An AMT Coda

A few months ago, I wrote about the Australian Maths Trust and their recently held competition, the AIMO. AMT’s CEO, Nathan Ford, had demanded an alteration to an AIMO question at the last minute, based upon an absurd and absurdly argued concern about “gender contexts”. Ford’s behaviour resulted in the writer of the AIMO question resigning from his volunteer role on the AIMO committee and all his paid work at AMT. This post is a coda to that shameful episode.

The writer of the AIMO question has been a colleague and good friend of mine for twenty years. He is smart, gentle and thoughtful, extraordinarily generous to the maths ed world. He is neither a warrior nor a troublemaker. He wrote the question with reference to “girls” and “boys” because that offered the most natural framing for the mathematics. For the same reason, he then refused to countenance the mandated perversion of the question. He was deeply distressed by Ford’s conduct.

I was furious on my friend’s behalf, and I wrote my strong post in support, in which I described Ford’s behaviour as foolish and arrogant and rude. Of course I did not expect AMT to be particularly friendly after that, but I did expect AMT to be honest and to behave professionally. That appears to have been expecting too much.

Although, and because, my post was strong, I was very concerned to be accurate. In particular, I sent Ford a final draft of my post six days before posting,* offering to make any corrections or to include any statement Ford may wish to make. I received no reply, which is perfectly reasonable.

What is not reasonable, however, is for Ford, having been offered this opportunity, to subsequently email the AMT community, stating that “a publicly available blog post” contained “misstatements of fact and misinformation”. I was alerted to this email by a comment on my post and I was sent the text of Ford’s email soon after:**

Dear Chairs,

As some of you may already be aware, there has been a recent post on a publicly available blog about the Trust.

Unfortunately, this blog contains misstatements of fact and misinformation.

I would like to remind everyone that only myself, Ben, Louise, Laura or the Chair of AMTT Ltd is permitted to act as a media spokesperson for the Trust.

It is also important to note that internal communications between staff and volunteers may contain confidential information belonging to the Trust. If you have any questions as to how to handle confidential or personal information, please contact me.

Could you please distribute this information to your committee members for their information?

If you or any of your committee members have questions about confidential or personal information and how best to handle it, please ring me any time.

Regards, Nathan

On 15 October, I emailed the AMT office – at the office’s suggestion – with an attached letter to be forwarded to AMT Board Chair, Belinda Robinson. In my letter to Robinson, I apologised for and offered to correct any errors on my blog post, while noting that Ford had been offered a proper opportunity to correct any such errors. I also requested, in the case no errors could be identified, that the AMT community be sent an appropriate correction to Ford’s email.

On 27 October, I received an email from Ford:

Dear Marty

I am writing in response to your letter of 15 October to the AMT Board.

As this relates to operational matters, your letter has been referred to me. 

 I have noted your concerns and would point out that I did not name you or your blog in my correspondence to Trust staff or volunteers.

Your ongoing interest in maths education is appreciated. 

Regards, Nathan

Ford’s response is of course absurd, but why on earth is the response from Ford at all? One would have to ask AMT. It took me two months of utter nonsense to even semi-confirm that Robinson had received my letter.

I won’t write further on this nonsense, and hopefully on AMT whatsoever, except to make a few final remarks.

First, from Ford’s email to the AMT community it would appear that no mathematician is permitted to speak publicly on behalf of AMT. I find this astonishing.

Secondly, I have heard that Robinson was greatly concerned about the AIMO episode. This may be true, although one would have thought the simplest way to demonstrate concern was to apologise to the question writer. He has not heard anything from Robinson, not a single kind word.

Thirdly, I have long been a strong supporter of AMT, describing them as a rare beacon of hope. I still believe this, even if AMT has become too much a country club for private school kids. But, for the life of me, I cannot understand why a mathematician would currently volunteer their valuable time to AMT in its current state.

Finally, my friend, the writer of the AIMO question, is a forgiving person, understanding of human nature. He understands that friends and colleagues may not always act as sensibly or as loyally as one may wish. I am not sure that I am as understanding. Certainly, I am much less forgiving.


*) The post as it now appears is identical to what I sent Ford except for the inclusion of one clarifying word.

**) I cannot confirm the above is the text of Ford’s email, but I have no reason to doubt it and Ford, given the opportunity, did not dispute it. 

17 Replies to “An AMT Coda”

  1. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Don’t forgive and don’t forget, Marty!

    1. Well, this is a long way short of “evil”. But I think it is extremely poor behaviour from more than a couple of people.

  2. I don’t know where you get the energy, Marty, but I’m glad you have it and I’m grateful for the ways you choose to use it.

      1. If it weren’t for your previously expressed dislike of youtube links in comments, there’s a Flying High montage I’d post in reply to that.

    1. Yeah, I was pretty nauseous as well, although I don’t think it’s really gaslighting. I don’t think for a minute he thought that I, or anyone, would take the claims in the email seriously.

      1. I interpreted his response as, “You’ve made a big deal about nothing. I wasn’t even talking about your blog.”

        1. Nah. It’s implausible to think he wasn’t referring to my blog, and I don’t think he was pretending otherwise. I think he was pretending that, because he didn’t actually name my blog, he had no obligation to correct or clarify anything in his email to the AMT community. Obviously, I disagree.

          1. Ahh, I see. That makes sense. Ugh, this whole scenario really makes me mad. Thanks for all you’ve done to follow up and update us on this matter.

  3. Re: “I think he was pretending that, because he didn’t actually name my blog, he had no obligation to correct or clarify anything in his email to the AMT community.”

    My understanding is different:
    He knows that nothing in your blog contains misstatements of fact and misinformation, but is too small a man to admit this, either to you or the AMT community.

  4. This is disgraceful. As a former participant in the AMT’s Olympiad programs, I am sorely disappointed at the rise of this kind of nonsense and hope that the AMT will return to its focus on excellence and the provision of high-quality mathematics education.

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