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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 . . .

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Topaz Updates

EphBlog’s favorite woke mathematician, Professor Chad Topaz, has a new analysis.

In November, 2019, the Notices of the American Mathematical Society (AMS Notices) published an essay critical of the use of diversity statements in academic hiring. The publication of this essay prompted many responses, including two public letters circulated within the mathematical sciences community. Both public letters were signed by hundreds of people and will be published online by the AMS on December 13, 2019. In this research brief, we report on a crowdsourced demographic study of the signatories to the two public letters. Letter A highlights diversity and social justice issues, and was signed by relatively more women, members of underrepresented ethnic groups, and professionally vulnerable individuals. Letter B highlights the need for discussion and debate, and, in stark contrast, was signed by substantially more men, white people, and professionally secure individuals.

Comments:

1) I like Topaz. No, really, I do! Some of my closest friends/family share his woke political outlook. He is also an outstanding teacher, and there is no faculty attribute that EphBlog values more highly than excellence in teaching Williams students. Also, he is highly transparent in his research, providing, for example, the raw data underlying this analysis.

2) Despite his recent arrival, Topaz might play a major role at Williams over the next few decades. Note the blurb on his homepage: “data science, applied mathematics, and social justice.” Topaz, a topologist, has, in recent years, dived into data science, a field likely to play a major role at Williams (and everywhere else) over the next few decades. Indeed, there are rumors that one of the major outcomes from Maud’s strategic planning process is a new focus on Data Science. Topaz would be a natural leader for such an effort.

3) Topaz’s entrepreneurial energy is impressive. He does a lot of stuff! A faculty member told me that, when Williams was hiring a senior mathematician a few years ago, Topaz was clearly the number one candidate on the market. I think that Topaz deserves 90% of the credit for the creation of QSIDE. What other Williams faculty members have done something like this over the last decade? The best analogue I can come up with is Economics Professor Stephen Sheppard and the Center for Creative Community Development. Other examples?

4) Should we be worried that Topaz is a little too entrepreneurial? Note that “The Center for Creative Community Development (C3D) is a Williams College research center.” This is the normal way that such things are organized. Sheppard fund-raises, runs the effort and so on. But Williams College gets a cut and is, ultimately, in charge. QSIDE, on the other hand, seems to exist (completely?) independently of Williams. It is a 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Organization. Does it use Williams resources? How do the finances work? If I were a trustee, I would ask some questions.

5) The problem at Williams is not Chad Topaz, a dedicated teacher and skilled researcher. The problem is that there is no one (?) on the faculty who represents the other side of politics in America, much less globally. No one on the Williams faculty voted for Trump while, probably, about 10% to 20% of the students will.

6) And the problem with Chad Topaz is that he probably doesn’t see a problem with this. He doesn’t “debate social justice” and I bet that he has no interest in seeing such debates at Williams, or in even hiring a junior professor who thinks that such debates might be a good idea. Am I being unfair? Comments welcome!

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I Don’t Debate

Professor Chad Topaz’s latest twitter thread deserves a thorough fisking. Key section:

Key sentence:

I don’t debate social justice.

What are we to make of this?

1) I believe Topaz. He has no interest in a debate. (I reached out to him and received no response.)

2) There is a long tradition at Williams of refusing to debate, although it has been somewhat dormant in the last 50 years. The ministers who started Williams had no interest in debating the divinity of Christ. Mark Hopkins refused to allow Ralph Waldo Emerson on campus. Adam Falk banned John Derbyshire. Can any historians flesh out the attitude of Williams faculty toward debate during the 19th century? Topaz is a modern version of that worldview.

3) Nothing wrong with a refusal to debate, of course, if, that is, you are running a Madrassa. Is that what Williams is? I hope not!

4) I have no objection to Williams professors who prefer to have nothing to do with Topic X. Life is short! They are busy with their students and their research. But it seems unusual for a professor, like Topaz, to be so engaged in social justice issues — as he obviously is — and yet, at the same time, to refuse to discuss/debate the topic. Most SJW professors won’t shut up about social justice.

5) I recommend that Topaz’s opponents, like Professor Colin Adams, publicly challenge him to a debate about diversity statements and the desirability of publishing the views of their critics.

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Particularly Nasty and Vitriolic

Will Professor Chad Topaz’s jihad against the opponents of diversity statements go on long enough to require an EphBlog scandal name? If so, suggestions? Updates:

1) See this Inside Higher Ed article for useful background. Sadly, it does not mention Topaz or any other Eph.

