ArtSci releases letter responding to controversial op-eds in Student Life, reaffirming commitment to inclusion

| Senior News Editor

The College of Arts & Sciences released an open letter reaffirming its commitment to policies of diversity and inclusion Thursday, placing special emphasis on applying these policies to the physics department—which currently has received criticism no tenured or tenured-track female professors.

The letter comes following controversy surrounding a series of op-eds published in Student Life in which Jonathan Katz, a tenured physics professor, debated student writers and argued that the lack of women in his department was not due to discrimination, saying that “we should not waste our time trying to explain sociological phenomena that have defied understanding for generations, nor try to mold people to what we might wish them to be, nor claim injustices where there are none.”

The letter, which was co-signed by Chair of the Physics Department Mark Alford, Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences Jennifer Smith and Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences Barbara Schaal, specifically dissociated ArtSci and the physics department from Katz’s views.

“We feel it is essential to take this opportunity to point out that the views expressed by the faculty contributor in no way reflect the longstanding principles that define our academic community,” the letter read. “We do not accept the premise that certain groups are less capable than others…we want all students to know that while they will encounter a range of opinions in their time on campus, we will always uphold our basic values when it comes to creating an engaging learning environment for all of our students.”

A number of principles and goals for the physics department were also laid out, among them increasing recruitment of students, staff and faculty from populations currently underrepresented in physics and recognizing the lack of diversity within the department’s tenure-track faculty.

Additionally, the letter stated that academic freedom would continue to be protected.

“Academic freedom of expression is an essential safeguard of intellectual inquiry, and our campus will always promote the open exchange of ideas,” the letter read.

The letter also noted that the various goals detailed would be worked on by a collaboration of offices across Washington University’s administration.

“Fostering a culture of inclusion benefits all of us, whether on campus or in society at large,” the letter read. “The physics department is working closely with a number of eminent advisors from across campus, from the Provost’s Office to Human Resources, to implement the best strategies that will lead to real improvements to department climate and diversity. Across all of Arts & Sciences, our goal is to create and maintain inclusive environments that benefit everyone in our academic community.”