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Adams Versus Topaz

Although the College Fix is not the most reliable news source, I think this is a fair summary of the Chad Topaz versus Colin Adams fight:

Thompson’s essay received negative pushback from her fellow academics, including Chad Topaz, a professor and mathematician at Williams College. Topaz publicly condemned Thompson’s argument, calling it “dangerous.” He also said he would advise his students “not to apply [to UC-Davis] for grad school,” and that he would advise fellow academics “not to apply there for jobs.”

Correct. As we have discussed, Topaz’s initial response was histrionic and inconsistent. How can Topaz recommend that “minoritized” high school seniors attend Williams or that “minoritized” graduate students apply for faculty positions at Williams if the chair of his own department, Richard De Veaux, is opposed to the proper use of diversity statements in academic hiring? The College Fix continues:

In response to the letter castigating Thompson, a counter-petition has arisen in support of Thompson. That letter expresses concern over what the signatories call “attempts to intimidate a voice within our mathematical community.”

“The reaction to the article has been swift and vehement. An article posted at the site QSIDE urges faculty to direct their students not to attend and not to apply for jobs at the University of California-Davis, where Prof. Thompson is chair of the math department. It recommends contacting the university to question whether Prof. Thompson is fit to be chair. And it recommends refusing to do work for the Notices of the American Mathematical Society for allowing this piece to be published,” the letter reads, continuing:

Regardless of where anyone stands on the issue of whether diversity statements are a fair or effective means to further diversity aims, we should agree that this attempt to silence opinions is damaging to the profession. This is a direct attempt to destroy Prof. Thompson’s career and to punish her department. It is an attempt to intimidate the AMS into publishing only articles that hew to a very specific point of view. If we allow ourselves to be intimidated into avoiding discussion of how best to achieve diversity, we undermine our attempts to achieve it.

That letter had 725 signatures attached to it as of yesterday evening, well over a hundred more than the letter critical of Thompson.

Reached via email, Colin Adams, a professor at Williams College and the author of the letter, declined to answer questions about the ongoing controversy, though he wrote that the letter has been signed by “8 past presidents of the American Mathematical Society, four Fields medalists (math equivalent of the Nobel prize) and numerous prominent members of the math community.”

Whoah! I did not realize that Adams was so central to this fight. Well done! But that fact just makes Topaz’s refusal to fight the power at Williams all the more cowardly. If Thompson’s actions are enough to cause him to recommend that students not go to UCD, how can he in good conscience recommend that students come to Williams? Honest question!

The (alt-right?) Williams professors who signed the letter include: Colin Adams, Luana Maroja, Matt Carter, Julie Blackwood, Steven Miller, Joan Edwards, David C Smith, Thomas Garrity, Phebe Cramer, Susan Dunn, Richard De Veaux, Dan Lynch, David Gürçay-Morris and Leo Goldmakher.

What does Professor Topaz think of this?

Who are the “haters” in this context? The most charitable interpretation would be that it is a reference to (anonymous) people who said mean things to Topaz on twitter. I ignore those people as well! A more problematic (but still OK) interpretation would be that haters refers to (reasonable?) critics like EphBlog. But my sense is that “haters” is a direct reference to Adams and the other signatories of his letter, including six members of his own department at Williams.

So much for collegiality . . .

8 Comments (Open | Close)

8 Comments To "Adams Versus Topaz"

#1 Comment By Abl On December 13, 2019 @ 7:06 am

Where do you get that de Veaux or Adams or anyone else at Williams is anti-diversity statement?

#2 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On December 13, 2019 @ 7:56 am

Topaz believes that diversity statements should be used in way X. In particular, Topaz would refuse to hire anyone whose diversity statement did not take the standard approach of focusing on “minoritized” individuals and how we can help them.

I believe that de Veaux and Adams (and many others) disagree. They see no problem with either not using diversity statements at all or with using them in way Y, in which other very different sorts of diversity statement would be allowed, say one which focused on helping conservative students.

From Topaz’s point of view, de Veax/Adams and others are, objectively, “anti-diversity statement” because they disagree with him.

Isn’t that fair?

#3 Comment By Abl On December 13, 2019 @ 8:15 am

From where are you getting that they disagree?

#4 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On December 13, 2019 @ 8:31 am

If they didn’t disagree, then why would they write/sign that letter?

#5 Comment By Abl On December 13, 2019 @ 11:04 am

If they didn’t disagree, then why would they write/sign that letter?

They’re explicit about that: “Regardless of where anyone stands on the issue of whether diversity statements are a fair or effective means to further diversity aims, we should agree that this attempt to silence opinions is damaging to the profession.“

#6 Comment By Gary Amethyst On December 13, 2019 @ 11:53 am

Damn, DDF exposed!

#7 Comment By a_sunny_moo On December 13, 2019 @ 12:32 pm

It seems to me that both sides see themselves as underdogs bravely fighting the establishment. Professor Topaz sees what’s going on in the White House and the country at large, and is fighting back. Professor Adams sees what’s going on at Williams and academia at large, and is fighting back. In principle, these two positions aren’t mutually exclusive, so one can imagine signing both petitions in good faith. (There are at least two people who signed both petitions.)

#8 Comment By SL On December 13, 2019 @ 6:46 pm

What context clues lead you to believe that Topaz is making a “direct [sic] reference” to Adams et alii? Considering how much of his Twitter feed right now is devoted to responding to asinine comments made about him on the Internet, why would you think he was addressing his colleagues?
If I were you, I wouldn’t put so much faith in “my sense” of things.