2) Chicago Professor (and EphBlog critic) Jerry Coyne comes down hard on Topaz. Some of his points are good, some bad. All are made at excessive length.

3) Former Williams professor John Drew notes:

Academics offended by the extremism of Chad M. Topaz, a woke Williams College math professor, have organized a petition in response to his campaign to silence a white female math professor at UC Davis. He has gone so far as to try to get her fired.

What was most interesting to me about this statement is that it is basically coming from liberal academics who are for the most part in favor of affirmative action and okay with promoting diversity. The issue, for them, is that Chad Topaz has take on the role of enforcer of the most extreme policies expectations of critical race theory and identity politics. I was also surprised to see who has already signed the petitions complaining about Topaz.

Signatories include the following list of luminaries including at least six from his own college including – Luana Maroja, Matt Carter, Joan Edwards, David C. Smith, Phebe Cramer and Susan Dunn – and no less than five from his own math department – Colin Adams, Julie Blackwood, Richard De Veaux, Thomas Garrity and Steven J. Miller.

Hmmm. Have they really? (That is, do the petition organizers actually check that any signers are who they say they are?) If so, this should be the lead story in the Record next week.

4) Topaz provides an update here. Note:

For those of you who are in mathematics, advise grad-school-bound undergraduate students – especially students who are minoritized along some axis – not to apply to UC Davis. Advise your graduate student and postdoc colleagues not to apply there for jobs.

Shouldn’t Topaz start his activism closer to home? Assuming that the signatories on the letter are real — and I have every reason to think that they are! — there are professors at Williams, even professors in the Math/Stat Department — who agree with Abigail Thompson, or at least disagree with Topaz’s attempts to silence her.

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 Record should find out.

UPDATE: Thanks to the first commentator for pointing out Topaz’s other posts. They are preserved below the break for posterity.
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DIE Uber Alles

Last time a Williams faculty member was tagged by Steve Sailer? Tonight!

Chad Topaz is “disgusted” by an academic writing something with which he disagrees, so disgusted that he won’t even link (pdf) to it?

I wonder if that argument would fly in a Williams history class? “I am so disgusted by this argument that I refuse to footnote it!”

Is Topaz as histrionic in person as he is here? Honestly curious!

UPDATE: Topaz provides more details on his views here.

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One Concern

From Math Professor Chad Topaz:

Here at QSIDE, we wake up early, drink coffee, and write these:

Hi organizers [of a one-day conference],

Thanks so much for organizing this event. I know it takes a lot of work to pull it off.

I do want to bring up one concern. If I am wrong in my assessment, please forgive me and ignore the rest of this email, but it seems all the speakers are liberal. It’s disappointing to see the many excellent not-liberals excluded from participating as speakers, and moreover, it sends a really discouraging message to any attendees who aren’t liberals.

I hope you might find a way to bring political diversity to your set of speakers. There are lots of great, effective practices for speaker selection that would result in a more politically-diverse program.

Thanks for hearing me out on this, and thanks again for the work you do to put it all together.

Cheers,
Chad

1) How wonderfully (passive) aggressive! Not that there is anything wrong with that!

2) Does Topaz send these out to colleagues organizing such conferences at Williams? Kudos to him if he does! The more thought put into panel selection, the better. EphBlog has been complaining about the lack of political diversity on panels at Williams for decades!

3) If you were a junior member of Topaz’s department, what would you think? EphBlog’s advice would be to follow Topaz’s suggestions! They are sensible (or, at least, not nonsensical) and, more importantly, he will be voting on your tenure in a few years.

4) How would you feel if you were organizing a conference at, say, Harvard and some rando from Williams sent you this e-mail? Good question! Perhaps our academic friends like dcat and sigh might opine.

5) I would chuckle, then ignore it. Does Topaz really think that I am unaware of political diversity and its importance? What wonderful arrogance from some nobody teaching at a jumped-up prep school! Putting together conferences is difficult, balancing participant priorities is hard, and even getting people to agree to come is annoying. The last thing I want to deal with is somebody who isn’t even attending the conference kvetching about his personal hobbyhorse. Of course, at the end of the conference, I will seek opinions from the attendees to see how we might improve things next year and, if others share Topaz’s (idiosyncratic?) views, I will try to adjust, subject to all the other constraints I need to deal with.

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