From the Department Head
As I think about the current state of the School of Mathematics, I am reminded of Charles Dickens’ famous phrase: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …” Mathematics has never been more essential to the ways in which our society is developing, and yet we are facing tremendous financial challenges caused by dwindling governmental support of the academic enterprise. Much of the most exciting and critical progress in science and technology, from computer security to the deciphering of the human genome, from Hollywood special effects to cosmic physics, is founded on sophisticated mathematical ideas that most often began in the fertile ground of the research university environment. And yet we, like many other such institutions, are scrambling to deal with recurring cut-backs. During the past two years, salaries officially increased overall by 2.5%, but in effect, this increase was funded by an accompanying 2% retrenchment in our overall departmental budget. We are facing a similar prospect in each of the next two years, with anticipated 3% annual salary increases being funded by anticipated 2% annual cut-backs in our permanent budget. The cut-backs are necessarily taken from the “discretionary” part of our budget (non-salary), which constitutes less than 15% of the overall budget. I’ll leave the remaining calculations to you, to determine the numbers that have recently been keeping me up at night.
Aside from the money issues, things are going great! We just recently completed a successful hiring season, in which we attracted three very exciting young mathematicians to the School: Adrian Diaconu, a number theorist from Lehman College, Anne Henke, a group theorist from Leicester College in England, and Marta Lewicka, a specialist in partial differential equations who is currently a Dickson Instructor at the University of Chicago. Diaconu and Lewicka will arrive this Fall, and Henke will arrive in 2006. One of our assistant professors, Ezra Miller, received a double honor this year by getting both an NSF career grant and a University of Minnesota McKnight Land Grant Assistant Professorship. And one of our long-time faculty, Willard Miller, was honored with an Institute of Technology Distinguished Professorship, for career-long contributions in research, service, and teaching at the University. The Institute for Mathematics and its Applications had a highly successful site visit from the NSF, as part of the process of getting its funding renewed. A great deal of credit goes to its director, Doug Arnold. (Final word on the funding awaits action by Congress.)
The School continues in its efforts to serve the education needs of the state of Minnesota at all levels. Together with Professor Bert Fristedt, I have continued in my involvement with the state in connection with the K-12 math standards and statewide math tests. ITCEP, under its director Professor Harvey Keynes, continues to have a huge impact on the mathematical training of top middle and high school math students through the phenomenally successful UMTYMP. ITCEP also recently won a Math Science Partnership grant from the state as part of its ongoing in service training of K-12 math teachers. We are world-renowned for our highly ranked research faculty, but we do much, much more!
I will end this note with a bittersweet announcement. Two of our highly valued and long-time office staff members, Leane Hewitt (35 years) and Paula Dostert (15 years) have left us. Leane entered retirement, and Paula is seeking new adventures in California. We will miss them greatly and wish them all the best.