Please support the Department of Mathematics and Computing at the University of Southern Queensland, in the face of deep cuts.

— The crisis —

On 17 March 2008, the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) at Toowoomba announced proposals to cut staff at the Department of Mathematics and Computing (which consists of the disciplines of mathematics, statistics, and computing) by almost 50%, eliminate all non-service teaching classes from the mathematics curriculum, and also eliminate the mathematics, statistics, physics, and chemistry majors at USQ. This proposal, which is part of a rationalisation program entitled “Realising our Potential“, is in direct opposition to the federal government’s explicit support for the importance of such enabling sciences, and is in direct opposition to the significant increase in funding for mathematics and statistics approved last year and flowing into USQ this year. (In fact, it appears that this funding has been diverted for other purposes by the university administration.)

The official USQ proposals can be found here, together with a supplementary rationale for these proposals. Key points include:

  • Eliminating a net 15 positions from the Faculty of Science (see page 6 of the proposal). By far the largest burden of these cuts falls on the Department of Mathematics and Computing, which is to lose 12 positions from a current faculty of 27, and is even more concentrated in disciplines of mathematics and statistics, where the faculty is being cut from 14 to 6. Three more staff are also being cut in physics and chemistry. In contrast, other divisions of USQ are experiencing significantly less severe cuts (and, in some cases, staff increases).
  • Phasing out “low enrolment program streams” (i.e. non-service teaching).
  • Discontinuing the undergraduate major program in maths, chemistry, physics, and statistics (see page 13 of the rationale), as well as the postgraduate maths offer. This is despite enrollments in mathematics and statistics holding steady at USQ (computer science enrollments have declined, though).

These cuts not only affect undergraduate education at USQ in the maths and sciences, but will also threaten other programs and initiatives by the Department of Mathematics and Computing and its staff, including

  1. an existing program to educate high school maths teachers at USQ;
  2. participation of statistics staff in a global warming grant application by the Centre for Sustainable Catchements at USQ;
  3. existing joint statistics courses with the University of New England;
  4. a planned joint distance education program with the University of New England, building upon an earlier Moodle initiative begun by the Department and copied by the rest of USQ;
  5. running the Australian Statistics Poster Competition for high schools;
  6. hosting the Simulation and Statistical Research and Consulting Centre;
  7. existing hosting and support for the ANZIAM Journal (electronic supplement) through the OJS system;
  8. participation in the ICE-EM access grid network for offering joint honours courses.

The cuts in mathematics and statistics are projected to save about $1.2 million per year. In contrast, the income stream from mathematics and statistics (both from its own majors, and from service teaching to others) is currently about $5.5 million per year (almost all of which is being diverted to other priorities of the administration); this figure includes approximately $1.2 million coming from the recent government initiative to encourage maths and science students. Furthermore, the Department of Mathematics and Computing also brings in significant research money – for instance, almost half of all ARC grants at USQ, in fact, originate from this department. These income streams will be badly affected by the above cuts, with the result that this proposal may in fact cost the university more money than it saves over the long term. Astonishingly, no long-term budgetary analysis of the situation beyond the next fiscal year appears in the proposal or the rationale.

A more detailed case for retaining mathematics at USQ, and a rebuttal of the positions of the administration, can be found at my guest editorial on 9 April 2008 at the Funneled Web. For the most recent updates on the status of the campaign, see this page.

