I got disinvited from a workshop at Berkeley on Buddhism and AI

…and, “to evetrhimg there is a season.” but tact, respect, and courtesy are always in style.

To cast this issue as karrmic for Berkeley as a “liberal institution” getting its “just deserts” might be exemplary of bias.

I like the comment that suggested matters were “nuanced” and beyond determination. Causality is rife with unknown unknowns.

Let not a person revive the past
Nor on the future build thier hopes…

Metta

Hopefully the people involved in this complicated situation can resolve their differences away from the public eye.

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I won’t be commenting any further on my experiences. This is why I said, “I digress.” There won’t be any further digression towards this topic on my part.

Bhante, I just noticed the software keeps the names in the quote. Would it be possible for you to edit them out as I have removed them from the original post? This is not helpful for any if the involved people.

Greetings,

First of all , I want to thank you for being an advocate for gender and racial representation at Buddhist academic conferences. Diversity, Inclusion and Equity is one of the values of the American Academy of Religion, the largest international organization of religious studies scholars in the world. It is also one of the metrics that Program Units get measured on when they come up for five year reviews. As a member of the Buddhism AAR Unit, I can share that the steering committee takes DEI very seriously when considering panels. Recently, FROGBEAR, a research and training network aimed at fostering scholarship in East Asian religion also comissioned a study into gender diversity in Asian religions (From the Ground Up: Buddhism and East Asian Religions) All this is to say, that DEI goals including diverse representation are the standard internationally in the field for Buddhist Studies.

It is both troubling and appalling, as well as very regressive and reactionary, that you were actually disinvited–punished-- for attempting to maintain international scholarly standards. I wish I could suggest this was a misunderstanding but a lack of concern and even active hostility towards these goals from some of the Buddhist Studies professors at Berkeley University is well-known among many Buddhist scholars. I myself and several others female scholars had hostile experiences at Berkeley. Bob Sharf is a brilliant scholar, a wonderful interlocutor, and from the accounts I have personally heard, a caring and inspiring mentor to his graduate students. However, around issues of diversity and inclusivity , collective experience of him is that he remains stubbornly closed and reactionary. How many more colleagues need to report hostile experiences before Dr. Sharf and his colleagues listen? Is the desire to make Buddhist Studies more inclusive and welcoming really a battle to have?

I know from personal experience how exhausting and demoralizing these experience are. Thank you again for your advocacy and solidarity. May all beings be well, be free from suffering.
In friendship,
Ann Gleig

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Thanks for the background, Prof @anngleig . And welcome to our forum! :blush:

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Hi Bhante,

My experience working in academia for many years is that it’s very difficult to put on a panel that makes everyone happy. This is especially the case since the political environment on campuses (especially at UC Berkeley) have become so heated. The behind-the-scenes juggling that happens with putting on panels is challenging for the organizers. An organizer can plan a very diverse panel, but the people invited don’t RSVP. So it creates a bind.

I’m sending you much Metta in hopes of healing your friendship.:pray:

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Hi Debra, is it safe to say that if an organizer fails to present an agreeable panel that the topic is often overshadowed? Are there any efforts to let the audience know upfront who was invited, and what attempts were made to present a good range of viewpoints?

Sorry, Sebastian, I’m not sure what you’re referring to: I’ve deleted the names, there’s nothing else I can do.

Hi Ann!

:pray: It is such a small thing on my behalf, I know, but hopefully I can raise awareness of the much bigger challenges faced by women and nonbinary folks in academic work every day.

This is really helpful for me to know. As an outsider, I’m not familiar with the discussions and principles.

It’s very weird for me in such instances. I’m normally on the privileged side of things, so it’s only rarely that I get this feeling. It reminds me of a time when I was in Thailand. I showed up at a Dhammayut monastery in Phuket, where the monks received me very kindly and put me up in a kuti. A few days later it was the Patimokkha, and one of the monks asked if I knew how to recite. I did, and since they lacked a reciter, they invited me—a great honor. So we all get there, the the abbot sees me and he says, “But he’s Mahanikay! He can’t recite Patimokkha! Get out of here!” So I went from the central position to being chastised in a corner in an instant.

