Dean laments ‘traditional markers of mathematical excellence’ as ‘contrary to diversity’

An associate dean at the University of Illinois has come out in defense of mandatory diversity statements in university hiring practices.

“Traditional markers of mathematical excellence continue to act contrary to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” says the dean.

According to one high-level university administrator, the modern practice of universities requiring “diversity statements” in employment applications isn’t just necessary but should be mandatory because “traditional markers of mathematical excellence” get in the way of diversity.

Matthew Ando, associate dean at the University of Illinois, recently penned an article defending diversity statements as necessary for a “broader effort to create a culture on campuses that prioritize a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

While responding to an earlier critique of mandatory diversity statements in university hiring processes by University of California-Davis Professor Abigail Thompson, Ando took the opportunity to double down on the system, admitting in the process that the concept is inherently political.

[RELATED: Prof says college hiring practices include ‘a political test,’ likens to McCarthyism]

“Any conversation about how to evaluate candidates is political.” Ando writes, referring to concerns that diversity statements would bring unwanted ideological bias into a job search.

“It involves a negotiation among humans in an organization about governance, values, and the allocation of power and resources,” he adds.

However, Ando takes issue with Thompson’s framing of the practice as a “political test,” claiming that such characterization “suggests that diversity statements will be used to promote qualifications that are not most relevant to the position, with a focus on ideological purity.”

“For many American universities and certainly most public ones, diversity, equity, and inclusion are an important part of the mission, and a candidate’s preparation and commitment to advancing them are relevant qualifications for faculty positions,” Ando argued.

Ando further argues that “the path to mathematical literacy and especially to becoming a faculty member in a university mathematics department is filled with barriers that favor some demographic groups over others.” 

“Traditional markers of mathematical excellence continue to act contrary to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Some of those markers do not withstand scrutiny, and many have yet to be scrutinized. Doing nothing about these barriers and markers sends the political message that we are content to leave them in place,” the dean added.

[RELATED: Calif. math prof applicants better have ‘diversity contributions’ on their resumes]

Ando then went one step further, saying that, “inevitably, privilege will differentially help those who have it to write diversity statements, and this problem will worsen over time.” 

The dean concluded his article with concern that hiring “mathematicians” would be considered “secondary” to the goal of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” in hiring.

“I fear that the effect will be to make it even more difficult for faculty to advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion by any means at all, not only via now-deprecated mandatory diversity statements,” he wrote.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter:@arik_schneider