I was so excited with the Museum of Mathematics opened in NYC. I attended a zillion lectures they had with math teacher friends before they had the space ready and a zillion lectures after they had their space ready. I even convinced some of my students to attend with me and another teacher, and we got to bond over math.
I encouraged some of my students to enter the contest for the Strogatz Prize for Math Communication at the end of last year. Even recently, I went to a wonderful virtual event they held called Bending the Arc, which featured a panel of Black mathematicians and scientists and allowed participants to talk with them more intimately in smaller groups in breakout rooms. The name for the session came from Martin Luther King Jr.’s quotation which I sincerely hope is true: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
(The reason I mention that is because previously the museum had planned an event in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. day which somehow connected his “Letter from a Birminham Jail” to a session devoted to the Prisoner’s Dilemma problem. For so many reasons, this was a poor decision that I was surprised no one caught when setting it up.)
Also, over the years, I had heard grumblings about the museum from people who worked there or volunteered there as interns. Recently someone shared with me a letter that was sent to the Museum of Math’s Board of Directors that was concerning.
My understanding was it was written a while ago, but only recently shared with the Board. I’ve been told that it is now officially okay to make this letter public. It’s short, but packs a punch. Here is the top-line conclusion, written in a signed letter by two former “Chiefs of Mathematics” at the Museum along with others who work/ed there.
“With respect to our educational mission, race and class discrimination are embedded in the Museum’s practices.”
To me, knowing that there are multiple people — including people who were high up in the organization — who felt the need to write an open letter to describe some of their concerns speaks volumes to me. They didn’t have to. It is easier not to. It puts them at some risk, publicly speaking out.
To me, one of the most problematic charges in the letter is that students from Title 1 schools who visit MoMATH often get lessons that end up being 20-25 minutes instead of the normal 45 minute sessions. The letter states “We cannot remain silent while the Museum chooses to offer sub par services forthe least fortunate students who are vastly more likely to be people of color.” I hope that with this letter, those at the Museum take a close look at their practices to ensure there is equity for all the students visiting the Museum. To me, more than anything else, this is of paramount importance before the museum opens its doors again.
Also damning is this paragraph:
Unfortunately, the Museum actively discourages any form of negative feedback, and the staff has virtually no autonomy. This repressive culture has been described on social media and in the many letters you have received from former employees about mismanagement, abuse of hours, and general lack of respect for staff. In fact, the Museum’s formal Employee Policies Document warns staff members against contacting the Board. Staff members who have advocated for improvements in the Museum’s operations have seen obstacles set up in their paths and have been pressured out or fired. The rapid turnover of MoMath staff, which has an average tenure of less than a year and a half, is evidence of this. Joe Quinn, former Chief of Mathematics for MoMath, was fired shortly after expressing his opposition to the discriminatory provision of education services to Title 1 schools. We believe this to be unlawful retaliation against him
It is important for an organization which promotes diversity and inclusion to make sure that concerns can be heard safely, that feedback can be given. To these letter writers, it sounds like that hasn’t been the case and there is a culture at the museum which sounds, frankly, oppressive.
I went to GlassDoor, to see reviews of the museum from people who work there.
Most museums I looked at had star ratings in the 3+. (I recognize that those who leave reviews on GlassDoor are likely to be those who have a lot to say in either direction.) It was disheartening to read through the reviews.
I only hope that this letter prompts some sort of investigation into the working conditions at the museum. How long do people work there? Why do they leave? Are employees being taken advantage of in terms of their hours worked? At the very least, this letter suggests that the Board can and should look into this.