— Revised plan for the Faculty of Sciences —

Since the initial proposal was released, the USQ administration has revised the plan twice, once on 23 April 2008 and once on 1 May 2008. There are some differences between the revised version and the original, though significant parts of the proposal remain largely unchanged:

  1. In the original plan, there were to be 15 net staff cuts to the Faculty of Sciences, of which the Department of Maths and Computing was to absorb 12. In the most recent revision, new funding has been authorised to add new positions to partially offset these cuts; the Faculty of Sciences will now have 18 staff cuts and 11 new positions (for a net loss of 7 staff), while the Department of Mathematics and Computing will have 11 staff cuts (5 in maths and statistics, 6 in computing) and 2 to 3 new positions focusing on areas such as statistics consultation and training, teacher training, and student consultation. These new positions are described as permanent positions, although the additional funding sources for these positions are not guaranteed.
  2. Non-service teaching is no longer automatically phased out; however courses that “fail to meet efficiency measures with respect to student enrolments” will have no further intakes, and the offering of higher-level courses is contingent on available staffing (which, in view of the staff cuts, will be highly constrained).
  3. The mathematics, statistics, physics, and chemistry majors and postgraduate offer are no longer automatically eliminated, but will be subject to a review. However due to items 1. and 2. above, the quality of education in such majors is likely to be severely curtailed. There are conflicting signals from the administration whether the maths major will ultimately be eliminated, or retained in a weakened form. A mathematics education specialisation is also proposed, but it is not clear if there will be enough courses to sustain it (or to even meet minimum state requirements for education, or of USQ’s own requirements for a Bachelor of Education degree).
  4. As in the original proposal, contributions of staff and departments to research, education, or community outreach were explicitly discounted as factors influencing the proposal, which continues to be driven entirely by “student demand” and “financial exigencies”.
  5. The federal money in support of maths and statistics education continues to be diverted away from the department of mathematics and computing.
  6. Because of the proposed staff cuts, courses are to be offered “using a delivery model with a reduced staff workload”. More specifically, it seems that undergraduates are to be hired as tutors and markers; however, this would be in contravention to Queensland Office of Higher Education guidelines that require teaching staff to hold qualifications above that of the degree offered (see Section 2.6.2), as well as with existing USQ guidelines.

The National Tertiary Education Union has raised significant concerns with the first revised proposal, particularly with regard to the reliability of the data that the plan is based on, and has called for a delay in making a final decision on the plan for the Faculty of Sciences until a full independent examination of the Faculty’s actual financial position and of the student load data is conducted (these data are not currently available to the public). It appears that the most recent revision of this proposal does not fully address these concerns.

Further commentary on the revised plan will be placed here in the near future.

— How to help? —

There are several ways in which you can help support mathematics at USQ:

  1. Contact the USQ administration.The consultation period for these proposals formally ended on April 14, 2008 (extended from a previous deadline of April 9). However, the proposals have not yet been formally announced in a finalised form. Please express support for mathematics and statistics, and protest these proposals by writing to the following administrators at USQ:
    1. Prof. Janet Verbyla, Dean of Sciences at USQ:
    2. Prof. Rod St. Hill, Dean of Students at USQ:
    3. Prof. Graham Baker, Deputy Vice Chancellor (scholarship) at USQ:
    4. Prof. Bill Lovegrove, Vice Chancellor and President of USQ:
    5. Ms. Bobbie Brazil, Chancellor of USQ:

    For some letters that have already been written to these administrators and to the government officials below, please see the “Letters of Support” section below.

