Professor Bill Lovegrove,
Vice Chancellor
USQ

9 April 2008

Dear Professor Lovegrove,

Re: University of Southern Queensland’s Proposal on Mathematics & Statistics Programs and Staff

There is widening interest and consternation in USQ’s proposal to substantially shut down Mathematics & Statistics.  This is not only occurring in the Darling Downs region, but all around Australia, and in many other countries of the world. For example, as you undoubtedly know, Professor Terry Tao, University of California, has started an online petition to protest USQ’s proposal. The petition is attracting worldwide attention from a very large number of petitioners as well as from the international press. An article in this week’s Australian newspaper highlights the irony of this situation coming as it does at a time of acknowledged support for more effort in teaching mathematics and science.  Professor Tao’s views should be taken seriously.  He is undoubtedly the best known mathematician that Australia has produced and was recently awarded a Fields Medal, the international mathematics equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

As a recently retired academic and former head of the USQ department in question, I am in a good position to comment further.  The department has for many years been one of the leaders at USQ in research activity and quality publications.  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 highly value the quality of teaching in mathematics & statistics at USQ.  It is a pity that sometimes the message does not seem to filter through to university decision makers.

It must be acknowledged that there are often serious misunderstandings of the crucial contributions that the foundations of mathematics and statistics make to science, industry, business, education, and society.  Recently there has been a great deal of public and political debate on the quality of mathematics teaching in schools.  At present, under qualified teachers of mathematics in schools are benefiting from relevant USQ Masters and Diploma programs which are specifically designed to raise their fundamental mathematics understandings and knowledge and thus improve their teaching.  This degree should expand its attractiveness in the coming years, but is proposed to be discontinued.  Cutting back to a small number of service teaching staff in the mathematics and statistics subject areas, with students having no opportunity to major in these subjects, will have adverse implications.  The best staff will move on.  Other relevant degrees at USQ will decline in standards in the areas being serviced, and Australian industry, education, and society at large will suffer at a time when it has become obvious to governments and industry that we need, and are getting, more investment in science and mathematics.

The proposal to make the cuts seems to have originated in recommendations made by paid consultants who, in my judgment, did not get their mathematics right.  In my experience, the Department has always paid its way in terms of net earnings from teaching and research and the surplus funds have been used to support other educational initiatives within the Faculty and the wider University.

The planned cutbacks are beyond comprehension and would certainly go a long way to negate the great efforts being made by educators, politicians and industry to promote mathematics and science in Australia.  At the very least, the Australian Government’s recently announced HECS concession for students majoring in mathematics should alter the equations used in forming USQ’s proposal.

I am proud to have served at USQ for over 20 years and have no wish to witness the destruction of a discipline of such fundamental importance to universities and society at large.  I respectfully urge you to consider my views.

With kind regards,

Dr Chris Harman
Retired Associate Professor of Mathematics
Former Head of Department, USQ

Used with permission.