To: brazilb@usq.edu.au, vc@usq.edu.au, bakerg@usq.edu.au, deansci@usq.edu.au

Cc: Julia.Gillard.MP@aph.gov.au, ThePremier@premiers.qld.gov.au, educationandarts@ministerial.qld.gov.au, toowomba.south@parliament.qld.gov.au, toowomba.north@parliament.qld.gov.au, Ian.Macfarlane.MP@aph.gov.au, govhouse@govhouse.qld.gov.au, chief.scientist@qld.gov.au, “Hyam Rubinstein” <rubin@ms.unimelb.edu.au>, “Peter Hall” <halpstat@ms.unimelb.edu.au>

Date: Sun, Apr 13, 2008 at 10:50 PM EST

Dear Chancellor Brazil,

On this day of 14 April, the final day of the consultation period for the “Realising our Potential” initiative at the University of Southern Queensland, we the undersigned are presenting you, together with other members of your administration and local government officials, with our online petition protesting the disproportionately severe cuts to the Department of Mathematics and Computing that the initiative is proposing.

The petition, whose text is included at the end of this presentation, can be found online at

http://terrytao.wordpress.com/about/petition-to-support-maths-statistics-and-computing-at-usq/

In the nine days that the petition has been on-line, it has attracted over 800 signatures, from Nobel Laureate in Economics Clive Granger, to former USQ Dean of Sciences Hugh Avey, to a dozen heads of departments in mathematics, statistics, computer science, economics, and engineering (including the former head of Department of Mathematics and Computing at USQ, Chris Harman), to leading members of the scientific community including eight members of the Australian Academy of Sciences, to leaders in industry both in Australia and abroad, to USQ staff, students, parents, and other stakeholders, including the 10-year old child prodigy, Adam Walsh, who is currently taking mathematics courses at the Department. We urge you to read the many cogent arguments presented by signatories in that petition; we will quote a selected sample of them here. [These comments have also been submitted separately to your administration by Prof. Tony Roberts at the Department of Mathematics and Computing.]

There are many points made within the responses to the petition. Firstly, there is the vital importance that a quality mathematical education – and not just the bare minimum that “service” teaching provides – plays in today’s modern world. For instance, the Welsh-born Nobel Laureate in Economics, Sir Clive Granger, now at the University of California, San Diego, writes

> There is an enormous need for applied mathematicians and
> statisticians in a growing number of fields including meteorology,
> oceanography, finance, engineering, and control theory as well as
> all aspects of economics, politics and even sociology. I believe
> experience shows that home-produced mathematicians are
> generally superior in these fields which are of increasing importance.

Closer to home, Justin Scott, a biostatistician at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, writes of the lack of proper statistics education amongst recent graduates:

> We recently advertised a bioinformatics position for which none of the
> 36 applicants had the required statistical experience. If USQ’s proposed
> changes were implemented and repeated by other universities such an
> example would become widespread to the detriment of Australian
> research and the community.

Similarly, Dr. John Henstridge, the Director of Data Mining Australia, writes

>What is happening at USQ is the tip of the iceberg for mathematics in
>Australia. The cutbacks and the subsequent lack of good graduates in
>the mathematical sciences are already a constraint on business where
>the unique skills of properly trained mathematicians are needed. I see it
>as the biggest single constraint on my company’s future and I see it in
>many others, particularly in the biomedical and mining areas.

At present, the Department of Mathematics and Computing at USQ is a renowned provider in the region of these badly needed skills. Just within the last year, for instance, the department and its staff received six awards within USQ for teaching excellence. Associate Professor Chris Harman, the former head of this Department, writes

>The department is one of the leaders at USQ in research activity and
>output. Just as importantly, the department has developed into a position
>of renowned excellence in teaching of university level mathematics and
>statistics. This has been backed up by internationally recognised
>research into the theory and practice of teaching undergraduate
>students. I well know at first hand that students appreciate the high
>quality of teaching in mathematics & statistics at USQ, but it is a pity
>sometimes that the message does not seem to filter through to university
>decision makers. By cutting back to a small number of service teaching
>staff in these subject areas, students will suffer, USQ will suffer a decline
>in standards, and Australian industry and society will suffer at a time
>when it is becoming obvious to governments and industry that we need,
>and are getting, more investment in science and mathematics. The irony
>of the planned cutback is beyond comprehension.

