Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hochschild on affirmative action

Nice memorial articles on Gerhard Hochschild (1915–2010), one of the giants of our trade. Here is an interesting episode:

At some point in the 1970s Gerhard was put on the committee to select the new instructors at Berkeley and given literature from the administration for guidance, which included affirmative action policies. He called the dean and told him he couldn’t do this because ethnic and racial criteria have no place in mathematics. Having seen Nazis up close and personal and having had the difference between “Jewish” and “Aryan” mathematics made clear to him, he could not, in turn, consider racial/ethnic criteria in selecting new instructors. The dean then argued that there is a difference between “negative racism”, which the Nazis practiced, and the current policy, whose purpose was to have a positive outcome. Gerhard did not regard this as adequate and resigned from the committee.

16 comments:

Clarissa said...

Nobody says that ethnic and racial criteria should have a place in mathematics. Affirmative Action is about having access to mathematics. There is a huge difference among the two ideas.

avzel said...

Unfortunately, Hochschild is dead, so we don't know how he would react to this argument.

Simon Hawkin said...

To have access to mathematics, нужны рабфаки. А не "обратная дискриминация".

avzel said...

В связи с "положительным" и "отрицательным" расизмом вспомнилось письмо в редакцию тех же Notices, написанное несколько лет назад другим замечательным математиком (кстати, тоже из Беркли) David Gale (к сожалению, тоже покойным). Не без пикантности, в письме, рассчитанном на математическую аудиторию, он объяснил, что, так как общее число процентов фиксировано, то призывы к увеличению процентного представительства одной группы неизбежно эквивалентны призывам к уменьшению представительства какой-нибудь другой.

Simon Hawkin said...

Пусть государство напечатает ещё процентов!

clovis3 said...

Dear Clarissa,

Ethnic and racial criteria should have nothing to do with access to mathematics either.

Misha Mazin said...

That would be absolutely right under assumption that without those policies the committees will be able to make decisions independent on the those criteria. Unfortunately, the assumption is false.

clovis3 said...

Dear Misha Mazin,

If a particular committee is discriminating on the basis of race or ethnicity, then this should be addressed with the members of that committee. Why should the remedy be the discrimination of innocent applicants of other races? We do not punish innocents for the guilt of others.

Misha Mazin said...

What do you mean by discrimination? I'm mostly talking here about social pressure, certain stereotypes, which affects our opinion about people, in particular, professional opinion, subconsciously. The idea of the affirmative action is to fight those stereotypes by artificially increasing the proportion of the underrepresented minorities.

clovis3 said...

Dear Misha Mazin,

Do you have any evidence of social pressure among mathematicians to have negative professional opinion about any race or ethnicity? Do you suggest that mathematicians are predisposed to mistreat any race?

In practice, affirmative action forces the departments to admit poorly qualified graduate students, many of whom will fail in their studies. How does this help to fight stereotypes?

Misha Mazin said...

There is no doubt that right now the affirmative action policies might decrease the average level of, say, math graduate students. The idea is that it will pay off in the future, because of the increased pool of people who might consider doing mathematics after some of the social barriers are removed.

clovis3 said...

Dear Misha Mazin,

Do you agree that the presence of poorly qualified graduate students admitted because of their race or ethnicity helps to promote the stereotypes rather than to dispel them? Do you think that a minority professor in the Math department who is visibly inferior to his colleagues, helps to encourage young people of his race to do Math? And what are social barriers which prevent certain races from engaging in Math studies? Have you seen them?

In my opinion, putting a poorly qualified minority race person in the midst of superior colleagues serves only to promote bitterness and distrust on both sides. You can not remedy a wrong by another wrong.

Misha Mazin said...

1. Affirmative action is not about hiring poorly qualified candidates. It is about choosing minority candidates between otherwise equal. If some people misuse this terminology, it should be addressed to those people, not to the affirmative action in general.

2. Good working environment includes not being constantly ranked based on performance. Do you know particular departments where the subdivision into highly qualified white male faculty and poorly qualified others is such a problem as you put it?

3. If you don't see any social barriers is modern society, I really cannot help with it.

4. If you call something wrong it doesn't make it wrong automatically. This is not an argument at all.

avzel said...

Миша, и за, и против АА можно привести массу аргументов (те, что против, мне кажутся более убедительными). Отношение к этому зависит еще и от жизненного опыта людей. В мои студенческие годы, дискриминация нежелательных национальностей проводилась под лозунгом "приведем национальный состав МГУ в соответствие с национальным составом всей страны". Так что у меня с тех пор к процентному подходу иммунитет. Подозреваю, что юношеские впечатления Хохшильда были похлеще моих.

Clarissa said...

"Ethnic and racial criteria should have nothing to do with access to mathematics either."

-Of course. But they do. Hence, the need for Affirmative Action.

avzel said...

Clarissa: то есть, Вы думаете, что в нашем (США) обществе по-прежнему царит дискриминация по расовому признаку, так что АА необходима чтобы, хотя бы как-то противодействовать этому? Мне так не кажется.