Professor hits back at critics of ‘diversity’ essay in top science journal

Professor hits back at critics of ‘diversity’ essay in top science journal

TORONTO — A Canadian professor who sparked a backlash by using a prestigious international scientific journal to question the impact of diversity hiring on the quality of scientific research has hit back at his detractors, saying he was the victim of a social media tempest.

In a lengthy statement, Tomas Hudlicky, 69, of Brock University, says he stands by his views, which he argues were misinterpreted.

“Social media rage led to the intimidation of the executive staff of a major journal, attacked me personally (and) induced Brock University into issuing a strong moral condemnation of my views and my values with threats of taking further action against me,” Hudlicky says. “It rapidly became a full-fledged storm.”

Hudlicky’s seven-page opinion essay published in June in Germany-based Angewandte Chemie, which bills itself as one of the world’s prime chemistry journals, surveyed recent trends in organic synthesis. In it, he decried “preferential” treatment given to women and minorities.

Publication of his essay sparked a furious backlash. In an open letter, the school’s now former vice-president academic condemned what he called the “highly objectionable” and “hurtful” statements and apologized publicly, as did the publication, which withdrew the piece.

Angewandte also suspended two senior editors. Directors, including Canadian academics, resigned from its board. Accepting the paper, the journal said, had been a “clear mistake.”

Hudlicky has his supporters, who decry what they see as an attack on freedom of expression. The Canadian Association of University Teachers and Brock University Faculty Association defended him, while Derek Pyne, a professor at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C., said he was suspended for a year for supporting criticism of Brock.

“It is tragic to see that, in several Western democratic societies, open discourse and debate can apparently be easily superseded by censorship, persecution and condemnation, propagated by social media,” Hudlicky says.

“The appearance and pursuit in recent years of certain new and politically correct ideologies has led to the establishment of a society in which any opposition or any dissenting opinion regarding the new norms are silenced and punished rather than discussed. This is a very dangerous trend.”

Hudlicky, a Tier 1 Canada research chair in chemistry, says Brock has damaged his professional standing. He says he has filed a grievance against the school in which he demands retraction of the critical letter along with a public apology.

“The university has nothing further to add to this discussion,” Kevin Cavanagh, a Brock executive director, said on Monday.

Angewandte Chemie did not respond to a request for comment.

Given the peer-reviewed essay generated “apparent misunderstandings and misinterpretations,” Hudlicky has edited and republished the document on his website.

“I stand by the views I wished to express in the essay, some of which are common knowledge, while others were duly cited from primary and secondary sources,” he says. “Those who condemned the essay and slandered me should have read the content more carefully, and not jumped to politically motivated conclusions.”

Among other things, Hudlicky argues hiring should be based on merit, not on a candidate’s identification with a particular group. He does say he could have been clearer and more diplomatic, and should have shown the “positive influence” of diversity on the field of synthesis.

“I do not oppose diversity in the workforce and did not oppose it in the essay,” he says. “I opposed preferential treatment of any group over another.”

Hudlicky acknowledges what he calls harmful “structural inequalities and systemic bias,” but says the best way to diversify university faculties is to hire the best candidates, who can train and mentor a diverse and inclusive group of next-generation scientists and scholars.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 3, 2020.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

Diversity

Just Posted

Police officers and their dogs undergo training at the RCMP Police Dog Services training centre in Innisfail, Alta., on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Mounties say they are searching for an armed and dangerous man near a provincial park in northern Alberta who is believed to have shot and killed a service dog during a police chase. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
RCMP search for armed man in northern Alberta after police dog shot and killed

Cpl. Deanna Fontaine says a police service dog named Jago was shot during the pursuit

Alberta now has 2,336 active cases of COVID-19, with 237 people in hospital, including 58 in intensive care. (Black Press file photo)
Red Deer down to 73 active cases of COVID-19, lowest since early November

The Central zone has 253 active cases of the virus

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

Three in four eligible Canadians now have their first dose, nearly one in five fully vaccinated.

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant grew in Canada this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s public health agency reports spike in confirmed cases of Delta variant

More than 2,000 cases of the variant confirmed across all 10 provinces and in one territory

The federal government says it wants to ban most flavoured vaping products in a bid to reduce their appeal to youth. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Craig Mitchelldyer
Health Canada proposes ban on most vaping flavours it says appeal to youth

If implemented, the regulations would restrict all e-cigarette flavours except tobacco, mint and menthol

The Montreal Police logo is seen in Montreal on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Some Quebec politicians are calling for an investigation after a video was released that appears to show a Montreal police officer with his leg on a young Black man’s neck during an arrest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Probe called for after video appearing to show Montreal officer’s knee on Black youth’s neck

Politicians call for investigation after clip evokes memories of George Floyd incident

Thousands of protesters make their way through the downtown core during a Black Lives Matter protest in Ottawa, Friday June 5, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
MPs’ study of systemic racism in policing concludes RCMP needs new model

Chair of the House public safety committee says it’s time for a reckoning on ‘quasi-military’ structure

A case filled with packages of boneless chicken breasts is shown in a grocery store Sunday, May 10, 2020, in southeast Denver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-David Zalubowski
One million chickens euthanized during labour dispute at Quebec slaughterhouse

Premier says waste amounts to 13 per cent of the province’s chicken production thrown in the garbage

A section of the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies is seen west of Cochrane, Alta., Thursday, June 17, 2021. A joint federal-provincial review has denied an application for an open-pit coal mine in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, saying its impacts on the environment and Indigenous rights aren’t worth the economic benefits it would bring. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Panel says Grassy Mountain coal mine in Alberta Rockies not in public interest

Public hearings on the project in southern Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass region were held last fall

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on Friday, February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
U.S. border restrictions to remain in place until at least July 21

Safety minister says Canada, U.S. extending restrictions on non-essential international travel

Most Read