Lee Lorch (
Sun, 31 Mar 1996 12:49:06 -0500

University of Rochester

March 28, 1996


To: College Faculty

From: Richard N. Aslin
Thomas H. Jackson
Charles E. Phelps

Re: Revitalizing Mathematics


The Rochester Renaissance Plan, which we announced last November, is
aimed at bringing the College into a state of fiscal stability by
emphasizing quality in everything we do at the undergraduate level and
by building on our strengths at the graduate level. Quality at the
undergraduate level, both in the short term and in the steady state,
can best be achieved, in our judgment, by reducing the size of the
undergraduate student body by 20%. In turn, reductions in faculty
size, though only 10%, were required to reach fiscal stability, and we
targeted those reductions rather than spreading them across all
departments and programs. It is our strong belief that a College with
fewer graduate programs, but of higher average quality, will enhance
our institutional reputation far more than a College with a greater
number of graduate programs of lower average quality.

While our decisions with respect to suspension of admissions to four
graduate programs, and the refocusing of several others, were painful
ones, it is clear that the suspension of the Ph.D. program in
mathematics, and its associated reduction in faculty size from 21 to
10, was the most controversial and, to many external observers at
least, the most counterintuitive. Arguments have been made that a
research university without such a program cannot mount successful
graduate programs in related disciplines (science, engineering, and
the quantitative social sciences) and that advanced undergraduates
will be deprived of high quality mathematics instruction. Similarly,
it has been argued that mathematicians are best able to meet the needs
of undergraduate non-math majors who are the primary enrollees in
calculus and related "service" courses.

We have in a previous memo addressed these arguments and do not need
to belabor them here. But it is important to reemphasize the
decisionmaking matrix of the Renaissance Plan. In addition to the
overall fiscal goal of the Renaissance Plan, which included a
reduction of 37 faculty positions (or "FTEs") in the College and 20%
of the current graduate student population (or their dollar
equivalents), we also identified three areas of importance for
purposes of evaluating any department at a university: (1) the quality
of undergraduate instruction, including, where appropriate, the
quality and fit of "service" courses to the needs of undergraduates
and to other departments; (2) the quality of the Ph.D. program; and
(3) the presence of actual linkages to other appropriate departments,
both in research and in graduate-level instruction.

A welcome product of the Rochester Renaissance Plan was a series of
unprecedented conversations involving selected mathematics faculty and
the central administration, as well as discussions between those
faculty members and colleagues in other departments. We now believe
that we can work constructively with the mathematics department to
address our concerns about mathematics without sacrificing the overall
fiscal goals of the Renaissance Plan-goals that we must adhere to if
the Plan is to succeed. Moreover, we can accomplish this without an
involuntary "tax" on other departments and programs in the College-an
issue of paramount importance, as we believe it fundamental to the
Plan's success that we provide planning stability to departments and
programs as well as an assurance that no further retrenchments will
occur in the next five years.

We want to be clear that our revised stance on mathematics is
predicated on two fundamental facts. First, the Renaissance Plan
recognized the necessity for new thinking in areas of undergraduate
instruction and programmatic linkages and retained resources precisely
for these purposes. Second, the faculty in mathematics have recognized
our concerns, and those of faculty in other departments, and are
dedicated to dealing with them in a comprehensive manner and with a
constructive spirit. With that active cooperation of the mathematics
faculty, we now believe a superior plan can be implemented at little
or no additional cost; one that not only is fully consistent with the
goals of the Renaissance Plan but that can enhance its underlying

Our revised plan includes components that deal with the three areas of
concern we identified (and listed above: "service" courses; a quality
Ph.D. program; and linkages). First, the Renaissance Plan had
allocated resources for five non-tenure track faculty to serve as
instructors in the mathematics "service" courses. These faculty would
not have been hired until the tenure-track faculty in mathematics had
fallen below 15 FTEs. The Plan had also allocated sums to provide
recitation sections by employing a combination of graduate students in
other departments, upper-level undergraduates, and faculty (tenure-
and non-tenure track) in the mathematics department.

We are now convinced, based on a commitment from the mathematics
department, that the hiring of non-tenure track faculty will not be
necessary to meet the goals for our undergraduate "service" courses.
Recognizing that new efforts needed to be made to design courses
appropriate for non-math majors in other "user" departments, the
mathematics faculty has now dedicated itself to a fresh and innovative
look at the delivery of "service" courses. A committee chaired by
Professors Ravenel and Gage has pledged itself to work closely with
faculty in the "user" departments to optimize the delivery of
excellence in undergraduate mathematics. Among issues under
consideration are calculus sections tailored to the needs of specific
non-math majors. In turn, the Dean's office has pledged to work
closely with the mathematics department and other disciplines to
ensure that such cooperative efforts do not flounder again. Thus, we
are prepared to adjust the steady-state size of the faculty in
mathematics from 10 to 14 FTEs. Note that this adjustment is
financially neutral, assuming that a non-tenure track faculty member
is on average somewhat less costly than a tenure-track faculty member.
It is thus consistent with the fiscal goals of the Renaissance Plan,
and holds out the substantial promise of adding to its educational and
quality goals.

