal “innate good”.  It’s undeniable that some groups have been discriminated against in the past and that, to this day, this has deprived group members of the “equal opportunity” which I see as the moral sine qua non of “equality”.

2.) How long should these programs persist? When affirmative-action programs were introduced in my youth, it was always with the proviso that these were temporary expedients, meant to apply only until groups were fairly represented in schools and colleges. (I discuss below what “fair” means.) Well, it’s well on half a century now, and the programs are still with us; indeed, they’re growing and show no signs of disappearing. They will be with us for a long time to come, and for two reasons.

First, once you establish a D&E program, its officers have an interest in maintaining it. After all, it’s their charge and their jobs! That means that, to justify their existence, the programs must not only persist but grow. In some cases they’ve grown past the point of reason, as in the mandatory indoctrination of many first-year college students which often borders on the ludicrous. Some programs are deeply affected by Critical Race Theory (CRT) which views things through the lens of pigmentation with the accompanying claim that virtually all parts of society are infected by “structural racism”, even if it’s not part of the structure. (The New York Times‘s 1619 Project is an explicit expression of CRT.) You can tell when a program is overstepping its mandate when it begins agitating against “hate speech” in ways that would infringe on legal interpretations of the First Amendment.

How long should the programs persist? In my view, until we can ensure that equal opportunity is achieved for all groups (see #3). As that will be a long time, these programs should be in place for an equally long time. But I am wary of their uncontrolled expansion. But of course once they’re established they will be with us forever, whatever the societal outcome.

3.) How do we know when proper “equity and inclusion” is achieved? Some people say the D&I programs should strive for equal representation of all “minoritized” groups in college, which is a requirement for equal outcomes.  Given that different groups may differ in preferences or abilities not due to discrimination, I favor the alternative of equal opportunity:  everyone, from the beginning of school (or before), should have the same chance to achieve, with no barriers to entry based on anything except ability.

But we are a long way from that goal: all you have to do is observe the environmental differences between groups based on oppression or factors beyond their members’ control. Inner-city schools, which I’ve visited, are prime examples of children not getting an equal shot of going to a good college—or any college. That, of course, is due to environmental differences that are, for instance, the residuum of racism. (Yes, the 1619 Project is correct in its claim that we still have profound inequalities that stem from slavery.)

So I can’t answer this last question, except that the answer requires an America very different from the one we see today. We need greater investment in education for the poor, an assurance of good teaching for all, and home environments that prize education and allow kids to have good meals and a supportive atmosphere.

Some will claim that these environmental differences are not beyond the control of oppressed groups—that they are the result of the groups themselves failing to strive and accepting a poorer educational environment. (That’s the “Just World” theory that flows in part from accepting Libertarian free will.) I don’t believe that—not for a minute. People simply aren’t that different. And if you accept that different groups have unequal opportunities for reasons beyond their “control”, then I don’t see how you can oppose a.) vigorous programs to rectify these inequalities, and b.) programs of affirmative action that persist until the rectification is achieved.This goes, as I said, not just for racial differences, but for class and socioeconomic differences.

That leaves me with one question. I think ideological diversity is an innate good, but doesn’t fall under a “reparations” view. Although conservatives moan about being discriminated against, it’s hard to make the case that they don’t have opportunities equal to those of liberals. Somehow, colleges must ensure that both students and professors embody a diversity of ideas—political and social. Given the liberal/Left leaning of most American colleges, that may be just as hard as achieving equity for race and class.

So those are my opinions, and I welcome readers to weigh in below on these questions.

Brian Leiter on “diversity statements”

April 15, 2020 • 10:00 am

I’ve written several posts on the mandatory “diversity statements” now required by the University of California, which will soon be required on campuses elsewhere. These statements are used to weed out candidates for academic jobs before their academic credentials are even assessed, and they require candidates to do three things: they must express their philosophy of diversity, they must recount their past efforts to promote diversity, and they must describe their plans to increase diversity at the UC campus where they’re applying.

Just saying you’re in favor of diversity is not enough. You have to have that track record and you have to have a credible plan to promote diversity (“diversity” refers, of course, to gender and racial diversity, not socioeconomic, religious, or political diversity). Asserting that you’re in favor of diversity, and will treat all students as equals, is not sufficient—your application will get tossed. At Berkeley and Santa Cruz, for instance, the applications are scored by committees, not the relevant departments, and you’re given points for each of the three parts. If your points don’t exceed a specified threshhold, your candidacy is stopped in its tracks.

