When I was looking for faculty positions at research universities some 10-15 years ago, I was often told that at first I need to become one of the world best experts in my area of research (namely, Tribology, the study of friction). I think I had achieved this status by the age of 40 in 2009, when I found a tenure track job at the UWM. By that time, I had published prestigious papers and monographs, and received the ASME Burt Newkirk award, which is given annually to only one best tribologist under the age of 40. It was exciting and a great honor for me in 2009 to start working at UWM, one of America’s top research universities, where publishing papers was a part of my job description, with all necessary resources available: libraries, journal subscription, seminars, attending conferences, working with graduate students, and experienced peers readily willing to help.
However, after starting my work at UWM, I was surprised to discover that not all my colleagues are best scholars in their respected fields of study. I found that certain faculty members got their jobs at the age of 25 with little accomplishments, apparently due to their privilege of being white male US-born citizens. Such a person can work here for 30 years without any significant contribution to the scientific literature. Think about it. Many exciting developments happened in the past 30 years in science: the Higgs boson and gravitational waves were found, DNA deciphered, Rovers sent to Mars, graphene synthesized, the Poincaré conjecture proven, and black matter discovered. Entire new fields have emerged, such as bioinformatics, nanotechnology, MEMS, embedded systems, smart materials, or additive manufacturing. In my own area of surface science and tribology, many amazing discoveries were made: supehydrophobicity, frictional instabilities, biomimetic surfaces, SLIPS, self-healing and self-lubricating materials, Green Tribology, capillary clusters, new types of membranes and coatings for water industry, or superhydrophobic nano-concrete to list a few (please see my blog for more details about these topics).
Despite all these incredible opportunities, some colleagues chose to ignore their obligation to do research, and they have literally close to zero publications and zero results during all these years. Sad! But this would not be a big deal, unless such an unproductive colleague starts threatening more productive faculty members. Below is a description of what happened in our department, from Department Chair’s email message:
"The incident occurred in ME was that one of the ME faculty right after the negative outcome of his Annual Faculty Review went down to the second floor and made a inquiry regarding where to purchase a firearm to another faculty member. After the incident was reported to me, I reported to the police. During the police interview, the individual faculty claimed two times loud and clear on the tape, that he was dealing a “bunch of foreign ass holes”. I (we) – American Citizens who was (were) not born in US and was(were) referred as “foreign ass holes” all are afraid for our life."
Apparently, during an investigation of a gun massacre threat made by a US-born person with zero publications, this person made a statement of hatred towards foreign-born scientists, directly in front of a police officer (who was video recording) at the police department! Furthermore, during a followup by the Chief of Police several days later, the person insisted on that statement! This is how a police report (available based on the Wisconsin Public Records Law) described the situation (I highlighted the troubling phrases and removed the name of the unfortunate US-born colleague for his own protection):
“On Tuesday, 05/01/2018, at approximately 10:25 A.M., Police Officer Eith and I (Police Officer Goldsmith), met with XXXXXX at the UW-Milwaukee Police Department (3410 N. Maryland Ave., Milwaukee, WI).
…While talking with XXXXXX he mentioned the complaint numerous times and stated the people involved reported this incident to discredit him. XXXXXX also said, “I’m dealing with a bunch of foreign assholes“. XXXXXX then told me that was off the record.
On May 8, 2018 at 9:00am I, Chief Joseph LeMire, met with Professor XXXXXX in his office located in the EMS Building (UW Milwaukee Campus). ….XXXXXX then went off topic and discussed his case/complaint and was showing me the piles of paperwork and documentation he has. He stated HE is the minority in his own department and acknowledged he has referred to them [colleagues from the ME department – M.N.] as foreign assholes but felt that was okay because they were being “assholes” and this was all “bullshit”
The same US-born colleague had filed a complaint to the UWM Office of Equity and Diversity Services (EDS), apparently against most of his non-US born co-workers claiming that they discriminate against him (= do not evaluate his work positively despite the absence of any results or publications) “based on his race (white) and national origin (American).”
Since I consider myself a white American citizen, this left me wondering, what this person assumes about me and my race. Normally, people of European Jewish origin (including Russian Jews like myself) are considered “whites” in the US, at least during the recent 50 years. Unlike, say, Jews from Latin America, India or Ethiopia. Of course, race is a social construct, and some 50-100 years ago Jews were not considered “whites” in America. There is an excellent book about it, Karen Brodkin, How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America (Rutgers U Press, 1998). However, certain marginal white nationalist groups still consider Jews as non-whites (indeed, the Jews are on average darker than German Americans) or non-Arians, which was an official doctrine in Nazi Germany until its defeat in 1945.
