Stanford Professor Wins ‘Nobel Prize’ of Computer Science World

Professor Jeffrey Ullman sat in his Stanford University office and absentmindedly twirled a tuft of his white hair as he contemplated what constitutes a “home run” in the computer science world.

He’s not sure the two 1970s textbooks he co-wrote qualifies, but many of his peers and the powers-that-be in computer science disagree. Ullman was recently awarded the industry’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize, called the A.M. Turing Award, named for Alan M. Turing, who decrypted Nazi communications using the Enigma cipher during World War II. The award is given by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) to those who helped propel the industry into a new era, and Ullman helped author textbooks and other works that did that.

“What can I say? It's a nice thing to win,” Ullman told San Jose Inside over Zoom. “I guess I am suffering a little bit from imposter syndrome. If you look at the things for which the Turing Award has previously been awarded, it’s for hitting a home run. The [textbooks], to me, represent a lot of singles; they didn't disappear into oblivion, but they didn't really revolutionize the world the way some of the recent ideas [did].”

His acceptance means he’s joined the ranks of those who figured out how to make the World Wide Web or blazed a CGI-powered trail in Pixar films.

But the award also set off a controversy that may change how the A.M. Turing Award honoree is vetted and chosen in the future.

The spotlight on Ullman brought to the fore some of his controversial political opinions published on his now-deleted Stanford webpage that some say are racially and culturally insensitive. The postings called into question Iranian students’ loyalties, intentions and abilities amid the decades-long, oil-driven U.S.-Iran crisis—a stance he defends to this day. He also seemed to rationalize land theft from Native Americans as par for the course in human history, in which more technologically advanced civilizations overtake others.

Unlike Ullman, fellow industry academics and professionals didn’t question whether his technical contributions to computer science warranted the award. Many did ask, however, whether the ACM’s process for choosing its honoree is holistic or transparent enough, particularly after a year of reckoning over racial justice, paired with calls for greater diversity, equity and inclusion in the tech industry.

More than 1,000 people—primarily from the computer science industry and academia—signed a letter urging the ACM to take into account its own code of ethics and stance on diversity while picking winners in the future. The association now says it will rethink its nomination and decision process before the next award is announced.

‘Fundamental Singles’

But even before the outcry, Ullman had a muted reaction to the $1 million prize he and his co-author Alfred Aho, a retired professor in New York, will share.

The soft-spoken professor has worked at Stanford for more than four decades and describes the work the ACM is recognizing as “dumbing down” information from the most abstruse, and lifting it up from coding “recipes.” Their contributions ultimately sped up the process of writing and translating code, eventually becoming a teaching standard.

The books, called The Design and Analysis of Computer Algorithms and Principles of Compiler Design laid bare foundations of how humans’ code is translated so computers understand its Python, C++ or Java instructions in a process called compiling. Today, the latter book is colloquially known as “the dragon book” for its fantastical, colorful covers.

Suzanna Schmeelk, an assistant professor at St. John's University Queens Campus, who started using the books 20 years ago and also studied under Aho while at Columbia, says Aho and Ullman’s ideas were fundamental in compiler theory.

“These books, even though they are somewhat singles, they're fundamental singles,” Schmeelk said. “Everybody reads that textbook if they want to graduate with that degree, and that's around the world. … Pretty much, you walk in a Silicon Valley headquarters [or one] in Manhattan and you'll run into a picture of either Ullman or Aho.”

Ullman graduated from Columbia University and earned his doctorate at Princeton University, where he also taught. He then worked a short tenure at Bell Labs. The 78-year-old retired professor admits he’s just trying to put one foot ahead of the other while balancing the influx of interviews, calls and meetings about receiving the A.M. Turing Award.

He is still actively publishing work with his students, adding to his library of hundreds, if not thousands, of authored publications. He also teaches one class, which was kickstarted by students and is designed to tackle societal issues, from regulation of social media posts to President Donald Trump’s campaign’s fundraising techniques.

Trouble Ahead

The first signs that some may have a problem with Ullman receiving the award came March 31, when Pooya Hatami, an assistant professor of computer science at Ohio State University, wrote a Twitter thread about Ullman’s controversial postings. Timnit Gebru, an AI ethicist who was forcibly ousted from Google in 2020, chimed in, boosting the conversation’s reach throughout an industry in which she’s become a leading advocate for improving inclusion.

The conversation also reached Mohammad Hajiaghayi, a computer science professor at University of Maryland, College Park who dreamed of being one of Ullman’s students after reading the professor’s books while he was still in high school. He wasn’t accepted to Stanford and admits he wondered at the time whether it was because he is Iranian.

Today, Hajiaghayi, an ACM Fellow, is one of the signatories asking the association to change its processes.

“In the letter I signed, there is nothing about getting the award back; his scientific contributions deserved that award, I don’t have any doubts on that,” said Hajiaghayi, who is an ACM Fellow. “But I think he should consider that if he has done some harm from an opinion, apologize and possibly compensate for that. I believe that's a good outcome if it happens.”

Hajiaghayi is not defending any government, he says, but rather trying to defend the people caught in the middle.

“You're entitled and completely free to have your opinions, but as a corporation, ACM is responsible to its members and the values it has,” Hajiaghayi said. “If these values are not kept, then I believe ACM cannot support them. I think it's a very fair thing.”

The buzz about Ullman’s opinions also became a “big flap” among Stanford faculty—that’s where he first caught wind of the reaction, he said. Ullman said he’s not opposed to ACM’s views on diversity and inclusion and doesn’t blame ACM if they disassociate his views from the organization, but he is concerned about freedom of speech.

“I question myself whether I deserve the award, but that's got nothing at all to do with what I think about the government of Iran,” Ullman said. “If the risk that somebody might be offended trumps your ability to say what you want in a nonthreatening, appropriate manner, that’s rather scary. … There will always be somebody who doesn't agree and will twist it as an attack on them.”

Indeed, the conversation thus far hasn’t swayed the professor. Though many peers, colleagues and strangers disagree, Ullman stands by his opinion that the United States should sanction Iran from accepting its students until the government changes, similar to how folks most recently are boycotting the state of Georgia for passing restrictive voter laws.

“I’m not going to back down,” Ullman said. “I think the government of Iran is horrible. Like any religious fundamentalist government, it harms its people and knows no bounds on the kind of mayhem it can support.”

