Where woke math goes to die

The Mathematical Association of America, founded in 1915 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., is one of the most prominent math societies in the country. The MAA focuses on math education and research at the undergraduate level and higher, and its math journals are among the most highly circulated in the world. Unfortunately, the MAA has gone woke. Its publications and blogs have been flooded with writings supporting BLM, CRT, DEI, and LGBTQ+.

As an example of the latter, in an article on pages 34-35 of the December 2020- January 2021 issue of its newsletter, MAA FOCUS, the author, who describes herself as bisexual, quotes another professor discussing intersectionality who finds it objectionable that the set theory section of a basic textbook on finite mathematics contains the following example:

Let M = males, F = females, D = doctors. What is D ∩ Fc [that is, D intersect the complement of F]?

The answer, of course, is male doctors. But the professor feels “this question is problematic in that it alienates students in my class who feel strongly against the binary in gender identification.”

Image by Andrea Widburg

The MAA’s annual meeting, MathFest, takes place this week, August 2-5, in Tampa. As evidenced by a letter from the MAA, there has been a lot of handwringing about holding the meeting in Florida:

Dear MAA Community,

We know that the location of MAA MathFest this year is a source of concern in our community. Supporters of Gov. DeSantis in the state legislature have passed laws eliminating DEI efforts and restricting the free exchange of ideas in educational settings, limiting the rights of historically marginalized groups to protest, and restricting the choices of women and non-gender conforming individuals’ freedom to make deeply personal decisions regarding healthcare and even restroom use. However, Florida is not homogeneous, and the Tampa community does not reflect the perspectives expressed in these laws.

The MAA and our partners in Tampa are committed to creating an inclusive environment that is both safe for and respectful of all persons. For example, this open letter from Mayor Jane Castor notes, “We [Tampa] have proudly and consistently received the top score of 100 from Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Municipal Equity Index for our LGBTQ inclusive laws, policies, and services.”

For a description of all the measures passed in Florida, see here.

Restroom use seems to be of particular concern:

One of the particular laws that has raised legitimate concerns is the “Safety in Private Spaces Act.“ This law is limited to people using restrooms and changing facilities in state and local government buildings, educational institutions, and detention centers. The convention center has restrooms that will be specifically labeled as gender-neutral while we occupy the space. The law does not apply to private facilities such as hotels and restaurants. While the law does apply within the Tampa airport, legal counsel for the airport confirmed that there are family restrooms available for use by anyone.

Given the other restroom issues have been addressed, is the whole fuss really that when visiting state buildings, M→F and F→M trans must use the restroom of their domain rather than their range? Or is it that many potential meeting participants just don’t want anything to do with DeSantis and icky Florida given the legislation passed? And then there’s this:

We recognize that recent legislation passed in Florida and ever-expanding legislation from California present hurdles - some insurmountable - to some of our members.

Do you know what California has to do with this? (Schadenfreude alert!) Progressive California added Florida to its ban on state-funded travel, meaning professors and students from the University of California and California State University systems cannot get their MathFest flight, lodging, meeting, and food expenses paid for by their university.

It was too late to change the venue:

We are aware of precedents regarding moving national conventions, even within mathematics – and the MAA did give serious consideration to moving MathFest 2023 out of Florida, beginning in late 2021. The contract for Tampa had been signed in 2018. We combed through the contract to determine what the MAA’s options were. The financial penalty for breaking the contract was not tenable – its scale exceeded the MAA’s meeting and event expenses in 2021 and the amount budgeted in 2022. Given the Board of Directors’ fiduciary responsibilities to the association, the conversation about moving the meeting was deemed moot.

So, Tampa it is. No need to worry, though, judging by the plethora of DEI lectures on offer at the meeting. We can still hope that participants will focus on real (and complex) math and discover that Florida is where woke math goes to die.

W. A. Eliot is a pseudonym.

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