Tomas Hudlicky of Brock University. (Brock University)

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

Tomas Hudlicky, 69, of Brock University, says he stands by his views, which he argues were misinterpreted

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.

ALSO READ: Rollout of COVID-19 Alert app faces criticism over accessibility

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“It is tragic to see that, in several Western democratic societies, open discourse and debate can apparently be easily superseded by censorship, persecution and condemnation, propagated by social media,” Hudlicky says.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

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Diversity

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
OPINION: Examining preliminary results from the 2020 BC Election

Some thoughts to ponder as British Columbia awaits the final results from mail-in ballots

Your Columbia River Revelstoke candidates; Nicole Cherlet (NDP); Samson Boyer (Green) and Doug Clovechok (BC Liberal). The polls are closed and ballots being counted. (File photo)
BC VOTES: Clovechok preliminary winner with 52 per cent of the vote

35 of 77 polls have reported and The Canadian Press is calling Clovechok winner

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

FILE – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Premier John Horgan during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office following an announcement about new investments to improve transit for citizens in the province while in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Trudeau congratulates Horgan on NDP’s election victory in British Columbia

Final count won’t be available for three weeks due to the record number of 525,000 ballots cast by mail

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Provincial Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau speaks at Provincial Green Party headquarters at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe in Victoria. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)
VIDEO: Furstenau leads BC Greens to win first riding outside of Vancouver Island

Sonia Furstenau became leader of BC Greens one week before snap election was called

NDP Leader John Horgan elbow bumps NDP candidate Coquitlam-Burke Mountain candidate Fin Donnelly following a seniors round table in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, NDP head for majority in B.C. election results

Record number of mail-in ballots may shift results

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Most Read