38 Comments

  1. He also seemed to rationalize land theft from Native Americans as par for the course in human history, in which more technologically advanced civilizations overtake others. — Katie Lauer

    There can be only two excuses for writing a sentence like the above: confusion about the definition of the word rationalize, or absolute ignorance of human history.

    The natives of the Americas were destined for doom the moment humans first took to the sea, for sea travel would eventually extinguish the isolation upon which their cultures were rooted; an isolation that protected them from foreign aggression, freed them of the technology arms race, and allowed them to thrive living a primitive existence. They were, no matter had the usurpers come from Europe or the Far East, ripe for the pickings. Human history had doomed them, just as it did the Neanderthals, just as it now threatens to do to rational thinkers in America.

  2. No one cares about Ullman’s opinion of Iran’s “government”, and he clearly trying to change the subject. The whole controversy is around Ullman advocating banning Iranian *students* to the US.

    Ironically, he got the award due to his “educational service”. Would a teacher get a best teacher award, if they say they do not want anything to do with Black students? I hope not.

    Look at how he talks about Iranians here https://bit.ly/3tYB6nj :
    “They usually have a Hotmail account or Yahoo mail account; some even managed to get a gmail.”
    “they [Iranians] give themselves, and Islamic terrorists in general, a free pass”
    “Iranians, from their president on down, could use a history lesson”
    “Question [by Iranians]: Can I get into Stanford? Answer [by Ullman]: Probably not.”
    “even if I were in a position to help, I will not help Iranian students”

    Would someone be celebrated for their educational services, if they said these things about women who contacted them to get help for education? Would they still quality as a decent teacher, let alone a great one that should be celebrated by the whole community?

  3. “Would a teacher get a best teacher award, if they say they do not want anything to do with Black students?” — Mohammad Mahmoody

    Based on the quotes included in the comment and a quick read of the linked document, it is preposterous to analogize Ullman’s behavior toward the Iranian student as equal to that of a teacher who refuses to teach black students. First of all, this online exchange was between Ullman and a stranger, who only may have been a student, only may have been Iranian, and only may have had a legitimate interest in attending Stanford. Second, to the question “Can I get into Stanford,” Ullman responded, “Probably not. At least I can’t help you.” His answer, which was prejudicially edited, he explained was based on his having no say in admissions. Third, the stranger with whom he was communicating was clearly engaged in a bait and switch operation, turning a discussion ostensibly about the university into a provocative interrogatory about Israeli politics (with a pro-Israel Jew).

    The real question, at least from my perspective, is exactly what is to be gained by Iranian-Americans, or anyone else for that matter, waging a war against a fellow American for having exercised his free speech rights? Professon Ullman expressed an opinion (keeping students from America’s enemies out of American universities) that was shared by millions of others, few of whom bothered to qualify their opinion, as he did, by attributing his position to the politics of the nation, not the character of the students. The irony is obvious: the professor who objected to magnanimous treatment for the sons and daughters of a fundamentalist enemy state is now being subjected, by that state’s sons and daughters here, to a fundamentalist campaign of character assassination.

    Could it be Professor Ullman was wrong in seeing the fundamentalist mentality as something confined to the state? Based on this incident that would seem to be the case, but he shouldn’t let getting it wrong on this matter affect his celebration of the award.

  4. @Phu Tan Elli,

    Ullman’s long track record of discriminatory words and behaviors against Iranian national students is well-known in the Iranian and Iranian-American communities and in fact, at Stanford CS itself. Many faculty and alumni of Stanford CS themselves have criticized and distanced themselves from his behavior on Twitter. Even among the 10-member Turing Award Committee that selected Ullman, 2 members (including a Turing Award laureate) released public statements on Facebook rejecting Ullman’s views/behavior. Another prior Turing Award laureate did so too.

    The above said, it is true that the precise negative impact of Ullman’s behaviors on Stanford CS admissions is still an open question. Ideally a court of law would check if federal law was violated there and a subpoena issued to Stanford CS to divulge process details and admission statistics. Hopefully time will tell what really went on there.

    Just as Ullman has free speech rights to voice his opinions (no matter how egregious), all other US persons also have free speech rights under the First Amendment to truthfully criticize or condemn whoever, especially in this case when the person has abused his power and platform to engage in egregiously discriminatory words/behavior against students of an entire national group. This is how freedom of speech rolls. No one is exempt from rightful criticism. Of course, whoever wants to celebrate is still free to do so.

    In fact, Ullman himself is free to campaign for an outright ban on all Iranians (or whichever other nationality) coming to the US–BUT that policy decision is the prerogative of the elected federal government in the US, not that of Ullman or Stanford CS. Ullman must follow due process under the law for such a campaign, e.g., lobbying the federal government officials. No one is allowed to “take the law into their own hands” so to speak. Certainly Ullman’s views/behaviors contradict ACM’s own stated commitment to “diversity and inclusion.” That is squarely what that petition linked in the article seems to focus on–on ACM’s inconsistency in their own policies.

    Finally, your opinion on the treatment of Native Americans is a form of genocide-apologia rooted in Social Darwinism. And that is precisely what Ullman’s opinion on that matter is too. The Nazis too used such a position to justify their Holocaust. If you care about humanity not killing itself to extinction, you may want to educate yourself about it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Darwinism Of course, you are also also free to not care about it, ignore genocides, etc. Regardless, the reporter’s statement on this count is perfectly fine as is.

  5. Concerned Scientist: Ullman’s long track record of discriminatory words and behaviors against Iranian national students is well-known in the Iranian and Iranian-American communities and in fact, at Stanford CS itself.

    Response: What behavior? I’d assumed that had the professor done something other than voice his opinion, that essential fact would’ve been detailed by his detractors. Please, if the man did something outside of exercise his free speech rights, inform us.

    Concerned Scientist: Even among the 10-member Turing Award Committee that selected Ullman, 2 members (including a Turing Award laureate) released public statements on Facebook rejecting Ullman’s views/behavior. Another prior Turing Award laureate did so too.

    Response: These days cancel-paranoid and spineless academics start their day by checking the political climate and then searching for a fellow American to condemn for voicing, or having once voiced, an opinion currently out of favor. Academics seem to be in a race with journalists to see which vocation can be the first to squander its last bit of credibility with the public.

