Comparing demographics of signatories to public letters on diversity in the mathematical sciences

Published in PloS one, 2020

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C. Topaz, J. Cart, C. Diaz Eaton, A. Hanson Shrout, J. Higdon, K. Ince, B. Katz, D. Lewis, J. Libertini, & C. Smith. Comparing demographics of signatories to public letters on diversity in the mathematical sciences. PloS one, 15, no. 4 (2020), e0232075.


In its December 2019 edition, the Notices of the American Mathematical Society published an essay critical of the use of diversity statements in academic hiring. The publication of this essay prompted many responses, including three public letters circulated within the mathematical sciences community. Each letter was signed by hundreds of people and was published online, also by the American Mathematical Society. We report on a study of the signatories’ demographics, which we infer using a crowdsourcing approach. Letter A highlights diversity and social justice. The pool of signatories contains relatively more individuals inferred to be women and/or members of underrepresented ethnic groups. Moreover, this pool is diverse with respect to the levels of professional security and types of academic institutions represented. Letter B does not comment on diversity, but rather, asks for discussion and debate. This letter was signed by a strong majority of individuals inferred to be white men in professionally secure positions at highly research intensive universities. Letter C speaks out specifically against diversity statements, calling them “a mistake,” and claiming that their usage during early stages of faculty hiring “diminishes mathematical achievement.” Individuals who signed both Letters B and C, that is, signatories who both privilege debate and oppose diversity statements, are overwhelmingly inferred to be tenured white men at highly research intensive universities. Our empirical results are consistent with theories of power drawn from the social sciences.

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