With the women of the “Laplacian”, who needs diversity tsars?

“Wherever my travels may lead, paradise is where I am.” ~Voltaire

In case you have been wondering why I haven’t been blogging lately, I am presently in Rome having too much fun working, lecturing, and enjoying life with my friends and colleagues at Sapienza Universita’ di Roma, Università di Roma Tor Vergata, and Università Roma Tre. The latter is still waiting for the professionals in communication and marketing to find for it a more sexy name. Talking mathematics with a few of the “women of the Laplacian”, Angela, Filomena, and Gabriella, is always a highlight of my visits here. No offense, Alberto, Massimiliano, Pierpaolo and Italo.

Watching the fascination of my 16-year old son with this sensual city is adding greatly to my expected dose of “plaisirs discrets de la bourgoisie”. He may have even forgiven my clumsy efforts to drag him with me on this trip: “The Coliseum holds the largest ice hockey rink in the world”. This is not totally random as I have always been convinced, ever since watching the movie “Rollerball”, that hockey players are direct descendants of gladiators, concussions and all!

Then I get this email from home about a job candidate who, upon receiving an offer from a Canadian university, requested that a similar position be given to his girlfriend! Whaaaaaat?

I had written before about how universities may be becoming family affairs, but this episode was challenging my old-fashioned ways even more than usual.  The partner is NOT in one of the advertised areas, yet she was deemed deserving to be considered for a tenure-track position. Why? Becausethe university and the Faculty of Science now take very seriously the possibilities of partner hires, as part of a general policy of supporting women, and diversity in the ranks.”

But shouldn’t all hirings in public universities be based on open and fair competitions? No problem! “If the department feels that such an offer is appropriate, we will then advertise a  position (in the subject area of the partner) for a month.”

But what if a better candidate applies? No one is ready to volunteer an answer to that question. The most logical and ethical response should of course be that the university would offer the position to the most qualified candidate … even if it is in a subject area that was not deemed a priority in the first place, until the partner-hiring situation created the opportunity. Bizarre!

Back to Italy, where diversity, spousal hiring and “two-body problems”, seem to be non-issues at the universities here. “There is no need to,” I am told, which is quite believable judging by the Italian women of the “Laplacian”, who worked hard, competed, overcame and are now leading their fields, their departments and their universities. The same seems to be the case in Spain and France.

In contrast, the universities in Scandinavia are still struggling with issues of diversity and are resorting to all kind of rules and regulations to deal with them. “They legislate quotas for women on their university committees, then proceed to “import” women scientists from the South (the south of Europe, that is) in order to fulfill them,” said one friend.

And in case you are wondering who are these “women of the Laplacian”, they are my smart, charming, confident, hardworking, prolific, terrific, and super-gracious friends and colleagues, who happen to be intellectual descendants and heiresses of the Marquis Pierre-Simon de Laplace.

To Napoleon’s query, “M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator,” he is the one who replied,Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là.”

I am looking forward to tell this story to my son as we are visiting Napoleon’s Tomb at the “Invalides” in Paris tomorrow.  He may then get interested enough to accompany me to Rue Laplace, on my way to Rue Monge, where I am giving a lecture at my alma mater.

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