Second, the mathematics department has requested that it be allowed to
reactivate a carefully-crafted Ph.D. program with substantially
reduced expenditures for graduate stipends. The incremental faculty
resources mathematics believes would be required to mount a small
Ph.D. program is one additional FTE (for a total of 15 rather than
14), in addition to stipend support appropriate for the reduced-size
program, and netting out resources that otherwise would need to be
targeted for recitation sections if there were no Ph.D. program.

Under the tight constraints of the Renaissance Plan, even this modest
increment of one FTE plus graduate stipends raises the incremental
resource question-an issue to be addressed below. A prior question,
however, is whether a smaller faculty can mount a Ph.D. program of
distinguished quality. We know that small programs can gain
substantial national acclaim, as a number of Rochester's Ph.D.
programs attest, and there are similar examples of small but
highly-acclaimed math Ph.D. programs at other universities. But we
believe, and the mathematics department concurs, that gaining the
appropriate quality level within the resource constraints under
contemplation, will require planning, careful execution, and
appropriate monitoring.

Third, one of the necessary enhancements, for the benefit of all, is
the development of true formal linkages between mathematics and other
departments and programs in the College. We believe, and the
mathematics departmental leadership concurs, that developing these
linkages will be central to the establishment of a Ph.D. program that
is both of high quality and contributes in a meaningful way to the
overall missions of the University. Moreover, solid linkages are also
the vehicle by which necessary incremental resources for any Ph.D.
program in mathematics can be found (see below).

We believe that, at this stage, reinstatement of a mathematics Ph.D.
program, being run on a substantially smaller scale than before, fits
within the basic goals of the Renaissance Plan. First, enhanced
quality in undergraduate instruction has very high positive value,
both intrinsically and for all the financial and programmatic goals of
the Renaissance Plan. Second, the benefits of linkages with other
departments are clear, but need to be actual, not theoretical.
Concrete steps are now ready to be taken in this direction. In
particular, the Department of Physics and Astronomy has made an
important commitment to two future joint appointments (one FTE) with
mathematics for the purpose of encouraging more active future
interaction among faculty in these two departments. With such
contributions, in addition to the conversion of non-tenure track
instructor lines into tenure-track faculty lines and non-math
recitation instructors into math graduate student recitation
instructors, and application of special research resources
contemplated for departments without a Ph.D. program, there will be no
detrimental impact on other departments, either next year or in the
future, and the important stability of the planning horizon called for
by the Renaissance Plan will remain as promised. In sum, the College
will have gained improved mathematics instruction for non-math majors
as well as a reenergized Ph.D. program with a department almost 30%
smaller than the current size (15 rather than 21 FTEs). It is fiscally
prudent and educationally sound.

Because this decision regarding mathematics was reached after a period
of internal and external controversy that spanned the graduate
recruitment period, attempting to enroll any new graduate students in
mathematics for the upcoming year would be a case of "too little, too
late." However, this enables us to have a six-month planning horizon
that can and should be taken advantage of so that we can put in place
a new Ph.D. program for the class entering in the Fall of 1997.

The mathematics department has agreed to develop, in close
coordination with the Dean's Office, concrete plans for its Ph.D.
under these new conditions. We stand prepared to provide the resources
outlined here once this plan has been formulated. As noted, virtually
all of the necessary resources for this rescaled program will come
either from instructional resources contemplated by the Renaissance
Plan or from other voluntary departmental contributions, most notably
the important agreement of Physics & Astronomy to joint appointments.

Following an affirmative vote of the mathematics faculty, Doug Ravenel
has agreed, effective July 1st, to assume the chairmanship of the
department. In that position, he has agreed to work aggressively with
other departmental leaders towards these mutually-agreeable goals,
which include enhanced undergraduate mathematics instruction for
non-majors, systematic linkages with other departments, and a small
Ph.D. program of distinction.

With these prospects, and with clear recognition of the importance of
mathematics to the undergraduate curriculum, we are committed to
maintain and elevate the quality of mathematics at all levels. We are
especially encouraged in the understanding of and commitment to these
principles by the mathematics department, whose leadership has
dedicated itself to the highest standards of undergraduate and
graduate teaching. We are confident that these cooperative efforts
will ensure a future for mathematics in which the University can take
pride in its undergraduate and graduate programs alike. And we are
pleased at the prospects-for mathematics as well as the College
generally-suggested by enhanced linkages between mathematics and other
science, engineering, and quantitative social science disciplines.

We believe this is the right move at this time for the College and the
University. We have always believed that a revitalized mathematics
department would make us a stronger university, and we now have the
opportunity to work towards that goal. It should both be viewed as a
satisfactory step by those who believed in the intrinsic importance of
a Ph.D. program in mathematics, while also fully consistent with the
operating premises, and constraints, of the Renaissance Plan, on which
the College's future so clearly rests. It is also consistent with the
resolution recently passed by the Faculty Council, both in the
reinstatement of mathematics' Ph.D. program and in its working within
the Renaissance Plan's resource constraints.

The original steps in the Renaissance Plan were taken with the belief
that the necessary improvements and changes could not and would not be
met without a wholesale reorganization of "business as usual." We now
believe that we can retain the best features of the current
mathematics department and, working closely with the department's
leaders and the other College departments, make the department and its
products even better on the dimensions of quality, calculus, and
linkages, while staying within the general financial constraints of
the Renaissance Plan on which the College's future is being built.


This page was created by University Public Relations and posted March
28, 1996.