Friday, January 31, 2020

More wokeademia

An anonymous commenter on my last post points to an article by Jeffrey Mervis in Science Magazine. The National Institutes of Health -- that's the NIH, an arm of the Federal Government, that distributes your and my tax dollars to support research -- will
launch a $241 million initiative called Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST). The money, over 9 years, would go to help each of roughly a dozen universities and medical schools support a cluster of 10 or more newly hired young faculty members. 
That sounds nice. The catch:
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 
Well, there is a welcome acknowledgment
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.
(My emphasis) Read that again slowly. "Every. person. hired. must. have. a. track. record"... The minorities too. The NIH is now forcing universities to add a political litmus test for hiring.

This metamorphosis, from quotas, to affirmative action, to diversity, to active political loyalty to the "diversity equity and inclusion" enterprise, is spreading faster than I thought.

At Emory University, cluster hiring has helped its college of arts and sciences triple the number of new faculty from underrepresented groups in the past 3 years, says Carla Freeman, the college’s senior associate dean of faculty. ....
With a cluster hire, Emory asks applicants to describe what they have done to foster diversity and uses their answers in deciding who deserves a closer look. Freeman says she is aware that such diversity statements “are controversial. … But they reveal a lot about the candidate.”  
My emphasis.  I bet they do. All of the people quoted here and in the last post are proud of how the diversity statements allowed them to engage in what Ms. Valentine above just acknowledged is illegal discrimination. Most of all, they seem very well suited to distinguish the true progressive warriors from fakers who just want to mumble pieties and get back to the lab to write some papers.  

"Are controversial" links to another science article. by Michael Price, reporting on the Abigail Thompson (UC Davis) affair.
Researchers rushed to author op-eds and joint public letters both supporting and opposing Thompson. The reactions reflect a tension between mathematicians who see efforts to promote diversity as an intrusion of politics into research, and those who see opening their field to historically marginalized communities as the surest way to advance research. As befits the field, each side claims numerical data support their view.
And thus instantly repeats the smears and calumnies directed at Professor Thompson and anyone else in the way. Her letter, like my posts, takes issue only with the statements, with required professions of political beliefs, and required participation in political activities. Nothing in her letter, like these posts, objects to diversity, "opening" and even affirmative action itself. This is not about "efforts to promote diversity." 

Mr. Price, when writing for Science, why don't you read Abigail's second paragraph:
Mathematics has made progress over the past decades towards becoming a more welcoming, inclusive discipline. We should continue to do all we can to reduce barriers to participation in this most beautiful of fields. I am encouraged by the many mathematicians who are working to achieve this laudable aim. There are reasonable means to further this goal: encouraging students from all backgrounds to enter the mathematics pipeline, trying to ensure that talented mathematicians don’t leave the profession, creating family-friendly policies, and supporting junior faculty at the beginning of their careers, for example. There are also mistakes to avoid. Mandating diversity statements for job candidates is one such mistake, reminiscent of events of seventy years ago
She is all for "efforts to promote diversity." Not for efforts to promote political conformity, and efforts to coerce faculty to support and participate in programs dreamed up by the diversity office staff.

Manfred the Mammoth, commenting  on the last post, suggested "One idea could be that the Federal Government cut off all federal funding to the UC system."  It looks like the Federal Government is using our money on the other side of this controversy.

Update: a better theory

I started this series impressed by the obvious political and free speech ramifications. There is a much simpler economic explanation however. As the quotes from the UC system make clear, the central requirement of the diversity statements is to document past active participation in, and require future approval and participation in all the programs produced by the diversity staff.

Jerry Coyne may have nailed it
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.  
Some quotes from the UC post, what gets you a good score
Participation in workshops and activities that help build multicultural competencies and create inclusive climates....Supporting student organizations that serve underrepresented groups....Participation with professional or scientific associations or meetings that aim to increase diversity or address the needs of underrepresented students, staff, or faculty. Serving on university or college committees related to equity and inclusion...
Clear and detailed ideas for what existing programs they would get involved with 
Universities have created a huge diversity equity and inclusion staff. The faculty regard this sort of thing with something in between horror and annoyance. Even super left wing faculty, especially in the sciences, want to hire good people and get back to work without too many diversity activities. They'll happily look hard and promote "diverse" candidates informally, but don't waste their time.

The diversity staff have a problem. By forcing these statements, and the staff ability to grade them before anyone gets a job, and to follow up when you ask for a raise or promotion, they create a great device to coerce participation in and support of their programs, their ever increasing staff, their budgets, their jobs. Disagree and you're branded a racist!

They may simply not have noticed that the whole thing is political. They live in a bubble, where libertarians, conservatives, republicans, classical liberals, veterans, people of faith, free-speech advocates simply do not exist.