A true education in these areas cannot be obtained purely by service teaching alone. William James, a risk manager at AXA group, writes

>I can tell you that a mathematics and statistics education is essential to
>enter this area, and merit is determined based on the quality of
>research done by the student at an honours or post-graduate level.
>
>If the USQ wants to cut research staff in mathematics and
>statistics who offer non-service courses, they will prevent
>their graduates from being able to enter the vocations in
>highest demand in the global market.

Tamyka Bell, a researcher who graduated from the University of Queensland, writes

>Australian mathematicians, statisticians and physicists are respected
>and sought after all over the world. After graduation, the majority of my
>physics and maths friends took up positions overseas, because our
>departments were already so small and underfunded, and overseas offers
>were so lucrative. Why is it that foreign countries value our education
>more than Australia does?
>
>I shudder to think of a future where all Government policy is decided upon
>by graduates who took a ‘service course’ in statistics. I’ve seen these
>service courses – I’ve tutored them – and they achieve little more than to
>give their students a false sense of security about the data they attempt
>to interpret.

Members of your administration, such as Deputy Vice Chancellor Graham Baker, appear to have argued that despite being a public university (and despite being supported primarily by public funds), that the University of Southern Queensland actually has no responsibility to meet the desperate demand for graduates with quality mathematics and statistics education, and will instead respond only to such short term factors as “financial exigencies” and “student demand”. Deputy Vice Chancellor Baker has also apparently argued that responsibility to encourage student enrollment in the maths and sciences instead falls solely on the government and “maths lobby”.

If so, the university is not only abdicating its own responsibilities to promote the public interest, but is in fact actively obstructing the efforts of the others who still hold to these responsibilities. For instance, in 2007 the federal government rolled out a significant increase in funding to universities to promote mathematics and statistics education – $1.2 million to USQ this year ($2729 per equivalent full time student load). However, USQ has diverted these funds to other priorities of the administration, and is instead proposing to cut funding to the Department of Mathematics and Computing (which includes the division of statistics) by $1.2 million. Indeed, despite repeated inquiries, there has been no explanation given as to why none of the government money has been passed on to prevent or even to mitigate the cuts at this department.

Similarly, the department of Mathematics and Computing has a demonstrated history of service to the community, and in particular in training high school teachers and attracting high school students into these fields. These efforts generate goodwill within the community that may not show up on official budgetary charts of the administration, but nevertheless represent an important contribution of this department for USQ which is now at risk. For instance, Professor Des Fitzgerald, one of the organisers for the annual Australian Statistics Poster Competition for high school students, writes

>I rely on the statistics staff of USQ to host and support the Australian
>Schools Statistics Poster competition. This is a very valuable outreach
>activity to promote not just statistics as the name implies, but in fact a
>whole range of experimental, medical and social sciences that use
>statistical ideas. This is important, because our society and its future
>require evidence-based decision-making in all fields, and
>statistically-based thinking is crucial in the promotion of the concepts of
>evidence-based decision-making.
>
>Universities, like other organisations, do need to retain flexibility and also
>need to plan their futures. I believe, however, that the draft plan that has
>been drawn up for USQ fails to take proper account of the existing
>strengths and assets of USQ in the area of mathematics and statistics,
>and the opportunity that USQ has, to support and build on its successes
>n those areas. It seems instead to be informed by ad-hockery, not a
>clear vision. One area where USQ could steal a march on other
>universities, is by backing the team that they have, and giving support to
>degree programs that really are practical and useful, including substantial
>and structured content in mathematics and statistics. I urge the
>decision-makers at USQ to critically examine the draft in this light.

Similarly, the Toowoomba & District Mathematics Teachers Association writes in a separate letter to your administration dated 31 March 2008 that

>USQ provides teacher training in Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry for a
>large area of Queensland. Many USQ graduates currently hold teaching
>positions throughout the State. The management of USQ makes a grave
>error in saying that high school teachers do not require major undergraduate
>studies in their teaching subjects. High school students need exposure to the
>experience that teachers with degree majors in their Mathematics and Science
>subjects bring to the classrooms. How else can schools provide the extension
>and motivational experiences which are part of the process of selecting and
>encouraging the next generation of Australian mathematicians and scientists?
>A teacher needs a full degree major in his/her subject in order to be able to
>minister successfully to the academic needs of the full range of student
>abilities.