    Concerned Scientist: The above said, it is true that the precise negative impact of Ullman’s behaviors on Stanford CS admissions is still an open question. Ideally a court of law would check if federal law was violated there and a subpoena issued to Stanford CS to divulge process details and admission statistics. Hopefully time will tell what really went on there.

    Response: To engage the judiciary in a search for such harm is to turn the judicial system on its head. It is established harm, that perceptible to a reasonable man, that engages our court system, not the possibility of existence. What you appear to want is not a court of law but an Ayatollah of political correctness.

    Concerned Scientist: “all other US persons also have free speech rights… This is how freedom of speech rolls.”

    Response: I’m surprised a scientist would address an issue not in dispute. Nowhere in my comment did I challenge anyone’s rights, but I guess the urge to lecture got the better of you.

    Concerned Scientist: In fact, Ullman himself is free to campaign for an outright ban on all Iranians (or whichever other nationality) coming to the US–BUT that policy decision is the prerogative of the elected federal government in the US, not that of Ullman or Stanford CS.

    Response: Since I’ve seen no evidence that Professor Ullman did anything other than voice his opinion I have to conclude that the petitioners equated his speaking out as an attempt to usurp government authority. This is a weird, foreign perspective. The policies of our government are supposed to reflect the wants of its citizens, and free speech is essential in communicating those wants.

    Concerned Scientist: Finally, your opinion on the treatment of Native Americans is a form of genocide-apologia rooted in Social Darwinism.

    Response: A laughable analysis. My opinion on the issue, as stated, is that Native Americans were doomed by human behavior, the same opportunistic behavior that took mankind out of Africa, brought the 49ers to California (from all over the world), and continues to bring foreigners to America. Social Darwinism is a specious term, conjured up by political activists posing as scientists (the same clowns who saddled generations of Americans with their asinine Blank Slate Theory).

    Concerned Scientist: Of course, you are also also free to not care about it, ignore genocides, etc.

    Response: I accept your professional, scientific opinion: I am evil incarnate.

  6. “The natives of the Americas were destined for doom the moment humans first took to the sea, for sea travel would eventually extinguish the isolation upon which their cultures were rooted; an isolation that protected them from foreign aggression, freed them of the technology arms race, and allowed them to thrive living a primitive existence.” – Phu Tan Elli

    There can be only two excuses for writing a sentence like the above: absolute ignorance of human history or outright stupidity. The alternative explanation is a racist world view that seeks to reduce Native Americans to the status of “primitives”. Phu Tan Elli seems to be ignorant of the sheer size of the Americas and the great diversity of Native American cultures. Their cultures (and there were, and still are, many) were no more “rooted in isolation” than those of Scotland, Spain or Italy. We can legitimately lament rapacious destruction of human lives and human cultures without offering absurd excuses for the disgusting behavior of our own tribes.

  7. @Phu Tan Elli,

    Sigh. Your opinion on Social Darwinism already speaks volumes. Thank you for exposing yourself. I will stop with this. You are free to continue your rants.

    No, I see no “cancel-paranoid” BS here. You are making a Strawman. All I see is people using their First Amendment rights to rightfully criticize Ullman and ACM, just as Ullman used his to trample on students. Your argument is self-contradictory. Read the US Constitution. You might learn something.

    You are not a court of law. I will defer to the opinion of an actual court of law if they analyze and conclude Ullman’s (legitimately questionable) negative impact on Stanford CS admissions, a concern voiced by many Stanford CS alumni and faculty, was just an unsubstantiated accusation and not actual illegal behavior.

    Regardless of all the above, much of the criticism I see is aimed at ACM’s obliviousness and hypocrisy, including the demands in that petition I see. They are all perfectly valid. ACM themselves replied in a way admitting mea culpa. You are free to disagree with ACM but you are not ACM.

  8. Rolo,

    Where is the evidence of my “ignorance” of the size of the Americas or the diversity of its native peoples? There is none. You made it up, which was only the first clue as to the depth of your cluelessness. To even suggest that the isolation that affected Native Americans, a isolation of some ten thousand plus years that can be tested and proved by DNA, was no different than that of Scotland (disproved by relatively-recent Viking DNA), Spain (disproved by relatively-recent Moorish DNA), or Italy (disproved by relatively-recent Greek DNA), cements your ignorance.

    Your need to lament the behavior of your tribal ancestors does not qualify as proof their behavior was unique, avoidable, or in any way unnatural. All it does is identify you as one of the brainwashed, duped into a hatred of your people that serves the purposes of others who are as opportunistic today as were the worst of your ancestors of post-Columbian America. That’s not to say that your self-flagellation deserves prohibition, just not publication.

  9. “All I see is people using their First Amendment rights to rightfully criticize Ullman and ACM, just as Ullman used his to trample on students.” — Concerned Scientist

    So now you’re claiming that Professor Ullman somehow harmed a Stanford student, which leads me to question how his “precise negative impact” is “still an open question” — as you stated earlier? Real harm equals quantifiable negative impact, so how can the question be open? If the man harmed a Stanford student simply present the student, detail the harm done, win the debate and shut me up.

    Somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen. You seem to much more skilled at being pompous than you are at producing evidence.

  10. @Phu Tan Elli,

    I am only responding once more because I sense you are still interested in educating yourself more about this matter. Not all of us have as much time/energy as you seem to. Read this detailed public article circulating on Twitter if you are interested in learning more about this matter: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Hb6ae_lqzSXUsKa5oXNASbIhi-4WhVqK/view

    As for the real and possible harms caused by Ullman, there are 2 separate but related issues here:

    (1) Ullman’s violation of the diversity and inclusion (D&I) “core values” of ACM (https://www.acm.org/about-acm/mission-vision-values-goals). This is based on his long track record of caustic speech/behaviors discriminating against Iranian national students, both in Iran and at Stanford. ACM’s response shows they concur with this concern. Some Award committee members do too, as do all those signatories.

    Ullman is certainly entitled to such caustic speech under the First Amendment. But the issue is in ACM turning a blind eye to the negative impact of that on D&I in computing. So, your argument holds water if you direct your criticism at ACM for making D&I a “core value,” not at those rightfully criticizing ACM’s blatant inconsistency.