I’ve been opposed to these statements on several grounds, including the insupportable requirement that faculty adhere to a particular ideological position (you cannot, for example, be opposed to affirmative action, or even take Dr. King’s view that someone is to be judged by the content of their character rather than their pigmentation). Further, faculty who have done outreach in other ways besides promoting diversity (e.g., writing popular articles, lecturing on their field to secondary-school students, and so on) get no credit for that, and their applications are discarded. As I wrote in February, while I favor affirmative action, I oppose these ideological purity tests:

So I’ll reiterate that yes, I favor initiatives to increase faculty diversity given the lack of equal opportunity for many minorities. I just don’t think it’s right to mandate “diversity statements”—and, especially, using them as a way to prune out all candidates who aren’t sufficiently on board with the UC ideology (or have no track record of promoting diversity). That simply eliminates candidates, even minority ones, who have outstanding records but haven’t spent a lot of time promoting diversity. Or who have done other sorts of “outreach” activities not involved with diversity itself.

My U of C colleague Brian Leiter, a professor at the Law School and Director of Chicago’s Center for Law, Philosophy & Human Values, has pretty much agreed with me about all of this. He, too, favors affirmative action, but not on the grounds that diversity is an “inherent good”, which is the basis on which the Bakke decision allowing affirmative action was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Rather, Leiter favors diversity initiatives as a form of reparation—to help lift up those who were oppressed and thus lost ground in the past—and also to provide role models to buttress and inspire members of minority groups. And I’m pretty much with him on that as well.

About a month ago, Leiter wrote a clear and persuasive argument in the Chronicle of Higher Education that these diversity statement are not only invidious, but illegal. You can read the article for free by clicking on the screenshot below.

I’ll give a few quotes on Leiter’s legal grounds for opposing these statements:

. . . some universities and departments are using scores on the diversity statement to make the first cuts in faculty searches. That would not be objectionable if it were only a device for weeding out candidates unwilling to work with a diverse student body: The ability to do so obviously goes to the core of a faculty member’s professional duties. The problem is that the new diversity statements go well beyond that, requiring candidates to profess allegiance to a controversial set of moral and political views that have little or no relationship to a faculty member’s pedagogical and scholarly duties.

The University of California at Berkeley has made its criteria for evaluating diversity statements public, and they bear out Thompson’s analogy to loyalty oaths. A job candidate will get a disqualifying score if he or she “defines diversity only in terms of different areas of study or different nationalities, but doesn’t discuss gender or ethnicity/race” or if she or he discounts “the importance of diversity.”

Why these statements are illegal (I believe they are illegal, and also expect that they’ll be challenged in the courts):

Ought a state university ask candidates to sign on to a particular vision of diversity in higher education as a condition of employment? Everyone presumably agrees that a public university should not ask a faculty candidate to affirm allegiance to a particular political party, but why not? In a free and democratic society, citizens should not be penalized in the workplace for their lawful political opinions and expression. The private sector often violates this moral principle, but the courts have required the public sector to honor it, with only limited exceptions. Looking at the constitutional treatment of these issues sheds light on the ethical issues at stake in mandatory diversity statements.

American law has long disfavored speech compelled by the government. In 1943, the Supreme Court struck down compulsory pledge of allegiance to the flag in public schools. Writing for the majority in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, Justice Robert H. Jackson declared: “To sustain the compulsory flag salute we are required to say that a Bill of Rights which guards the individual’s right to speak his own mind, left it open to public authorities to compel him to utter what is not in his mind.”

The McCarthy-era loyalty oaths in California were finally held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of California in 1967, not on compelled- speech grounds, but rather because they violated the right of citizens to “freedom of association” by proscribing “membership, past, present, or future, in any party or organization which advocates the overthrow of the government by force, violence, or other unlawful means,” even when a member does not share the organization’s aims or know of them. Earlier in 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down New York’s similar “loyalty oath” as unconstitutionally vague and thus as posing a threat to freedom of expression in the classroom and outside it: “The First Amendment … does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom” the Court declared.

