Ingezonden brief/letter to the editor Sander Konijnenberg, TU Delft

Diversity and inclusivity at TU Delft are defined in a problematic way, argues PhD student Sander Konijnenberg in this letter. “Since dialogue seems impossible, I'll settle for a monologue instead.”

A while back, the disciplining of professor Van Bergeijk inspired Dap Hartmann to start a discussion on radical activism. Felienne Hermans responded with an explanation on free speech which, I pointed out, failed to address the issue. I raised a few specific questions, but as Hartmann summarised in his farewell essay, the opposing side shows no interest in a rational discussion on the issue. Instead of responding via TU Delta to the points that were made, it retreated to its echo-chamber where its members complain about how ‘TU Delta published [Hartmann‘s column] without a counter opinion' (in spite of Hermans' article), and that ‘we cannot argue a case when we feel like the ground we are discussing on is not welcoming of diversity' (so it refuses to address any criticism of its views on diversity). Since dialogue seems impossible, I'll settle for a monologue instead in which I will raise a few points that I haven’t yet been able to put forward.

‘To what extent are we allowed to believe that men and women are different?’

I don‘t like what's happening overseas (James Damore being fired for writing a memo, Lindsay Shepherd being disciplined for showing part of an interview in class), and I don't like seeing similar trends occur at TU Delft (Van Bergeijk’s treatment, increasing focus on diversity and inclusivity). The first thing I take issue with is the way diversity and inclusivity are defined.

  • Unclear rationale for equal gender representation
    On the one hand it is said that men and women are the same, so gender imbalance indicates unfairness. On the other hand it is said that including more women is beneficial because it introduces new, more diverse viewpoints, implying men and women are different. To what extent are we allowed to believe that men and women are different, and to what degree is it reasonable to expect that these differences can lead to differences in outcome that are not due to unfairness?

  • The role of implicit bias
    The LERU report as shared by Delft Women In Science (DEWIS) identifies implicit bias as the main cause of the gender imbalance. I find the study unconvincing. A proper study would involve a careful examination of all the factors leading to the gender imbalance, and a comparison of how significant the role of each factor is. In point 5, the authors state that ‘we seek to explain [the loss of female talent] with reference to implicit bias‘, meaning that they've already decided on the outcome of the study. In fact, in point 21 they identify another relevant factor, that ‘women require more career certainty and commitment at an earlier point in their careers than academia provides, and thus they may decide to work in non-academic roles', but then go on to insist that bias must be the main problem by saying ‘as a result, the idea of women as less committed to their academic careers persists within academia’.

‘If bias is bad, then don't solve it by introducing more bias’

However, I do think there are real issues that deserve to be addressed, but a coherent and accurate description of the problem should be given before it can be addressed properly. The second thing I take issue with are the proposed solutions.

  • Fight bias with even more bias
    I object to the idea that ‘bias is bad, except when we do it‘. If bias is bad, then don't solve it by introducing more bias. Hence I disagree with preferential treatment for women (suggested by LNVH) to ‘undertake positive action towards a proper representation of women in all leading positions' (proposed in the LERU report), and I take great issue with these comments by Felienne Hermans: ‘White men turned the world to shit' and ‘Fire employees and make sure half of the staff will be women’.

  • Gender bias training and external monitoring (proposed in the LERU report).
    Having to undergo re-education that teaches you to feel guilty (white/male privilege) and prevents you from committing unconscious thought crimes (implicit bias) is just too Orwellian.

The position radical activists appear to take is that ‘if you criticise any proposed solution, you deny the existence of the problem'. For example, if you disagree with Van Bergeijk's treatment, it implies you don’t see any problems with discrimination or careless stereotyping. I hope the sensible reader understands it is perfectly reasonable to recognise a problem but disagree with a proposed solution.

Sander Konijnenberg is a PhD student at the Faculty of Applied Sciences.

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For interested staff: DEWIS is organising a lunch meeting on diversity policy and inclusion on Tuesday 26 June, 12 PM - 1 PM at the Faculty of EEMCS.