    (2) Ullman’s negative influence on Stanford CS admissions campaigning to “ban” Iranian students. This may be a gray area. I myself am yet to see conclusive evidence, only anecdotes and allegations. Hence my statement about subpoena and court of law. It could help reveal the full truth: admissions proceedings, statistics, etc. that a court can use to verify if Title VII was violated or not (“protection from discrimination on the basis of … national origin”). This is separate from issue (1) above vis-a-vis ACM. This is a Stanford-only issue, not an ACM issue.

    PS: “Pompous”: gratuitous ad hominem but I will take it as a compliment, thank you. I will spare you a reciprocal ad hominem and stop here.

  11. Concerned Scientist: Not all of us have as much time/energy as you seem to.

    Response: You’re assuming I’ve invested more time and energy into this than have you, a not very scientific assumption based on facts not in evidence. Actually, I can argue this simple issue as fast as I can type, which is pretty fast.

    Concerned Scientist: Ullman’s violation of the diversity and inclusion (D&I) “core values” of ACM.

    Response: Is the goal of diversity and inclusion intended to be unconditional? Must ACM members stifle their concerns about the risks posed by enemy nations, up to and including spying, sabotage, and terror? What about war? Would it be incumbent upon Professor Ullman to invite students from Communist China to Stanford even if America was at war with China? To posture as if diversity and Inclusion was a moral imperative, as is decency and integrity, instead of a generalized goal is fraudulent.

    Concerned Scientist: Ullman’s negative influence on Stanford CS admissions campaigning to “ban” Iranian students. This may be a gray area.

    Response: Your admission that you’ve yet to see “conclusive evidence, only anecdotes and allegations” is response enough.

    By the way, referring to you, or anyone else who continues to offer “to educate” his adversary, as being pompous was not meant as an ad hominem attack but merely as an attempt to educate you as to how you are perceived.

  12. Again, read my earlier response. Any nation is free to ban whatever other nationals with due process–in the US this policy is the prerogative of the elected federal government, not an individual professor effectively taking the law into his own hands and egregiously discriminating against students legally permitted to study in the US. The federal government has many qualified agencies who monitor and prevent the sorts of threats you list.

    ACM is an international learned society and their awards are international, not American. If you doubt what ACM means by “diversity and inclusion” and how they operationalize it, ask ACM. They effectively distanced themselves from this nomination and reasonably so. You are free to disagree with ACM’s assessments either way and complain to them, just as that petition did on two specific counts.

  13. what a joke

    anyone who spends five minutes in tech know Persian, Iranians however you classify crush. Any isolation is strictly political and a function of geopolitics and a confused US foreign policy, not rasssismmm. No one thinks Iranians are any less than anyone else.

  14. What is up with all these strawman arguments in the comments about “woke”, “racism”, etc.? Nowhere does the article claim Ullman is “racist” nor does that petition claim so nor does ACM. Besides, “racism” is not the only form of egregious and potentially illegal discrimination.

    People need to educate themselves about Title VII and Title VI, especially this:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_Rights_Act_of_1964#Title_VI%E2%80%94nondiscrimination_in_federally_assisted_programs
    “… discrimination on the ground … national origin shall not occur in connection with programs and activities receiving Federal financial assistance”

    Statistics tallied by Iranian-American faculty seem to show that almost zero students were admitted from Iran by Stanford CS in a decade, in all likelihood due to Ullman’s negative impact. Dozens of those very students were admitted by equally competitive MIT, Berkeley, and even Stanford EE!!

    Something smells really rotten here. I hope ACLU drag’s Stanford ass to a court of law to get to the bottom of all this and reveal the world what really went on. Stanford receives federal funding and is answerable on whether they violated federal law or not.

  15. “I hope ACLU drag’s Stanford ass to a court of law to get to the bottom of all this and reveal the world what really went on.”– Concerned Scientist

    Who knew Iranians possessed American Civil Liberties? Learn something everyday.

  16. To @Concerned Scientist, do you know how many Indians, Latinos and people of other races have graduated from Stanford CS under Ullman? Does Diversity & Inclusion only involve Iranians?
    Why is it so difficult to understand that the issue is not about race but about political affiliations. Prof Ullman was claiming that Iran’s political climate is antithetical to US values and your strength would be better directed at the Iranian Regime, but I guess thats too difficult to imagine. From what I read, He was in his replies asking a very simple question? Do you reprimand and admonish the brutal Iranian Regime and their political bend ?
    There is a difference between that and saying all Iranians are _____ (Use your imagination)

  17. @Phu Tan Elli,

    The logical conclusion of Ullman’s actions and Stanford’s inaction is that any federal-funded university is free to arbitrarily discriminate against students of any nationality they “dislike” during admissions (e.g., Israelis, French, Chinese, etc.) even if the US federal government legally permits such nationals to enter the US for education. That is the ambiguity I’d like to see a court of law to settle. How the federal government’s money is (mis)used is certainly under the purview of US law. Now, Stanford may very well be free to discriminate in such manners as a private organization–only if they stop receiving any federal funding (e.g., research grants, contracts, etc.).

    Regardless, I think I have made myself very clear on separating two issues here: ACM and Stanford. The former is of wide interest in the international computing community. That is now settled by ACM itself. The latter is still an open question but it is likely of narrower interest to US policy people. If the US Supreme Court rules that discrimination by a federally-funded university as stated above is legal, sure, I will consider the latter settled too.

    @Boroline,

    Again, see my earlier comment on Strawman arguments on “race”. The discrimination here is on “national origin”, also a protected category in federal civil rights law. Also see my comment above on discrimination on the basis of national origin by a federally-funded university.

    Yes, the Islamic Republic of Iran absolutely deserves to be condemned for its egregious human rights violations, as well as many other nasty policies, including the anti-Israel policies that Ullman rightfully condemns. AFAIK many Iranian-Americans themselves want to see the Islamic Republic gone, similar to Cuban-Americans and the Cuban regime. Ironically, that set includes many who were once subject to Ullman’s toxic discrimination as students.

    Yes, Ullman deserves praise for his intellectual contributions and for nurturing talents among all those nationalities and ethnicities/races you list. But that is not a free pass for him to take the law into his own hands to discriminate like this against students of a specific national group (who do not even have power over their nation’s regime). This is precisely why non-discrimination protection/laws exist in the US–it is for the US federal government to decide if students from Iran (or any other nation for that matter) must be “banned” altogether. Why is this so hard for people to see?

  18. @Concerned Scientist, I think I understand your comments now. You want to censure another professor because your feelings were hurt? That’s it, isn’t it?
    I’m not sure you understand how democracy works but that’s a price we pay to live together. Torturing someone because your feelings cant handle it belong to the 19th century. Ullman never once claimed to have absolute right over admissions to Stanford, in fact he’s claimed quite the opposite. I also think you’ve not understood the subtlety of the argument. Let’s say 2 students apply to Stanford one from Iran and another from India and Ullman has the final say (not likely). The student from Iran has equally good credentials but recommendations from a prof who has openly declared his hatred for the USA and the Indian student has recommendations from a professor Ullman has worked with in the past. Who would Ullman choose? Why do you think? Is this discrimination?
    Your cause isnt that difficult to pursue either, Ever heard of Judge Nahal Iravani? Persian Stanford educated. She will throw out your suit in seconds or you could ask Hamid Mogadham for intervention.
    ACM is cowering to political nonsense and pandering to the wrong crowd, not the first time.
    There is no discrimination mate, it’s a professor who is free to state his opinion and keep his professional responsibilities separate.

  19. @Concerned Scientist, damn autocorrect, I meant censor not censure. Also a colleague just pointed out that the Supreme Court has repeatedly provided colleges great latitude in selecting it’s students based on combination of factors among them, guess what, race. See Grutter v Bollinger, Fisher v UoT 2013, 2016.
    I really think you need a refresher of how a democracy works.

  20. @Boroline,

    Meh, your comments/non-arguments on “censor”, “feelings”, “torturing”, “democracy” are all just yet more cheap strawman arguments, ad hominems, and/or irrelevant rants that are not useful for discussing the crux of the issues here. Are you just failing to see the issues or are you maliciously (and obviously unsuccessfully) trying to distort and mislead? I do not need a refresher on how democracy works, but you clearly need a refresher on how logic works.

    Your subsequent comments on academic freedom and relevant case precedents are far more pertinent and interesting. Let us consider those more deeply. Where is the line between a professor’s academic freedom to admit students based on __legitimate academic factors__ vs an entire department insidiously “soft” banning an entire group of students based on a federally protected category (such as “national origin”) as Stanford CS seems to have done here? The US Supreme Court verdict on usage of “race” (also a protected category) as a factor in admissions is a relevant precedent too. But there is a false equivalence here: the court said that race-conscious admissions are legal due to the merits of inclusion, not egregious exclusion like this sort of soft-banning of a whole group.

    Is there a post-Civil Rights Supreme Court verdict saying a federally-funded university in Stanford’s equivalence class can outright exclude an entire protected category (e.g., “race” Blacks, or “national origin” Israelis, or “religion” Christians) via such insidious banning mechanisms? I doubt there is one. But your argument means universities are free to engage in such bans. This is precisely the ambiguity I’d like to see settled by an actual court of law. You are not a court of law. But your references on the relevant cases are indeed appreciated; thank you for those.

    Also, see this new op-ed in the Stanford Daily. https://www.stanforddaily.com/2021/05/12/op-ed-the-2020-acm-turing-award-is-a-step-against-diversity-equity-and-inclusion/ It seems Ullman and Stanford CS may have violated Stanford’s own stated policies! The statistics shown there are also quite telling. Is Stanford simply going to ignore all these concerns and bury their head in the sand?

    And these last two assertions by you are both clearly false:

    – “free to state his opinion and keep his professional responsibilities separate”:
    Ullman failed to separate them! That is precisely the issue here. Ullman is certainly free to hold and speak such opinions in private capacity under the First Amendment. But he brought his discriminatory words and actions into professional, academic, and even ACM conference contexts, including the official Stanford website, Stanford-affiliated emails with students asking about research/textbooks/etc., and inhumane treatment of students/scholars from Iran in academic and conference contexts. All this is undoubtedly unprofessional, unethical, and underserving of high honors without disclaimers from ACM, which claims to value “diversity and inclusion” and champion “professional” and “ethical” behaviors in computing. Why is this so hard for people to see?

    – “There is no discrimination mate”:
    Go educate yourself by reading all those articles linked in the whole thread above. Ullman’s actions, not just words, are all undoubtedly “discrimination” against a group based on “national origin.” Again, go see that CSForInclusion petition, the response from ACM, that Stanford Daily op-end, the statements from the prior Turing laureates (including Goldwasser, an Israeli-American who was on this very Turing Award Committee), etc. The only open question now is whether the “discrimination” Ullman committed violates US Civil Rights law. As I said earlier, this open question is more of a concern for Stanford and US policy folks and of less interest to the international computing community, which is what ACM represents.

  21. @Concerned Scientist, strawman is your favorite word, innit? This is what you are saying: I buy a house with some mortgage grant, US decides to admit some folks of Iran, I should now allow them into my house because your feelings will get hurt? This would’ve worked in Iran.
    There has to be a state interest based on the principle of strict scrutiny. You are really ignorant mate !!!

  22. @Boroline,

    Nah, people spout many logical fallacies, including the one you did again. 8) You statement on “allow them into my house” is a false equivalence fallacy. Private/individual decisions are different from __institutions__ receiving official federal funding. As I said before, if Stanford stops receiving federal funding, the argument ends. And what is up with you and “feelings”? Stop the ad hominems, “mate.” 8)

    I may be ignorant of relevant case precedents, which you are clearly knowledgeable in, but you are also clearly ignorant of logic.

    Let me re-emphasize the gravity of the situation at hand, which you are still (maliciously?) ignoring. What Stanford CS has done is a gross abuse of academic freedom to commit discrimination against a group of applicants on the basis of “national origin” by arrogantly overruling US federal authorities. It is possibly also a violation of federal civil rights law. You argument is that US universities are free to surreptitiously discriminate like this against any foreign nationality, e.g., Israelis, and likely on other protected attributes too, e.g. religion, race, etc., during admissions.

    I’d like a court of law, hopefully ultimately the Supreme Court, to settle this dangerous ambiguity on the line between academic freedom and discrimination on the basis of a protected category as above. Stanford CS must present in court the full truth of their admissions statistics, admissions proceedings, Ullman’s internal arm twisting (intimidating?) emails, etc. The court must compare with other universities’ statistics on the most qualified applicants from Iran across those decades.

    So far, Stanford CS and Stanford University have said absolutely NOTHING on this matter! This is even after the massive outcry in the computing world, statements by so many past Turing Award laureates, statement by ACM itself, etc. I suspect Stanford is “pleading the fifth” out of fear. Why wouldn’t they? After all, what is at stake is a possible loss of federal funding and/or huge fines and/or damage to their reputation.

    What Stanford CS and Stanford University are failing to realize is that saying nothing too is already damaging their reputation. Many people are surmising that this deafening silence–even after ACM itself spoke–is a strong indicator (but not proof) of culpability. Stanford CS is likely hiding nasty skeletons on this issue. You are clearly surmising differently, and you are free to do so. But it does not mean you are correct. I did not claim I am correct either on whether Stanford CS violated the law. We all have a right to ask questions, especially on grave issues of discrimination such as this case, especially when the evidence seems so strong.

    Anyway, I will close with the following. I hope you too can (eventually) see this issue for what it is. US universities are not above the (federal) law. They are not free to arbitrarily discriminate on the basis of “national origin” overruling federal authorities. The US is a nation of laws. Due process matters. Given the immense profile and dangerous implications of this issue for civil rights as outlined above, I think it deserves its day in court–unless perhaps Stanford speaks clearly and convincingly to answer on all the evidence, outcry, condemnation, etc. They caused this huge mess. I hope they have the honesty and courage to come clean. Otherwise, Stanford will carry this stain forever. If this issue goes to court and Stanford CS is held not guilty (as you are arguing), I will be happy to consider this issue closed and move on, even if I (and a huge section of the computing community) still view what Ullman and Stanford CS did as being unprofessional and unethical.

  23. @Concerned Scientist
    I re-iterate and perhaps this can help you. US has had a long and questionable history with African American races, it is in this context that there is a state interest in supporting their cause at, sometimes regrettable, detriment consequences to other races.
    Is there a state interest in supporting students from Iran access to technology? That perhaps US DoD has funded and developed? Do you want me to answer that ? read about OFAC sanctions.
    I’ve already pointed two allies to your cause, one of them is Judge Nahal Iravani. You will be sure to get a “Just” and “Sympathetic” hearing with the judge. I’m also equally certain that your suit will get thrown within minutes. Instead of arguing with me, why not try your hand there?
    Better still, if you had spent even 10% of the effort, you spend in censoring American Professors, in lobbying with Iran to improve their ties to Israel it would’ve been worth it.
    There are two rebuttals to your posit,
    First Ullman has absolute sway over admissions to Stanford and should be punished. This would’ve been possible in Iran with its obsequious departments, not here. Really, really educate yourself on how democracy works. Many a times the decision goes against you to your chagrin, but I’ve learnt since childhood to take it on my chin.
    Second, and most important, its Stanford’s prerogative who it admits and who it doesn’t. Your stats and questionable articles are meaningless. Dont like it? Take it to court !!!
    Your lobbying and articles everywhere only imply that maybe you are also aware that your hollow arguments will likely loose in a court, hence the political pressure to harass this professor, because you dont like what he said !!!!

  24. @Boroline,

    Thank you for the elaboration. I see no more major logical fallacies; so, that is progress. This is is why I kept arguing/discussing. What you are offering now are rationalizations for Ullman’s discrimination and Stanford’s inactions. You are free to speak those, just as others are free to speak their criticisms. To call such legitimately critical speech as “harass this professor” or “censor” is malicious hyperbole. Go read the First Amendment. No one is “censoring” Ullman–he even gave a frickin’ interview above! You are the one aiming to “censor” legitimate criticism. And the only “harassment” here is what Ullman committed against many students who asked him only about research/textbooks/academics/etc. I worry about the negative impact of all this on US academia; you are free not to.

    What we have reached now is a (reasonable) stalemate. The illegality question remains open, and we agree only a court of law can settle it. But regardless of the illegality question, Stanford will live with the stain of endorsing such unethical, unprofessional, and anti-inclusion behavior by their faculty and now continuing to stay silent, which to many indicates culpability.

    Your comments on “political pressure”, “don’t like”, etc. are more strawman and ad hominems, albeit less interesting; so, I will ignore those. Some responses on your other major claims:

    – “Ullman has absolute sway over admissions to Stanford”.
    Partially agree, not absolute sway. But you seem ignorant of how academic department dynamics work. A very senior, very famous faculty member like Ullman with such a long track record of discriminatory words/actions could have intimidated other faculty, including admissions committee, on this issue. There is a real risk it was not a “democracy” but rather an “oligarchy” with the intent of subverting federal law to achieve Ullman’s ulterior aim on soft-banning Iranians students as I explained earlier. This risk can only be ruled out if Stanford CS comes clean on admissions proceedings from those decades.

    – “Stanford’s prerogative who it admits and who it doesn’t”
    Agree, but with the caveat that they cannot violate federal civil rights laws if they want to keep receiving federal funding.

    – “state interest in supporting students from Iran access to technology”
    This is a matter of US federal government policy, not of interest to me. They decided the US academia/economy/military/intelligence/etc. all benefit from allowing Iranian students to legally enter the US for education and join the US economy. If you have a problem with this policy, go lobby the US federal government. But US universities are not free to take the law into their own hands and overrule US federal authority–I am sure even you will agree with this.

  25. @Concerned Scientist
    Again, you have difficulty following arguments. My points have remained consistent and you have gone all over the map.
    Your questions and articles are the point of harassment. At no point did I ever say that your opinions are anti-semitic or racist or bigoted, that would be tantamount to censoring. Do you see the contrast?
    In your reply about Ullman being “distinguished” and “senior”, you forgot to mention “Emeritus” and has been since 2003. Convenience much?
    Its you that needs an education on why, how, where and what an emeritus faculty does. Additionally how much “influence” someone has on admissions.
    My original assessment remains valid, your “feelings” were hurt and nobody taught you how to deal with it. Apart from that nothing criminal to see here. You are free to pursue this legally, but I bet this is what happened: you guys have a clique and lost all bonkers when Ullman was honored, you then discussed about ways to create a storm in a teacup without humiliating yourselves hence the delay.
    Is it really that bad growing up in Iran? Nobody teaches you how to be an adult? What works in a democracy? On Why sometimes your feelings will get hurt because you might be plain wrong? On why it is wrong to hurt another person because your feelings cant handle it?
    Again the person you can pursue this with is Judge. Nahal Iravani, atleast I will start respecting you

  26. @Boroline,

    Sigh, there you go again with your silly ad hominems, strawman, and hyperbole. I ain’t wasting more time with all that.

