June 30, 2010
Dear Friends of the Mathematics Department,
Academic year 2009-10 was a busy one for our department. Our curriculum grew substantially, the College's program review of our department was completed, we moved to new space in Jones Hall, we have a new department chair, and we dealt with the continuing budget shortfall using outside grants and gifts from our friends and former students. Enrollment in our statistics courses has grown rapidly, in large part to the decision by the Business School to cut back its own teaching of statistics for undergraduates. Today, our introductory statistics course, Math 106, is the largest course that we teach, totalling over 500 students per year. In response to the extra demand for introductory statistics, the dean agreed to add a new instructor position to the department and we welcomed Rachel Delbos to our faculty. She has a masters degree in applied statistics from LSU and has taught for us as an adjunct for several semesters.
Calculus will also become a growth area for us. At the end of the year, we learned that the Biology department had modified its undergraduate requirements to include two mathematics courses - Calculus I and either Calculus II or a 400-level biostatistics course that they will offer themselves. From an intellectual point of view, we applaud this decision - a former director of the National Science Foundation wrote that mathematics is the biologists' new microscope, meaning that mathematics is the next major tool in biological research. But at the same time we are worried about the impact of this decision on the number of calculus sections that we must offer. My own best estimate is that it will require about ten new sections of calculus per year. The dean is aware of this problem, but what the College will do about it is not clear.
Last year I wrote about the College's program review process for our department. This is something that happens every six or seven years, and for us, along with the departments of Applied Science, Computer Science, and Physics, 2008-09 was our turn. Program review involved writing an extensive self-study, a visit by a committee of seven or eight faculty from other universities, and a review letter written to the dean by the outside visitors. In 2009-10, the department wrote a response to the outside reviewers' comments (agreeing with almost all of them) and the process ended with a meeting between the department and dean. Was it worth the effort? I believe it was. The outside report told the dean that our students, both undergraduate and graduate, were happy with our programs, that our educational programs were strong, that our department's research standing is very high, and that we are cooperating well with other departments on interdisciplinary projects. It also reminded the dean about the growing demand for our statistics courses, and I believe it was part of the reason that the dean added a new statistical instructorship to our department.
As you may have read, the School of Education has moved to a new building. In previous years, Education, Mathematics, and the Information Technology (IT) department shared Jones Hall. After Education's move, the entire first floor of Jones Hall is ours. Four classrooms remain on the third floor, and the rest belongs to IT. This represents an increase of about 30 percent in our space allocation, something that we really needed because we have occupied the same space since 1995 even though the department has grown substantially over the last 15 years. Our expansion into new space did not start until early June and will probably not be complete until late summer. But even though our expansion is only half complete as I write this letter, our new space feels really good. When you are on campus, please stop by our new office cluster in Jones 100 and see our three new seminar rooms and new computer lab.
The 2009-10 academic year was my last year as department chair, and the dean and department could not agree on a member of our department to be the next department chair. Consequently, starting July 1st, Professor Eric Bradley will be interim chair for three years. Eric is a biologist who has chaired his own department and who has also been chair of the Applied Science department, two departments with which we are working to collaborate. This interim arrangement, while unusual, is not unprecedented at the College. In the past decade, both the Music and Philosophy departments have had interim chairs from other departments. I know Eric well and trust that he will do a fine job in leading our department through the next few years.
In the current economic climate, you will not be surprised to learn that budgets remain very restricted here. We have imposed some major cut-backs: during the 2009-10 academic year, no faculty travel was paid for by the department, long distance telephone use was restricted, and so was copying class handouts except for exams. Our educational and research programs have obviously felt the economic pinch, but the adverse impact has been partially offset because about half of our faculty have managed to obtain outside grant support from various federal agencies. Let me mention four examples. Assistant Professor Sarah Day won an NSF Career Grant, a five year research support award for outstanding young scientists, and the first Career Award ever received by a member of our department. Professor Chi-Kwong Li continues to run our NSF-CSUMS grant which provides summer research and travel support for our undergraduates in the broad area of computational mathematics. Professor Charles Johnson runs an NSF-REU grant that brings a group of outstanding undergraduates from around the country to campus for eight weeks of summer research on matrix analysis. Finally Professor Larry Leemis has an NSF-CSEMS grant (aren't acronyms fun?) that supports two or three additional operations research masters students each year. At our department web site
you can find additional details on these projects.
As always, I close with a request. Previous generations of mathematics majors have given generously to our department, and it is these private donations, along with the grant support mentioned above, that allow us to continue our special programs for students. For example, private funds support student travel to mathematics conferences (where students present their own research results), bring visiting speakers to campus who aim their talks at our undergraduates and operations research students, and pay for pizza for our mathematics club meetings. Please help the next generation of our students continue to have these same opportunities. You can make donations to our department via the "Support Mathematics" button on our department web page. Anything you can give will help.
David J. Lutzer
Professor and Chair of Mathematics