A recent editorial “Challenge anti-Semitism” in Nature 556:407 (2018) states: “A wave of anti-Jewish prejudice is once again washing over schools and universities. There is no excuse not to call out this vile behaviour” (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-04926-3). The article does not list any specific examples of universities, where this happens.
I complained to the Dean about this case:
From: Michael J Nosonovsky Sent: Saturday, September 01, 2018 6:03 PM Dear Brett, I have concerns about Dr. XXXXXX calling his non-US born colleagues from the ME department “foreign assholes”. Many ME professors are top experts in their areas, and such disrespectful attitude is inappropriate. Even without the profane language, calling US citizens “foreigners” is inappropriate and unconstitutional. I am a US citizen since 2003 and I took the Oath of Allegiance to the USA. I was a federal government employee (NIST, US DoC) in 2005-2007 when I took the oath of a US federal employee (including “to defend the Constitution of the USA against all enemies, foreign and domestic”). I find it offensive and unconstitutional when somebody in a State agency, like the UWM, considers me or my colleagues “foreigners.” The underlying reason (as obvious from attached public record police report) is a negative review of Dr. XXXXXX’s research productivity. Peer review is a part of our job responsibilities. Unfortunately, in some cases it may lead to negative decisions including post-tenure reviews and performance evaluations, which are career development tools. The inability to accept constructive criticism from peers is a sign of poor professionalism. Apparently, as evident from this and other incidents, we have a colleague who believes that being a white US-born citizen entitles him for special privileges, like the right to be a professor with zero research productivity.
There was no official reaction. The Dean met with us, concerned faculty members, and mentioned that he is afraid to make a mistake. He also suggested that the Faculty Rights and Responsibilities Committee could be involved, because the shared governance is important on campus, and administrators could rarely decide anything by themselves.
In the meanwhile, I have learned from my colleagues about another incident involving the same Dr. XXXXXX. Apparently, during a consideration of a tenure case, a couple of years ago, the person made an anti-Semitic statement followed by a negative vote. I submitted a complaint to the UWM FRRC regarding these matters. The response from the FRRC was:
"In its meeting on 11/6/2018, the Faculty Rights and Responsibilities Committee (FRRC) reviewed the complaint filed against Associate Professor XXXXXX by Associate Professor Michael Nosonovsky, submitted to the FRRC by the University Committee on Oct. 2, 2018. Pursuant to the Procedures of the FRRC 5.8, the FRRC is referring this complaint to you [to the UWM Provost - M. N.] because the nature of the complaint places it within the jurisdiction of another University body, namely the Office of Equity and Diversity Services. Thank you for your attention to this matter."
There was no official reaction neither from the UWM Provost, nor from the EDS on this matter. The EDS director told me that, by procedure, he will forward his findings to the Provost, who, in turn, will likely refer it again to the FRRC. A closed-loop cycle. Therefore, I expect many rounds of escalation, before anyone will officially condemn the hate speech against foreign-born American scientists.
It looks like such incidents are not isolated cases in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Prof. Naira Campbell-Kyureghyan informed us recently about another incident next to her office:
"I'm also raising this question because earlier this year there was an incident involving anti-Semitic vandalism (reported to the police) in USR building, where several of CEAS faculty reside that completely compromised a safe and secure work environment. The request to provide more security in the USR building (install cameras, etc) was denied, and we were asked to pay for it personally."
Under the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, as interpreted by courts, naturalized US citizens have the same rights as citizens by birth. US citizens are not foreigners. However, naturalized citizens came as immigrants or as refugees, and many have interesting stories to tell.
Typically, I write in my blog about science, history of science, and recent scientific advances in my area of research, although I have already written once about the “you are unwelcome here” message to foreign scholars in Wisconsin. It is regrettable that I have to pay my attention to such an unpleasant topic as hatred towards immigrant scientists at my workplace. Galileo and Copernicus were persecuted by enemies of science. I consider Galileo the most important scholar of the millennium, and my PhD lineage is 22 generations from Copernicus (who, by the way, was another immigrant from Eastern Europe). I have interest in the history of the European Scientific Revolution of the 17th century, and I have recently published an article about the Islamic roots of the Copernican system in a peer-reviewed history journal. Science is an international enterprise, which is multicultural by its nature.
I understand why certain non-productive people hate highly productive immigrant scientists (and unstable personalities among these people may turn anti-Semitic or islamophobic). It is much harder to comprehend why these incidents, which create hostile work environment, are not condemned by UWM administrators and shared governance bodies.