‘Only true conformists excel in this game,’ mathematics professor said
A professor who grew up under the Soviet Union resigned his membership in the American Mathematical Society due to the group’s failure to oppose DEI statements as a requirement for job applications.
Alexander Barvinok, a Russian emigrant and tenured mathematics professor at the University of Michigan, told The Atlantic in a Dec. 13 article that he has seen the pressure to conform to DEI ideology mounting since the early 2000s.
“University and college policies in hiring, and to some extent promotions and merit raises, were increasingly motivated by the desire to effect some positive social changes, in the form of a contribution to DEI,” Barvinok told the magazine.
Barvinok said he was “suspicious of an institutional requirement to do public good.”
“The main responsibility of every Soviet citizen was to facilitate the arrival of communism, where people would contribute to the society according to their abilities and receive from the society according to their needs—has there ever been a nobler-sounding goal?” Barvinok said. “And yet historians cannot agree on an estimate of how many millions of people were starved to death, tortured to death, or worked to death, all in the name of that goal.”
As a student at a Leningrad university, he also saw that forced education in Soviet ideology turned students away from communist ideals.
“Whatever this indoctrination was meant to achieve, what it really achieved was the widespread cynicism and strong allergy to anything having ‘communist’ or ‘the party’ in it among my classmates,” he wrote.
Barvinok doesn’t object to diversity but to coerced statements in general, he told The Atlantic.
In his August 2023 letter announcing his resignation, Barvinok wrote on the dangers of required ideology and compelled speech.
“The routine affirmation of one’s beliefs as a precondition of making a living constitutes compelled speech and corrupts everyone who participates in the performance,” he wrote.
“This lived experience and also common sense convince me that only true conformists excel in this game,” he said.
“The fears of being accused of having certain pernicious attitudes and creating an unsafe environment, as well as the fear of losing one’s livelihood are not without merit,” Barvinok wrote. “However, compared to the standards set by the totalitarian movements of the past these repercussions may not seem like such a big deal.”
“The more we are afraid to talk and act now, the more debilitating the fear becomes, and the more devastating will be the effect of our inaction,” he wrote.
IMAGE: Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing