Diversity Math


In 1996, California voters passed an initiative that said the Golden State's public institutions couldn't use race, ethnicity, or sex as criteria in hiring, promotions, contracting, or university admissions. Someone forgot to tell Dr. Susan Moss, director of diversity and equity at San Diego State University.

In a memo about two job searches in SDSU's math and computer science department, Moss wrote: "I question, not the credentials of the candidates, but the motives of the proposal. My recommendation to the Provost is that if this committee's final choice does not advance the diversity of the dept., then the search should be closed and started over."

It's not as though the department had been ignoring the calculus of diversity. One of the department's last seven hires was Hispanic, another was Asian, and the other five were women, according to an unauthorized memo by search committee member Dr. Robert Grone. The final list of nine candidates contained two women and seven men; the men came from a variety of countries, and one had a Hispanic surname. It may not be clear how diversity helps students learn math, but if it does, they should be learning a lot.

Nonetheless, the searches were canceled, then re-opened with a new search committee. The two positions have yet to be filled.

Moss, citing confidentiality, refuses to explain why she deep-sixed the searches. Nor will she define "diversity," or specify whether it includes such factors as race, national origin, or gender–i.e., the criteria prohibited by California law. But then, Moss–who is also a lawyer–doesn't believe California law applies to SDSU. The college gets subsidies from the federal government, and therefore, she argues, federal diversity requirements take precedent.

The trouble with this line is that federal law doesn't require SDSU to consider the criteria that state law prohibits. So even if you agree that the feds trump the states, any California university that hires someone based on his or her race, sex, or national origin is still breaking the law.