    All are free to ask questions and criticize. Your desperate unsuccessful attempts to (maliciously) distort and mislead will not work. Like I said, if this issue goes to court, the world will know the full facts. It it does not, until Stanford speaks clearly without prevarication, these legitimate suspicions will keep haunting them. End of story.

  27. @Concerned Scientist, Despite having a tough workload the only reason I’m patiently engaging with you is because I suspect you are either younger or ignorant or emotional and this is a teachable moment. All other methods, historically, have proven counter-productive. Pay close attention to the next bit, you might learn something.
    A history lesson is befitting. Stanford was a liberal arts bastion, the kind you associated with tree-huggers, artists and poets. Only in the past 30 years or so, with the advent of silicon valley has it amassed some sort of a reputation. Since then there has been a sort of a competition among various people-groups to get into Stanford. They, meaning Stanford, have been accused of discrimination in admissions atleast 7-8 times in the past 30 years and all those times it turned out to be a case of sour grapes. The earliest was Asian-Americans in 1980’s or so. To that end this is not Stanford’s first rodeo and I have no doubt your case will meet similar ends. You and your suspect articles asked why there were little-to-no Iranians in Stanford CS, what about Iraqis? Syrians? Libyans? Mongolians? Congolese? Eritreans? you get the drift?
    Most American wards know you will get an equally well education if not better at one of the U of Illinois system or even Duke without paying a pretty dollar. Anyone who has attended Ullman’s lectures will attest.
    Secondly, and most importantly, most folks naturalize as American Citizens after getting a green card and waiting for 5 years, or through a spouse in 3 years, or in rare cases almost immediately on joining the defense forces. With no loss of generality, when you naturalize as an American, you swear an oath of allegiance to US and its values, US’s enemies become your enemies, your ties to our home country are broken. An Iranian student applying from Iran will at most get a Student Visa (F1) with not the same responsibilities or rights as a citizen. Additionally Iran is a sworn American enemy since 1970’s. One of the conditions of the student visa is that you will return to your country once your studies are over, although many choose to stay back by switching to other visas. In any case, as a potential student your loyalties are suspect. Maybe you want to gain an education at Stanford, per you funded by American taxpayers. Then go back to assist, willingly or forcefully, Iran’s brutal regime in its despotic policies to harm US and its allies or worst harbor misguided feelings of patriotism and work within the US to harm its interests. Do you see the dichotomy? however once you become an American citizen no other ordinary citizen has the basis to question your patriotism. This was the extent of Ullman’s replies, thats how I read them, thats how other folks read them. How you and your ilk got their panties in a twist and made a leap from there to discrimination in Stanford CS admissions is laughable and hilarious. As if desperately trying hard to find something criminal and hoping it sticks. This stems from deep emotional trauma’s and not admission to Stanford nor anything else can help with that insecurity.

  28. @Boroline,

    I concur on the importance of patient discussions. That is why I engaged with you in spite of your ad hominem attacks, as well as false presumptions about one’s background and ignorance of its irrelevance for logical argumentation. I suspect you are either younger/same-aged/older (doesn’t matter either way) or ignorant or malicious and this is a teachable moment. I did pay attention to your detailed comments, and I agree with a lot of what you say in there, except for the following points. Pay close attention to the next bit, you might learn something.

    – “what about Iraqis? Syrians? Libyans? Mongolians? Congolese? Eritreans? you get the drift”

    Apart from the whataboutism fallacy, this is also a false equivalence fallacy. To the extent I know, no senior/famous Stanford CS faculty member went on public discriminatory rants/actions against Iraqis/Syrians/etc. students, nor did the put it on their official Stanford website or Stanford emails nor did they borderline-harass/intimidate Iraqi/Syrian/etc. students in person. You get the drift?

    – “as a potential student your loyalties are suspect”; “As if desperately trying hard to find something criminal and hoping it sticks.”

    As I said repeatedly (which you maliciously keep ignoring), this is a decision __for US federal authorities__ and not for Stanford faculty to arrogate upon themselves, in likely violation of federal civil rights laws (unless Stanford stops receiving federal funding). US federal authorities decide it again and again: for student visa (Will they overstay illegally?), for work visa (Will they aid US enemies, e.g., the Islamic Republic of Iran?), etc.

    Your argument, which mirrors Ullman’s, that US universities are free to apply such egregious “loyalty tests” based on “national origin” is both patently “un-American” and likely to lead to violations of federal civil rights laws. You are aiding and abetting future Bullmans/Banford to soft-ban Israeli applicants, Dullmans/Danford to soft-ban Chinese applicants, Gullmans/Ganford to soft-ban Muslim applicants, etc. Why is this so hard for you to see?

    Again, as I said above, we have reached a stalemate on the illegality question. Why are you wasting your/my time further? Only a court of law can settle this ambiguity, unless of course Stanford comes clean and speaks clearly without prevarication.

    – “you and your ilk got their panties in a twist”; “deep emotional trauma’s”

    Nah, you and your ilk just lost your collective shit that these unprofessional, unethical, discriminatory, and likely-illegal practices at Stanford CS came to light. Due to your “deep emotional trauma” on this being publicly exposed and being subject to legitimate criticism and questioning, you repeatedly employ numerous logical fallacies, obtuse side comments, misleading contortions, and finally rationalizations, all the while ignoring basic facts and dangerous implications of this issue for US academia that are already obvious to many, including in the computing community.

  29. @Boroline,

    This news site is not posting my detailed responses to you comments. So, I will stop with this summary. I did appreciate these patient discussions, which is why I engaged, in spite of your repeated ad hominem attacks, logical fallacies, and irrelevant side comments.