I like economic explanations for behavior. You don't need politics or morality, just good old self-interest. That's why I became an economist. At least they are acting "as if" this is the motivation, which for explaining behavior is all that matters. That doesn't make the actions any less coercive, nor the grab of power over academic appointments any less revolutionary.

The modern university becomes by the staff, of the staff, and for the staff.

Heather MacDonald on Yale, rhetorically wonderful to describe the size of something without dry numbers:
Yale will create a costly new diversity sinecure: a deputy secretary for diversity, equity, and inclusion. The university will also hire a cadre of diversity “specialists” to teach the Yale community about a “culture of belonging,” in Mr. Salovey’s words.
These new positions come on top of Yale’s existing diversity bureaucracy: a deputy provost for faculty diversity and development; the president’s committee on diversity and inclusion; the president’s committee on racial and ethnic harassment; the diversity and inclusion working group; the Yale College Intercultural Affairs Council; the director, representative, and support specialist of equal opportunity programs; the chief diversity officer; the associate dean for graduate-student development and diversity in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the assistant director of diversity in that same school; the associate dean for graduate student development and diversity in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; the assistant director of diversity and inclusion in the Law School; the director of community and inclusion in the School of Management; the deputy dean for diversity and inclusion in the School of Medicine; the assistant dean of community and inclusion in the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies; the associate vice president for student life (a diversity function); the Student Advisory Group on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; sundry Title IX coordinators; and the directors of the Afro-American Cultural Center, the Asian American Cultural Center, the Latino Cultural Center and the Native American Cultural Center. 
I would welcome hearing from job market candidates about their experiences in this brave new world.


Above,  I noted Michael Price's false characterization of Abigail Thompson's view, as opposition to diversity efforts rather than opposition to the highly political diversity statement. I charitably inferred it was simple stupidity, inability to read her letter. In fact, it's deliberate. Thompson sent me her email response to Price's questions,
"4. Are there points in your essay that you feel like have been misunderstood or misconstrued by critics?
The main point has been misrepresented by my critics.  My central argument was that a political test is incompatible with the mission of a university, and that these statements, in the context of UC’s new procedures, undoubtedly constitute such a test.  
It is a misunderstanding to interpret my essay as an attack on the concepts of diversity and inclusiveness. There are constructive and destructive ways to achieve these goals.   Some involve being helpful and welcoming, and being thoughtful about opening doors to the previously excluded. Others are destructive. They require adherence to a very particular view on identity and social justice. Destructive approaches alienate people who should be working together towards an inclusive community.  Mandatory DEI statements are divisive and destructive."
So, the ... mischaracterization is deliberate. Fair game, I guess for the Huffington Post, but surprising at Science. At least he didn't jump to calling her many worse things, as others have.

More in the next post, Wokeademia spreads


  1. The moralists have come to power ("do the 'right thing' even if you are unaware of the inhumane consequences").
    If the "equal rights" Amendment became Constitutional, would the new 'woke morality' become law and not merely prejudice of bureaucrats, trying to be fashionable?

    1. Surely you mean, even if you ARE aware of the inhumane consequences.

  2. Hello Professor,
    "It looks like the Federal Government is using our money on the other side of this controversy."

    The Deep State at work, Professor. And I say this only half-joking.

  3. So if the trend among black mathematicians eligible to teach at the university level is to be more conservative, then the universities, who complain that there are not enough black professors and using this litmus test, would continue to keep black professors from joining their school. What a conundrum that would bring about - a university claiming to want diversity but refusing to hire minorities because of their political views.

    1. That possible conundrum reminds me of a six-part series of the show Radiolab running from June 7, 2019 to July 29, 2019. This series was about g, the factor that IQ is supposed to test for. On one of the episodes, they talk about how California passed a law forbidding the IQ-testing of black students. This law was intended, I suppose, to prevent IQ tests being used to stigmatize black students. However, the episode highlights one family -- white mother, black father -- whose child needs special education. To prove to the school that he deserves such education, they want to give him an IQ test. But, although his mother is white, the boy, owing to his black father, is considered black. So, he's not allowed to take the IQ test, and he's not able to get special education.

  4. While I am still optimistic that federalism and decentralization will bound this problem, if I am wrong, there is still Charlie Darwin: Christina Hoff Summers once wrote that there is nothing wrong with feminist airplanes, provided they fly. :-)

  5. Anonymous for obvious reasons; job market candidate in macro/finance. I've been explicitly told (not in writing) that I'll only get an offer from one of my flyouts if the women don't (one of them hasn't even had her flyout yet)

  6. To be fair, I think scientists who fail to evoke enough wokeness should be given an opportunity to attend re-eduction camps, for re-consideration upon successful graduation.