The full version of this excellent letter can be found on-line at

http://terrytao.files.wordpress.com/2008/04/twmba-district-maths-teachers-assoc.doc

and we urge you to reread it. The Queensland Association of Mathematics Teachers has stated a similar position on this issue, writing

> QAMT is committed to maintaining standards of excellence in mathematics
>education. The Association also aspires to promote mathematics as a
>useful and desirable area of academic study. We feel that the changes
>proposed by the University of Southern Queensland are in direct
>contradiction to these two central goals of our organisation, and we
>strongly urge the management of USQ to reconsider the proposed changes.

Setting aside the obligations of the university to support the public interest, however, there are also important financial considerations to be weighed before considering such drastic (and irreversible) restructuring actions. The deep cuts to the department of mathematics and computing (eliminating 12 staff from the current level of 27, and eliminating most majors in this department) are projected to save USQ $1.2 million a year, as mentioned earlier. By contrast, the department earns the university $5.5 million annually, through its service and non-service teaching and through the above-mentioned governmental support for mathematics and science students. This is not counting the additional income in research grants that the department brings in both internally and via collaborations with other departments (for instance 4 of the 9 ARC grants currently held by USQ involve at least one member of this department), and which will be at risk from the cuts. These income streams will be greatly damaged over the long term, not only due to elimination of students directly majoring in the mathematical sciences, and to the inevitable long-term reduction in capacity to perform service mathematics and statistics teaching, but also due to the loss of enrollments by students in related majors who will realise that their education will not be as complete as those offered by competing universities. Astonishingly, no long-term analysis of the current restructuring proposal, beyond the next fiscal year, appears at all in the current rationale for that proposal; only short-term factors are considered. Furthermore, the impact on research programs (such as the seven niche research centres at USQ, six of which currently include staff from Mathematics and Computing) and research funding is also not considered at all; in fact the rationale provided explicitly discounts research as a factor at all in its analysis, which is hardly consistent with the very strong claims USQ has to be a research institution.

It in fact seems likely, based on experience at other institutions, that the university will, over the long term, lose far more money than it saves in the short term from these cuts, even discounting the long-term damage to the prestige and reputation of the university; what is disbanded in a year may take ten years to painfully reconstruct. Professor Walter Piegorsch, of the University of Arizona, writes

>As a sitting statistics chair of a US University which made the mistake of
>summarily disbanding its own Statistics Department over a decade ago, I
>can testify that the consequences of the action were wholly negative:
>collaborative and consulting services desperately needed to maintain the
>University’s scholarly standing in our modern, data-rich research era
>suffered almost immediately, leading to an estimated campus-wide loss
>of $10-20M (US) in external grant funding over the period since the
>department was disbanded. Recognizing this error, the University has
>now reconstructed the statistics program, but at significantly higher cost
>and effort than would have been necessary had the program remained in
>place. I urge USQ to avoid repeating this mistake.

The damage wrought by such proposals is not just financial; they also affect the reputations of the university, and of the administrators involved. Professor Joseph Neisendorfer, chair of the University of Rochester when their administration proposed to eliminate the postgraduate program in mathematics, writes

>As a former chairman of the University of Rochester mathematics
>department, I have seen this sort of thing before. Fortunately, it was
>reversed in our case, but not before much damage was done to the
>reputation of the university. In our case, the decision to cut the size of
>the mathematics department was universally condemned by
>mathematicians, physicists, chemists, economists, biologists, and other
>scholars. Significant condemnation came from members of mathematics
>and other departments at places like Harvard, Princeton, and MIT. The
>president of the American Physical Society was quoted as saying: “In
>one step, the President of the University of Rochester has succeeded in
>reducing it to the status of a second rate university.” A Nobel prize
>winner in physics said that he would never again recommend that a
>young person accept a position at our university.
>
>In the calculus of such cuts, the administration seemed to have blinders
>on and to not have any idea of the collateral damage which their narrow
>minded decisions cause. In our case, the damage was done not only to
>students, but to other departments which the administration wished to
>thrive. And damage was done to the careers of the administrators who
>made the decisions. None of them ever got any other jobs.