Anyway, point being, when these things happen you don’t really, or I don’t really, grok it at the time. Without some feedback, you think it’s just you.

Ultimately I take it as a reminder that, whatever privilege and power we have, it is so important to use it gracefully.

Right??? I mean, that’s the point, isn’t it? No-one wants to be banging on about these things, we just want to be normal.

If I may add, one of the characteristic principles of “American Buddhism” is the sidelining of the Sangha, indeed the redefinition of “Sangha” to mean lay groups. I’m an Aussie, I don’t make a big deal out of personal reverence and the like. But treating Sangha like this is really shocking to someone of traditional background, by which I mean, almost all Buddhists who live and have ever lived.

That’s why I was so happy to see Meghan raise these issues in her thread.

I understand, and to repeat, I had a long and pleasant chat with Sebastian where these things were discussed. And to be clear, I wasn’t making ultimatums or demands, just sharing my personal concerns.

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This is why I stopped organizing panels. Everyone is somewhat dissatisfied with them—attendees, participants, even the organizers. On follow-up surveys, panels get consistently lower scores than do lectures, workshops, and fireside chats (with one interviewer and one interviewee).

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Sounds daunting. Of course you want a great group, but you also want the topic to take center stage. The format seems to make such a balance practically impossible. Too many cooks in the kitchen perhaps?

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“American Buddhism” is actually quite diverse, far from monolithic. Some Buddhist traditions here don’t really have a monastic community.
It’s much broader than just ‘a version of Theravadin Buddhism,’ if that’s what you mean.

I’ve put on a number of panel discussions. Agreed, it can be a very frustrating experience, with lots of challenges.

But I’m going to suggest getting a diverse group of speakers isn’t actually that hard if you start with that as one of your priorities. You just need to start with both subject matter expertise AND diversity as priorities. I can’t help but wonder if the challenges arise when subject matter expertise is the priority and diversity is an after thought.

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Panels were ubiquitous in academia before Covid. By the end of 2020, I started hosting one guest speaker per month (via Zoom), and my students get to spend an hour with just that person. I continue to offer this program monthly. It is very popular… Students enjoy getting to know a speaker and their perspectives more deeply.

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In most West Coast California universities, the diversity of the panel is the priority.

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While I’m not in the academic world myself, that appears to be true of most BC universities.

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This is really good to know! I’ve always struggled to really present well in seminars. It feels like it should be a discussion, but it almost always is just a series of disconnected monologues. Keeping the “fireside chat” vibe would make it more of a conversation.

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Not that diversity implies any lack of subject matter expertise, but if that is the case then it will change the topic. And that means that the journey to becoming a subject matter expert may become part of what is being discussed. I work for a major utility in NYC, and oftentimes expertise will come second to diversity for hires at entry level supervision, but that expertise only applies to what a given person lacks technically. What I’ve seen in cases when a hire does lack expertise is that it is an opportunity for other skills to be put on display. I was recently just praising someone during a meeting who came to our department almost 3 years ago - was hired for a role that was traditionally held by someone with 10 years of field experience and she had none. But what she lacked in the technical background, she more than made up for with her brilliant way of working with people. And she found a way to flourish in an environment that was unfamiliar. Sure, she is still not an sme when it comes to the technical end of the work, but she has something of immense value to offer anyone who takes on the role who is in a similar position as she once was.

The point I’m trying to make is that when diversity is prioritized over subject manner expertise for a panel discussion - as you suggest it can be - that may mean a reevaluation of the topic. Perhaps the organizer of the panel in question from the OP was unwilling to circle back and make that change. Seems to be that Ven. Sujato made him nervous and he started to worry his vision was going to get lost. Seems to me he chose the wrong format for the material.

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This is such an important point. The problem is ultimately not about “diversity” per se, it’s about the loss of voices and perspectives. We don’t know how other people might see things until we give them a chance to speak.

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