  7. Orwell's "Animal Farm" comes to mind. "All animals are created equal; some are more equal than others."

    If one selects for a specific trait from amongst a diverse population and rejects all candidates not having that specific trait, in time the population becomes specialized around that trait. When that occurs, the resulting population's capacity to respond to and withstand external threats is diminished and the population's prospects of survival is diminished often to the point where extinction is threatened. A flightless bird, the dodo, adapted to an environment lacking predators of a size that would threaten the dodo's existence. When, during the 18th century, sailors from Europe discovered the dodo's island habitat and the vulnerability of the flightless dodo, the bird's fate was sealed and through predation it rapidly became extinct.

    By selecting for "diversity" qualifications, UC risks losing academic depth, experience and excellence. While the UC system is unlikely to become extinct, it may ultimately become little more than a glorified public high school insofar as academic achievement and scholastic excellence in its faculties and graduates.

    California's political elites appear to be pursuing an Orwellian utopia. They may succeed in that pursuit, to the disadvantage of future generations of California students. Be careful what you wish for.

  8. “This metamorphosis, from quotas, to affirmative action, to diversity, to active political loyalty to the "diversity equity and inclusion" enterprise, is spreading faster than I thought.” - Dr. C.

    Ah, “diversity”!

    Enter Dr. Thomas Sowell: “Passionate advocacy of the interests of lagging minorities [diversity] has seldom been followed by equally dedicated empirical investigation as to whether minorities actually benefited, on net balance, from the success of those advocacies.” pgs. 190-191, “Wealth, Poverty and Politics”, 2016

    A problem with “diversity” is that it is, in fact, a buzzword created out of thin air based on a notional proposition. The buzzword lives on with little or no empirical data that supports its intent. When a buzzword lives for twenty or so years without any hard data to support the intent, one has to question why the advocates of the buzzword haven't themselves tested the benefits through rigorous and multiple empirical investigations. usual, Thomas Sowell makes a grand point.

    1. The diversity virus is working well for members of some minorities, namely those who would be well off anyway. Diversity seems to bind more and more in academia, government, and perhaps one or the other industry, no further. It is irrelevant for McDonald's or Walmart. These firms are already diverse. Moreover, no one is lining up for coal mining these days, and no one is complaining about undeniable lack of diversity there.

      I don't think anyone was smart enough to make that the intent, but it is the consequence. The already well off beneficiaries can laugh all the way to the bank.

  9. Economists should hire diverse talent, including Chinese, Indians, Arabs, and Israelis. You need to be diverse like the Huffington Post.

  10. In my comment on the first "woke," I addressed the cost of discrimination. Speaking of cost, University tuition has risen significantly because of this sinecure. Those university functionaries are as immune from accountability as as their political brethren.

    1. Part of the cost inflation in higher education has also been a result and a lesson in moral hazard. If the government is going to guarantee the loans, the institutions have an incentive to raise prices. It's a kind of monopsony, but the government isn't flexing its muscle in controlling prices.

      It is addressed here in this article:

      "Studies have looked into the idea that the very existence of federally guaranteed loans incentivizes colleges to continue to raise tuition, an idea called the Bennett hypothesis, named after former Secretary of Education William Bennett. By backing the loans, the government guarantees the schools will get their money, and the loans help ensure rising costs won't lead to a drop in demand. It's a win-win for the colleges."

      How discrimination actually contributes to this cost inflation still has yet to be determined, I believe.


  11. Here's something related to all this I just got in my email box:

    "This email contains your link to complete the ______ Community Survey. This is a confidential survey for you to share your experiences and perspectives around community, diversity, equity, and inclusion at _______. _____ values your opinions and asks that you take this opportunity to provide feedback on our ongoing efforts to create an environment where people feel welcomed, safe, and respected."

    So. Interesting stuff. They're sending this out to all faculty and students to participate. Any thoughts on this from the crowd that follows Dr. Cochrane? How do these sorts of surveys affect what Dr. Cochrane is addressing?

    1. We had the same climate survey for my college. Then the results come out, and irrespective of the results, the survey is cited as evidence to back the need for more resources and support for diversity initiatives... if you disagree you are clearly racist, sexist, homophobic.

  12. An attempt to stop the formation of Huxley's castes, or the Handicapper General?


Comments are welcome. Keep it short, polite, and on topic.

Thanks to a few abusers I am now moderating comments. I welcome thoughtful disagreement. I will block comments with insulting or abusive language. I'm also blocking totally inane comments. Try to make some sense. I am much more likely to allow critical comments if you have the honesty and courage to use your real name.