    Your question on those other nationalities is a whataboutism fallacy and a false equivalence fallacy. Did Ullman go on discriminatory rants/actions against them via Stanford website, emails, etc.? No. Did he intimidate students of those nationalities and did they speak up? Not that I know of.

    As I have consistently said, your (non)arguments, which mirror Ullman’s, that US universities can apply “loyalty tests” based on “national origin” is both “un-American” and likely violates federal civil rights law. It is the prerogative of US federal authorities on who to ban. Due to people like you, a future Bullman/Banford may now soft-ban Israeli applicants, Dullmans/Danford may soft-ban Chinese applicants, Gullmans/Ganford may soft-ban Muslim applicants, etc. Do you not care about this? You are maliciously ignoring this obvious implication that is dangerous for US academia.

    Regardless, as I already said, we have a stalemate on the illegality question. That can only be settled by a court of law–unless Stanford comes clean. Why are you wasting your/my time further on that?

    Finally, you want to speak of history lessons? Sure. US history is full of denial of and/or non-enforcement of, “civil rights” for people outside of groups with privilege and wealth–groups likely including you (just returning your ad hominem). If you care about US society and academia, ponder over the implications of your rationalizations and apologia for discrimination. You are on the wrong side of history. But you are free to live in denial.

  30. I’ve been travelling lately, what did I miss? :)
    I made an error in my last post, I’m now informed that Duke is more expensive that Stanford so I’ll concede that. Who knew !!!
    I’ve tried various approaches, so I’ll try one more. Answer one simple question in succinct 2-3 sentences, dont create a homily, dont loose your marbles, dont use the words “ad-hominem”, “strawman”, “false-equivalence”. Ready?
    What is your beef with Ullman ?

  31. @Boroline,

    “Homily” said they who lecture about court cases and still use lowbrow personal attacks in response to logic. Blessed art thou. 8)

    “What is your beef with Ullman?”

    Ullman the person? None! As I have consistently said, Ullman deserves praise for his intellectual contributions, as long as you/we also recognize and condemn his long track record of discriminatory words and actions against students of said groups in professional/academic settings, as well as his employer’s inaction. That is all.

    Substitute “Ullman” with any other US professor and substitute “Iranian” with any other foreign national group not barred by the US federal government from coming to the US for education, and my position and argumentation will remain unchanged.

  32. @Concerned Scientist
    Brilliant, so you spent a month worth of arguments for no beef with anyone.
    Onto the next question, dont give up, I will patiently work with you.
    Ullman writes extensively against Christians in America. He hates religious fundamentalists in general but you wouldnt know it if you didnt know him personally, its still up on his website if you’d like to see it, why do you think the Christians in America didnt loose their collective _____ and came after Ullman ?
    They, meaning Christian Citizens of America, have more bargaining power than potential Iranian Students. Also ponder why Don Knuth, a committed Christian, is still friends with Ullman. They are the best of friends if you knew them personally.

  33. @Phu Tan Elli,

    In 375 BC Plato knocked down “justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger” (or “spoils go to the victor”) by pointing out that this view is nothing more than an attempt to make virtue out of thuggery – and society should sidestep this mistake. Perhaps you might read the Republic, or at least Book 1 where this view is brought down. (True, Plato’s “just society” turns out to be rigid and hierarchical, but at least he knew that your point of view is doomed to failure.)

    Best wishes dude,

  34. @Boroline,

    That is how logic works; “beef” is irrelevant for condemning discrimination and asking questions. I am a concerned scientist, not a concerned lawyer.

    I assume this Ullman commentary on Christians is the webpage you refer to: http://infolab.stanford.edu/~ullman/pub/fundamentalism.html ? Is there evidence (e.g., email transcripts, multiple personal testimonies, concrete statistics, etc.) showing Ullman converted his opinions to advocate for and get Stanford CS to commit likely-illegal discriminatory actions on the basis of “religion” in admissions?

    If no, the US Constitution’s (and Stanford’s) protections on freedom of speech apply and this is a false equivalence vs the Iranians case. If yes, then (1) show them to me and (2) this all the more reason for Stanford to come clean! Why are they still pleading the fifth? As I have consistently said, the culpable party here is more so the institution of Stanford (CS) than Ullman as an individual.

    Thanks for the trivia about Knuth. I too am happy to be friends with Ullman. But Ullman may not like me because I will still condemn his discriminatory words/behaviors, both privately and publicly. 8)

  35. You still did answer my question. You are all over the map again so that’s consistent.
    Stay focused mate, you got this. The question again is where is the Christian outrage? (Hint, there is none). Why do you think that is?
    Forget about being a scientist or a lawyer, you can’t even answer a basic question without a world tour.

  36. @Boroline,

    Nah, my response is perfectly fine. You are just maliciously obtuse, which is consistent for you though. Re-read what I said about freedom of speech. US Christians know the First Amendment; there is no evidence of discrimination against them by Stanford due to Ullman. Anyway, your irrelevant sidetracks have bored me enough. I have far better things to do with my time. G’bye.

  37. @Concerned Scientist, thats a cop out !!!!
    I called your obfuscation out and you cop’d out. Atleast you know when your beat.
    Lets talk statistics, Ullman was prof at Stanford since 1979. But he really became chair from 1990-94. Lets say he was “influential” from 1990-2002, his retirement.
    Stanford received about 3500 grad applicants each of those years. Do you think Ullman went through each one and scrapped the ones from Iran? What about Christians? How would he know?
    Besides lecturing, being on multiple boards, writing two textbooks and revising many others and publication, he found the time to discriminate against Iranians, thats your hypothesis?
    The theory group at Stanford, where Ullman still has “influence” has hired 3 professors of Iranian Origin. How do you explain that? Surely he has more “influence” in Professor hiring than Grad applications usually judged by an Academic committee of 2 prof’s and 1 grad student.
    There was a report called: The Scientific Output of Iran: Quantity, quality, and corruption, published by the Stanford Iran 2040 Project at Stanford University. Its long and I know you dont like reading I’ll summarize it for you. It basically says that Political heads in Iran pressurize students and teachers to produce plagiarized high volume publications to give an impression of a scientifically developed nation. Since Stanford already knew that most Iranians credentials are suspect its obvious that they dont treat potential students with the same degree of seriousness. They actually called out Sharif Univ and AKA as being primary violators.

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