Mandatory diversity statements do not affect freedom of association, but they arguably “cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom,” at least those classrooms where professors might want to scrutinize justifications for affirmative action, for example. Even though there is nothing in the Berkeley policies to suggest the university would restrict a faculty member’s teaching, by mandating a particular vision of diversity and its value as a condition of employment, the policy does claim this is the “orthodox” view in the California system.

The latter concern comes closer to the real moral and legal problem: In the language of First Amendment jurisprudence, these diversity statements constitute “viewpoint discrimination.” Government cannot, excluding a few exceptions such as political appointments, base a hiring decision on the speaker’s political viewpoint. Wagner v. Jones (2011) offers a good illustration. Wagner, a conservative who opposes abortion, claimed she was passed over for a job teaching legal research and writing at the University of Iowa because of her political views. The trial court initially granted Iowa’s motion to dismiss, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit correctly reversed that decision. As the court put it, “The state can neither directly nor indirectly interfere with an employee’s or potential employee’s rights to association and belief.”

Again, Leiter is an advocate of racial justice, but doesn’t think that whether you get hired at a state university requires that you adhere to specified views about diversity, nor have engaged in the past in efforts to increase it. Leiter is also a Marxist, and as far as I understand his views, he sees socioeconomic factors as more important than “racialism” as a cause of inequities. Nevertheless, because racism, which I think Leiter sees as an outcome of slavery—a post facto justification—rather than its cause, has palpably harmed people, he favors a form of affirmative action. So do I.

 

h/t: Greg Mayer

 

NIH gets into the game of requiring job candidates to show track records of promoting diversity

February 2, 2020 • 10:30 am

At the end of last year, I pointed out that the University of California system was implementing a new procedure for hiring faculty. It involved candidates submitting “diversity statements” that recounted their knowledge about diversity, their past efforts to increase diversity in their institutions, and their plans for promoting diversity if they were hired.

While I favor a form of affirmative action to increase diversity in hiring, I objected to the diversity-statement procedure because it not only demands adherence to a specific ideology (candidates’ diversity statements were scored on a point system, with higher points given to those whose statements matched the philosophy of the evaluators), but also gives the diversity statement priority over all other qualifications: if a candidate’s diversity score didn’t meet or exceed the cutoff threshold of 11 points, the application was discarded without further review.

This procedure is unfair because of its use of an ideological test, because it doesn’t count other “outreach” activities that are valuable but don’t promote diversity (e.g., giving talks to high school children, writing popular articles on science), and because it bars minority candidates who haven’t engaged in diversity-promoting activities before they apply for jobs.

Imagine, for example, an African-American scholar who has spent her time with her nose to the grindstone, accumulating an admirable academic and teaching record without having had the time or the will to promote diversity. As valuable as she would be to a department—and believe me, universities are desperately looking for good minority candidates—she wouldn’t have a chance of being hired under this “threshold” process. (Such scholars exist, for I know of some.) I find this process ludicrous and counterproductive, as I find the use of all mandatory diversity statements.

Now, however, according to this report in Science magazine, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is giving a ton of money to 12 universities for “cluster hires” (groups of people hired at once to beef up programs)—and that hiring process, even if not designed to increase diversity, will require every candidate not just to submit a diversity statement, but to show a “track record” of working to promote diversity. (“Diversity”, as always, means racial and gender diversity, not any kind of intellectual, class, geographic, or economic diversity.)

Click on the screenshot to read the news item:

The article reports that the NIH is appropriating $241 million to create a program called Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST). This will provide roughly $20 million to each of a dozen schools, each aliquot supporting a “cluster hire” of ten new faculty members.  Cluster hires have been used to increase diversity, but also for non-diversity initiatives, like “[accelerating] their capacity to do research in an emerging area, such as computational biology or nanofabrication.”

And the NIH initiative, despite having both diversity goals and “emerging area” goals, is requiring every candidate to prove that they have already promoted diversity. Note that this statement is required because restricting hires to individuals from underrepresented groups is illegal for the NIH. Here’s the crucial statement from the article (my emphasis):

Not all of the 120 new hires would need to belong to groups now underrepresented in academic medicine, which include women, black people, Hispanics, Native Americans, and those with disabilities, says Hannah Valantine, NIH’s chief diversity officer. In fact, she told the Council of Councils at its 24 January meeting, any such restriction would be illegal and also run counter to the program’s goal of attracting world-class talent. But Valantine says every person hired must have a track record of working to change a culture that too often makes scientists from underrepresented groups feel unwelcome on campus and isolated in the laboratory.