But perhaps the true irony of such cuts is that the University of Southern Queensland has enjoyed a stellar reputation in the past for academic excellence, which is now being threatened by this current proposal. As you of course know, USQ received the ICDE Institutional Prize of Excellence in 1999, the Commonwealth Award for Excellence in 1999, and was a joint winner of the University of the Year award in 2000-2001. This past reputation is now at risk. Professor Hugh Avey, former Dean of Sciences at USQ, wrote

> I spent ten years as the Dean of the Faculty of Sciences at USQ trying
>to preserve and build up Sciences at USQ. Vigorous Mathematics,
>Physics, and Chemistry programs are essential for a Science Faculty to
>function properly. Mathematics, particularly, is critical, from both a
>University and Australian National perspective. Many areas of study use
>maths and require the study of it, and academics in these areas argue
>that the subject is best taught by a professional practitioner in the area of
>study, such as Maths for Accountants or Maths for Engineers. This is
>nonsense. To teach maths successfully the teacher must have both a
>love of maths and a deep understanding of it. Few members of the
>professions who use maths have these qualities.
>
>USQ should rearrange its affairs so as to be able to support a vigorous
>maths program. It is in the University’s interest and the national interest.
>To do otherwise is a dereliction of responsibility. I know it will not be
>easy – really worthwhile things seldom are – but the effort must be made.

Last, but by no means least, is the impact that the restructuring will have on the USQ community – staff and students (past, present, and future). There have been countless responses to the petition from this community, as well as expressions of concern (especially among students) about the transparency of the consultation process. Let me just quote two responses from this community. Firstly, local high school teacher Joan Pelecanos writes

>The Mathematics Department of USQ has supported the Toowoomba
>Mathematics Teachers Association and the maths departments in the
>Darling Downs High Schools through mentoring teachers, promoting
>mathematics and writing questions for the local maths teams challenges.
>This has helped to provide a bridge for the students between high school
>and university.
>
>Maths is a part of everyday life and a foundation for most courses at
>university and life after university. As a teacher at a high school and a
>parent of three successful students of maths/engineering at USQ, I wish
>to support this petition to retain the maths/statistics programmes at
>USQ.

Finally, Adam Walsh, a 10-year old child prodigy taking maths classes at USQ (and the subject of much media attention currently), writes

>I support this petition. I am a school student who the department has
>helped through its programmes to educate those who hope one day to
>join the mathematics community.
>
>I support this because I am thankful for what the department has given
>me, because of the undeniable importance of mathematics as the basis
>for all science and because I want there to be a mathematics community
>for me and other young people to join, when it is our time.

In summary, the department of mathematics and computing at USQ is a renowned centre of research and education excellence, which not only contributes significant revenue and research funding to the university, but also earns the university significant prestige and goodwill, while also servicing the regional community through its support of high-school education and outreach to high-school students. The proposed cuts will permanently and severely damage all of these strengths, leading to a net cost of both tangible and intangible assets for USQ that will significantly exceed any short-term savings incurred by this plan. In short, this proposal is a harmful one not only for the department, but for the finances and prestige of the university, the wider community, and the career and reputation for anyone associated with this proposal. We understand that the administration has invested much time and energy into this proposal, but due diligence and responsibility to the long-term interests of the university and the public that it serves demand that one seriously consider the very real possibility that this proposal is in fact a severe and irreversible mistake that could damage the university for years to come. Thus we urge you to heed the text of our petition, which is supported by over 800 signatories:

>I believe that the proposed severe cuts to mathematics, statistics, and
>computing at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) will do severe
>and permanent damage to the quality of education in maths and the
>sciences for USQ students, at a time when the need to support such
>education is both urgent and widely accepted in Australia at all levels.
>Service teaching alone, especially at reduced staff levels, cannot deliver
>the level of mathematics education that the students of USQ deserve. I
>urge the university administration to negotiate with the Department of
>Mathematics and Computing to find a compromise solution that will
>preserve the proven capability of this department to train students and
>teachers in the maths and sciences at the highest levels of quality.

Sincerely,

Peter Gavin Hall FAA FAustMS FRS CorrFRSE
Professor and Federation Fellow,
University of Melbourne

Joachim Hyam Rubinstein FAA FAustMS
Chair, National Committee for the Mathematical Sciences in Australia.
Professor, University of Melbourne

Terence Tao FAA FRS FAustMS
James and Carol Collins Chair and Professor,
Department of Mathematics, University of California Los Angeles

cc:
Hon. Julia Gillard MP, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education
Hon. Anna Bligh MP, Premier of Queensland
Hon. Rod Welford MP, Minister for Education and the Arts
Hon. Mike Horan MP, State Member for Toowomba South
Hon. Kerry Shine MP, Attorney General and State Member for Toowomba North
Hon. Ian Macfarlane MP, Federal Member for Groom
Ms. Quentin Bryce AC, Governor of Queensland
Professor Peter Andrews AO, Queensland Chief Scientist

This letter is also publicly available at

http://terrytao.wordpress.com/support-usq-maths/presentation-of-the-online-petition-to-chancellor-brazil/