Matters academic

Diversity: attacking a policy intended to increase diversity is NOT the same as attacking the concept of diversity.
Yes, I think that most math professors are willing to spread the love of our discipline to all who want it or to all who *might* want it but aren’t really aware of it or what it has to offer. And yes, this means most of us approve of and, yes, many of us (myself included) participate in activities to encourage under represented groups to give our field a try.

But that does not mean that ALL policies aimed toward this goal are necessarily good policies: some might be ineffective and some might have unwelcome side effects.

Think of it this way: I have a chronically sore back (comes and goes). I had some exercises that were given to me back in 1978. The last time I took PT they gave me different ones to do. Their saying “don’t do the original exercise” doesn’t mean that they are pro-back pain. In means that there was a better way.

And that is how I see this AMS (American Mathematical Society) letter from a famous mathematician in my discipline. She questioned the wisdom of having mandatory “diversity statements” from applicants and the rubric that they were encouraged to use. Interestingly, I used a fellowship aimed at increasing minority participation. But what I wanted was to be taught well and treated fairly, and I was. I did NOT want people to make assumptions due to the color of my skin..even if such assumptions were to be “an ally.”

Now, OF COURSE, this mathematician was attacked by the “woke” community and accused of many things.

And it is reactions like these that keep me from overreacting when someone really does hold backwards views, such as the case with this Indiana University professor. And yes, it is a public school, yes, he does have tenure and free speech rights. And of course, many of the blowhards on Twitter and other social media do not understand that.

But…not all reactions were bad; a self described feminist, no less, was very thoughtful.

The professor responded to some of the criticism with this post on his website. And here is one place where I have some agreement: if a university decides to take a chance on a student by admitting them to a program ..and their entrance credentials are a bit lower than average (say, they cut the student a bit of slack on their ACT score), the probability of that student being successful IS a bit lower. No, it isn’t zero, and sometimes such students not only thrive but even excel. But it is “taking a chance” and universities that do that should be prepared to add additional support (tutoring, mentoring, etc.) to such students. Happily, my university does that (extra support for students struggling to find their balance). Sports coaches do that from time to time (e. g. recruit a “diamond in the rough” and “coach ’em up.”)

And sometimes, universities and students overreact to overt racism. What I mean by that: yes, racism has no place, but at the same time, we should not let the neo-Nazis, KKK, etc. disrupt our academic lives and make us live in fear, as evidently they did here. Yes, I’ve been the target of neo-nazi attention (fliers distributed in my neighborhood denouncing me). But if you live in fear, stop classes, stop doing the things you love, they have won. They WANT to disrupt us.

Sure, take common sense safety precautions and let law enforcement do its work. But live your life, learn, enjoy your studies and your friends, etc. Don’t let the hate groups win.

And about racism: yes, these ex players are discussing an on the field incident where a defensive player said that he was reacting to racial slurs when he took an opposing player’s helmet off and tried to hit him with it.
These players take opposing viewpoints, but they discuss racial matters with an honesty and clarity that I find missing in academic circles.

Raising standards: if you raise standards, someone will object. The University of Chicago made the Dean’s list harder to make, and of course, some were unhappy.

Program cuts
Many universities are feeling the squeeze of shrinking enrollments, fewer foreign graduate students and less subsidies. Tulsa is going a major revision of its course and program offerings and the University of Alaska is undergoing some major cuts, though they weren’t as drastic as first announced. I think that, now, more than ever, we need to keep the quality of our education high.

Author: oldgote

I enjoy politics, reading, science, running, walking, (racewalking and ultrawalking) hiking, swimming, yoga, weight lifting, cycling and reading. I also follow football (college and pro), basketball (men and women) and baseball (minor league and college)

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