This is pretty explicit in imposing a diversity-promoting test on the cluster hires. Every person hired must have a track record. That again leaves out minority candidates who have been doing things other than “changing the culture”. (And it presumes that there is a culture that makes underrepresented scientists feel unwelcome, something for which there is no evidence save anecdotal statements.) Without that record, black or white, male or female, you don’t stand a chance of getting hired under the NIH program. And that in itself is “counter to the program’s goal of attracting world-class talent.”

Fortunately, there are organizations, like that run by Chad Topaz of Williams College, that will, for a donation, help candidates write a diversity statement. All you need is to hand over $100 or more to Topaz’s organization, and they’ll help you look like a great promoter of diversity. (I can only imagine how this works.)

Well, regardless of whether such bigotry exists (this is nearly always the default explanation for underrepresentation of some groups), there’s independent evidence of how valuable minority candidates already are in academia. As the article notes:

New faculty hires don’t come cheap. At Emory, a standard startup package for a new professor in the natural sciences or engineering exceeds $1 million, Freeman says. And Valantine says startup costs for a basic scientist with a wet lab at a medical school could run as high as $3 million. Minority scientists usually command a premium salary because they are in such high demand, Freeman notes. [JAC: Carla Freeman is Emory’s senior associate dean of the faculty.]

Yes, it’s true that minority faculty are in high demand: Chicago is always trying to hire them, but the pool of candidates is small. The failure to land such candidates surely doesn’t reflect bigotry on the part of departments, but, in my view, a paucity of candidates because of poorer educational opportunities available for minorities, including worse schools.

Factors like those make a mockery of the notion of “equal opportunity.” And yes, this lack of opportunity goes way back to bigotry that, in the case of African-Americans, started with slavery. It must be rectified, but one has to diagnose how to fix it—and the fix may not involve assuming that hiring committees are racist or sexist. My own view is that it’s going to require a lot of effort and money to equalize opportunity for all Americans from the outset of their lives, and we all know how hard that is. But it’s something we must do.

As I said, I favor affirmative action in such hires if one wants to increase diversity. But that affirmative action should have nothing to do with “diversity statements” or a track record of changing a culture that may not even exist. You just weight the underrepresented but desired characteristics during the hiring process.

The implicit assumption that bigotry accounts for the whole of minority underrepresentation in academia is probably unjustified. First, as the Science article notes, cluster hiring may be the wrong tool:

The scientific literature on cluster hiring is very thin. Freeman and administrators at a handful of other institutions provide anecdotal evidence of its value in fostering diversity, but there are no rigorous studies of how it compares to other approaches. Steven Brint, a sociologist at the University of California, Riverside, is looking at its impact on interdisciplinary collaborations, the most common goal for institutions that have tried it. And his preliminary findings on research productivity suggest cluster hiring may actually impede efforts to foster diversity.

“Overall, output increases for all researchers,” Blint says. “But the benefits are not evenly distributed. When we analyze the results by race and gender, our results suggest that senior scientists tend to benefit more from such hirings.” Not surprisingly, he adds, those senior scientists tend to be white men.

And this statement in the Science piece implicitly assumes that bias is the cause:

FIRST is the latest in a series of programs NIH has launched since 2014 following a 2011 study that showed black scientists are less likely to receive an NIH award than their white or Asian counterparts. NIH has set itself the goal of eliminating that disparity, and Valantine hopes FIRST will take an important step in that direction by using an unorthodox approach to recruiting academic researchers.

But a study published last year, which was highly anticipated, found—and, I’m sad to say, to some people’s disappointment—that there wasn’t any evidence for either race or gender bias in a detailed study of “mock evaluation” of NIH proposals. (The study isn’t perfect, but if it had shown such bias, nobody would discuss its weaknesses!) And the Science article doesn’t even mention this followup!(Click on screenshot):


But the 2011 study cited above also showed that the funding gap remained after controlling for investigators’ “educational background, country of origin, training, previous research awards, publication record, and employer characteristics”. After removing these factors, African-Americans still were 10% less likely to get an NIH award than whites. Does this prove bigotry in the process? Not necessarily, because the study below was also published last year:

It shows that a substantial amount of the NIH award disparity was due not to bigotry, but to choice of topics: black scientists were more prone to apply for funding in fields less likely to receive funding: fields involving “research at the community and population level, as opposed to more fundamental and mechanistic investigations”. It’s thus a fallacy to assume, at the outset, that a disparity in outcomes automatically reflects bigotry rather than other factors like preference.

But regardless of that, for the funding-rate disparity isn’t the main subject of this post, we still need to study racial and sex disparities, and, if they reflect factors that narrow opportunities, we need to fix those things. Since any fixes will take decades, I favor affirmative action in hiring as well as in accepting students. But I adamantly reject the use of mandatory diversity statements as a tool for promoting academic diversity. It’s the wrong fix. And now not only the University of California uses it, but at least ten other universities are poised to join in—at the behest of the federal government, of which the NIH is part.

 

Life science jobs at Berkeley give precedence to candidates’ diversity and inclusion statements

December 31, 2019 • 11:30 am

UPDATE: My Chicago colleague, law and philosophy professor Brian Leiter, has given this post a shout-out on his Leiter Reports site. More important, he adds that there are lawyers (some of whom he knows) looking to prosecute a case against the University of California on behalf of rejected candidates, with the grounds being illegal practice of “viewpoint discrimination.” I’d be interested in following such cases. If you know anybody eliminated from the searches, by all means call Leiter’s post to their attention. (There’s also a comment from a lawyer offering pro bono help in the comments below.)

_________________________

We’ve recently been discussing the use of mandatory “diversity statements” for academic job candidates, and the University of California’s commitment to not just using them in all searches, but giving these statements precedence in the hiring process, so that if your statement doesn’t exceed a minimum numerical cutoff for promoting diversity, increasing it in your past, and promulgating it in the future should you be hired, your candidacy is terminated (see here and here). This practice of making candidates not only swear fealty to diversity, but also show a history of concerted efforts to increase it, has been controversial, deemed as a form of ideological/political conformity that doesn’t belong in a hiring process.

A document from the University of California tells us how the system worked in six searches in the life sciences, and I find it a bit disturbing—disturbing because the ideology and social engineering is clear, because candidates, however good in scholarship, were eliminated if their diversity statements fell below a specified cutoff, and disturbing because the only kind of diversity involved was racial and gender diversity. But we know that that is what people mean when they talk about “diversity”.  Ideological, class, and background diversity are irrelevant.

Click on the screenshot below to go to the report, which is 5½ pages long.

In this process, diversity statements were used at the outset of searches to eliminate candidates.  There were two searches.

A.) Search 1 (“Cluster search”).  Here five faculty lines were opened in the Life Sciences with no stipulation as to preferred sub-areas. Instead of departments vetting the candidates at the beginning, a committee was formed of 22 members from all departments in the Life Sciences. 993 applications were received, of which 893 were considered viable.

These 893 applications were then vetted for diversity statements alone, rating the statements in three areas: knowledge about diversity, track record in advancing diversity, and plans for advancing diversity if hired. The published Berkeley diversity-evaluation rubric was used, rating candidates on a 1-5 scale for each of the three areas, so that the minimum score was 3 and the maximum 15.

Statements were evaluated blind to the candidate’s names, getting rid of some clues to sex and race. But these data would have been clear, I suspect, from the diversity statements alone (at least for minorities), so I highly doubt that candidates were evaluated “blind” in this respect. No cutoff in scores was given in the description of this search, though there was a described cutoff in the second search (see below).

Only 214 of the 893 candidates (24%) passed muster here as having adequate diversity statements. These 214 were then passed on to the appropriate departmental search committees to create a short list for interviewing candidates (these are typically 3-6 candidates per job). In this search and the second one below, candidates were also asked to explain their ideas about diversity during the interviews. The diversity interviews also served to weed out candidates:

Finalists were asked to describe their efforts to promote equity and inclusion, as well as ideas for advancing equity and inclusion at Berkeley, as part of their job talk. They also met with the department equity advisor, and/or with a student panel during their on-campus interview.

Only candidates who demonstrated, through their knowledge, past contributions, and/or future plans for advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, potential to meet Berkeley standards were advanced as finalists and ultimately proposed candidates.