  2. Contact local government representatives.The university administration will pay particular attention to any pressure from government officials (or to emails that are cc:’ed to such officials), including
    1. Hon. Julia Gillard MP, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education:
    2. Hon. Anna Bligh MP, Premier of Queensland:
    3. Hon. Rod Welford MP, State Minister for Education and Training:
    4. Hon. Mike Horan MP, State Member for Toowomba South:
    5. Hon. Kerry Shine MP, Attorney General and State Member for Toowomba North:
    6. Hon. Ian Macfarlane MP, Federal Member for Groom:
  3. Sign the online petition. This will visibly demonstrate the depth of support for mathematics education to USQ administrators, journalists, government officials, and others, and may also encourage others who may be impacted by these cuts and are fearful of the outcome to come forward.
  4. Share your stories. Have you experienced the effects of cutbacks in mathematics and science at other schools? As a researcher in the sciences or in related fields such as engineering, can you testify to the value of a mathematics education, taught by mathematicians? Do you have first-hand knowledge of the situation at USQ? Please share your thoughts by commenting to this page.
  5. Send us news and information. Any first-hand information from USQ, for instance from students, is particularly valuable, as are any media reports not already on this page, or background information on the situation. Also, any corrections or other comments are also greatly appreciated. You can send this information by email or as a comment to this page.
  6. Stay in touch. We will be updating this page regularly with new developments, and of course the commentary to the online petition is growing rapidly (and is well worth reading). Check back from time to time to see how we’re doing. See also the new blog “Mathematics in Australia” for recent news and developments.
  7. Spread the word. We need to raise awareness of this issue quickly. If you know anyone who is supportive of mathematics and the sciences and may be able to help out in one of the above ways, please consider forwarding them a link to this page to them. Australian or not, mathematician, scientist, student, journalist, politician, administrator, or layman – anyone can contribute to this effort. (Actually, in many ways, spreading the word to non-mathematicians with a stake in this effort, such as scientists, engineers, and workers in industry, not to mention students and teachers, may be particularly useful.) It is particularly critical to inform USQ students of what is happening, as the administration has largely excluded them from the consultation process.

— Media coverage —

— Letters of support —

— Blog support —

— Government support for mathematics and science education —

— State of mathematics/statistics in Australia —

— Research and teaching excellence —

The department of mathematics and computing at USQ has a strong record of excellence in both teaching and research, as evidenced by

  1. Numerous teaching awards within USQ, for instance in 2008 alone being awarded
    1. one USQ Excellence in Teaching award (out of two awarded);
    2. two USQ Teaching and Learning fellowships (out of four awarded);
    3. one USQ citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning;
    4. one Faculty of Science Excellence in Teaching award; and
    5. one Faculty of Science Excellence in Teaching award (early career).
  2. Of the nine ARC research grants currently awarded to USQ, four of them involve staff at the Department of Mathematics and Computing.
  3. Six of the seven niche research centres at USQ involve staff at the Department of Mathematics and Computing.
  4. A list of all mathematics research papers published with at least USQ staff member as author (from MathSciNet)
  5. The USQ maths department encourages its students to enter the International Mathematical Contest in Modeling, having earned two meritorious awards and four honourable mentions from the 8 teams it has entered since 1997, including two honourable mentions this year.

— USQ administration positions —

  • The original draft proposal to “rationalise” various departments at USQ, and particularly the department of maths and computing, as part of the USQ initiative entitled “Realising our Potential“. This proposal has been revised twice, once on 23 April 2008 and once on 1 May 2008.
  • The supplementary rationale for this proposal, by the USQ Dean of Sciences, Janet Verbyla. This rational has not been revised.
  • A January 2008 media release involving the incoming USQ Dean of Sciences, Janet Verbyla, focusing on the importance of attracting students to the sciences.
  • ABC Radio interview with USQ Deputy Vice Chancellor (Scholarship) Graham Baker. (Transcript courtesy of ABC Southern Queensland.)
  • “USQ responds to criticism”, Alyssa Kimlin, Toowoomba Chronicle, 12 April 2008. (No online link currently available, sorry.)
  • Letter to the editor, Chancellor Bobbie Brazil, Toowoomba Chronicle, 12 April 2008. (No online link currently available, sorry.)
  • An interview from 22 April 2008 with Chancellor Lovegrove (and Hon. Mike Horan MP) by ABC Radio Queensland on the USQ mathematics cuts.

— Other aspects of ROP —

Besides the impact of the USQ “Realising our Potential” (ROP) proposal on mathematics and related disciplines, there has also been some coverage of the impact on other parts of the university:

— Miscellaneous —

— Contact —

This campaign is being coordinated by Peter Hall, Hyam Rubinstein, and Terence Tao, with the active support of many others in the Australian mathematical community.

All inquiries concerning this web page should be directed to Terence Tao, or left as a comment on this page. If you wish to express support for these proposals, please visit the online petition at