Open Letter Opposing the Politicisation of Mathematics, Statistics and Operations Research Degrees

In March, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) released a benchmark statement for mathematics, statistics and operations research (MSOR) which states:

"Values of EDI [Equality Diversity and Inclusion] should permeate the curriculum and every aspect of the learning experience."

However, the QAA do not explain whose interpretation of the "values of EDI" should permeate the curriculum. This is a significant omission because the "values of EDI" are a topic of fierce academic and political debate. Even basic concepts such as the definitions of racism and antisemitism are contested. Moreover, Great Britain’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and LGBT rights charity Stonewall disagree so significantly in their understanding of the values of EDI that Stonewall took legal action seeking to strip the EHRC of its "A Status" from the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (though this was unsuccessful).

Any serious discussion of EDI in higher education should acknowledge the existence of these debates. Any approach that fails to do so will inevitably be partisan. One can see this in the QAA’s more detailed advice on how these "values of EDI" can be embedded in our teaching. They suggest mathematicians highlight that "some early ideas in statistics were motivated by their proposers’ support for eugenics, some astronomical data were collected on plantations by enslaved people, and, historically, some mathematicians have recorded racist or fascist views or connections to groups such as the Nazis." However, the QAA do not suggest that we teach about the universality of mathematical truth, the use of statistics to disprove historical racial theories or about the Jewish mathematicians persecuted by Nazis. The QAA are advocating teaching a skewed view of the history of mathematics designed to bolster their thesis that there are "historical and ongoing issues around power dynamics and gatekeeping in both access to and generation of MSOR knowledge."

The history of mathematics has not traditionally been seen as an essential part of the mathematics curriculum. If it is taught, it should be taught by academics in line with their own expertise and academic judgement. A lecturer who wishes to focus on, say, the development of the concept of proof rather than racial politics should be welcome to do so.

We reject the QAAs insistence on politicising the mathematical curriculum. We believe the only thing that should permeate the mathematics curriculum is mathematics. Academics should teach from a perspective informed by their academic experience, not from a political perspective determined by the QAA. Students should be able to study mathematics without also being required to pay for their own political indoctrination.


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