August 29, 2010

Letter to the Editor: Math Cuts Weaken Department

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To the Editor:

Re: “Arts Dean: Editorial on cuts off-base,” Opinion, Aug. 27

We are compelled to respond to Dean G. Peter Lepage’s Aug. 27 letter to the editor. The postdoctoral and visiting assistant professors are indeed not permanent faculty, nor have we ever represented them as such. But Lepage’s further assertions misrepresent their role in the Mathematics Department. The postdoctoral and visiting assistant professor program is vital to both our research and our teaching missions.These colleagues do far more for our teaching mission than “help teach mostly introductory courses.” They teach at all levels, from introductory to advanced graduate seminars. Their loss over the past two years has resulted in a 25-percent reduction in the number of sections and courses that we may offer. This is largely borne out in the drastic increase in class sizes in 1000- and 2000-level courses reported in the Sun’s article, “Math Faculty Outraged by Cuts.”In terms of research, the opportunity for permanent faculty to interact with senior and junior colleagues from a wide range of mathematical disciplines is essential to the success of a mathematics department. Contrary to Lepage’s implication, our postdoctoral assistant professors are “top young researchers and teachers in mathematics.” Most are next hired as tenure-track assistant professors at top departments, including at Cornell.Whilst such a postdoctoral program is unusual within the College of Arts and Sciences, it is standard among U.S. mathematics departments. Federal agencies only fund a very small portion of mathematics postdocs; the vast majority are paid for directly by universities. After the last two years of cuts, Cornell funds three postdocs for 40 permanent faculty. To compare with peer departments, the University of Chicago has 19 postdoctoral assistant professors for a permanent faculty of 41; and New York University has 27 postdocs for 55 permanent faculty. These statistics are typical of the departments with which we compete in hiring.We communicated these and many other data to Dean Lepage last semester, but clearly we have failed to convey the importance of the program. Despite Lepage’s determination “to focus our resources on hiring more great professors into our permanent faculty who will contribute to our continued excellence,” we remain discouraged. The cuts have substantially weakened our department, and will seriously hinder our ability to hire and retain excellent permanent faculty.


Dan Barbasch, Professor of Mathematics, Yuri Berest, Associate Professor of Mathematics, Louis Billera, Professor of Mathematics, Ken Brown, Professor of, Mathematics, Stephen Chase, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, Robert Connelly, Professor of Mathematics, R. Keith Dennis, Professor of Mathematics, Eugene Dynkin, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics and A. R. Bullis Chair, Leonard Gross, Professor of Mathematics, John Guckenheimer, Professor of Mathematics, Allen Hatcher, Professor of Mathematics, Tara Holm, Associate Professor of Mathematics, John Hubbard, Professor of Mathematics, Martin Kassabov, Assistant Professor of Mathematics, Peter Kahn, Professor of Mathematics, Allen Knutson, Professor of Mathematics, Justin Moore, Associate Professor of Mathematics, Camil Muscalu, Associate Professor of Mathematics, Michael, Nussbaum, Professor of Mathematics, Ravi Ramakrishna ’88, Professor of Mathematics, Timothy Riley, Assistant Professor of Mathematics, Reyer Sjamaar, Professor of Mathematics, Steven Strogatz, Director of the Center for Applied Mathematics, Alexander Vladimirsky, Associate Professor of Mathematics