So even at the two last stages of the process, candidates were eliminated because of a perceived insufficient commitment to diversity.

Here is how the profile of candidates changed at each step in the attrition:

As you see, diversity of the pool is assessed using only race and gender. And, as expected, in each step the proportion of minorities increased (I count women as “minority candidates” here)—except for Asians, whose proportion fell somewhat. And the three Native American candidates failed to make the shortlist. White males, who are supposed to be eliminated by this kind of search, were also significantly whittled away. In contrast, Hispanics and African Americans were considerably enriched, with the proportions on the final shortlist (interviewees) enriched by 4.5-fold and 3.25-fold respectively.

The document doesn’t indicate who got hired, so we don’t know what category they fell into.

B. Search 2 (“Department search”).  Eight searches were conducted by departments alone, though data are available for only one (“ESPM”, or Environmental Science, Policy and Management). The ESPM process began with 360 candidates who were whittled down to 80 based on diversity statements alone (these were evaluated by two committees). Here they give the cutoff they used to proceed further:

The department analyst redacted the applicant diversity statements and randomly assigned two committee members to review each redacted diversity statement. Possible scores based on the rubric ranged from 3-15. Applicants who had scores that diverged widely were assigned a third reader. A minimum average score of 11 or a combined total score of 22 (across two committee reviewers) was required to continue to the next round of review. The committee met to discuss the results of this first stage of review, which yielded a total of 80 viable candidates. These were marked in AP Recruit as under “serious consideration.”

In other words, you had to score an average of 3.7 on each of the 1-5 rankings for philosophy, past efforts, and plans, to advance further. Here are the results of that process:

Here all minorities were enriched between the applicant pool and the shortlist, including women, African Americans (1 candidate), Hispanics (1 candidate), and Native Americans (1 candidate). Asians, however, were also enriched, more than doubling their proportion between the applicant pool (18.1% ) and final candidates (2 out of 5). Whites were reduced from about 60% of the candidates to none of the interviewees.

It’s clear from the document that diversity was regarded at least as important as scholarship in these hires, though having a cutoff for diversity from the outset indicates that it was actually the most important criterion for a search to proceed further. No matter how good your scholarship, if you didn’t pass the diversity cutoff (a score of 11 in the second search), you were toast. Here are some statements from the document:

In its first year, the Initiative to Advance Faculty Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Life Sciences made a strong impact on our campus and was a successful catalyst for positive change. It has been a high profile “proof of concept” that changing faculty search practices can result in successful recruitment of candidates that are both excellent researchers and committed advocates for advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) through their research, teaching, and/or service.

. . .The Initiative established a group of allies across campus who are valuable resources for support and encouragement, and above all are committed to changing the status quo. With support from the campus leadership, the Life Sciences are now at a cultural and procedural tipping point in advancing faculty diversity, equity and inclusion.

. . . Ultimately, the “cluster search” was one of the most successful interventions of the initiative. It will result in an increase in faculty committed to advancing faculty diversity, equity and inclusion on the campus

I find this process chilling in its commitment to a specific form of social engineering. While I favor affirmative action (many readers here don’t), I think it should be enacted not through eliminating candidates because of insufficient diversity statements, but through departmental initiatives to identify and hire good minority candidates.  You might respond that, well, this is one kind of such initiative. But these hires involve initiatives meant to assure that every person hired is committed to diversity in precise accord with the ranking system. In other words, it enforces not just diversity, which I favor, but ideology, which I don’t. Further, only race and gender were involved here as aspects of “diversity”—not things like class, political viewpoint, background independent of race and sex, and so on.

Nobody should ever be automatically eliminated because their “diversity score” is below 11. If you do that, you will eliminate all those who are good scholars but don’t have a track record in promoting racial and gender diversity, even though they may have been involved in other valued social activities that don’t affect diversity (I’ve mentioned writing about your field for the public and giving talks to high school students to educate and interest them in your field).

But make no mistake about it: the Berkeley Diversity Mavens have won. By hiring large numbers of deans and administrators whose job is to promote initiatives like the above, colleges like Berkeley have guaranteed that this kind of process will only get more onerous and more invidious. After all, those people have to keep ratcheting up the process to keep their jobs going.  In reality, their goal should be to ultimately make their own jobs obsolete.