8 April 2008
The Honorable Anna Blight MP
Premier of Queensland
I write to you as a concerned member of the mathematical community in Australia, to urge you to intervene in the current crisis concerning the proposed reduction of the mathematics programme at USQ. I am informed that it is proposed that all non-service courses in mathematics are to be terminated.
Mathematics is among the most ancient and respected disciplines which a university can offer, and at the same time it is a discipline in which there is very active and fertile current research. The subject is difficult, but is one which tends to appeal to first-class minds, and attracts brilliant students. There are institutes of mathematics associated with many first-class universities, such as the Newton Institute at Cambridge, the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, CNRS in Paris, M.I. Oberwolfach, or MIT Cambridge Massachusetts, which are among the greatest and most revered centres of intellectual activity of the countries they inhabit. Mathematics is a vital component of any science degree course, since science in nearly all its phases is concerned with quantitative or structural phenomena,
for which the precision of mathematics is an essential tool.
There can be few universities in the world, worthy of the name, which do not have departments capable and active in mathematical research at one level or another, and whose mathematics staff do not recognize research output as a desirable imperative. Success in this imperative depends upon the two activities of research and teaching: both are necessary, each reinforces the other. Without opportunities for research, teaching becomes stale and unaware; without teaching, research lacks vital stimulus.
It would not be possible to maintain a mature culture of mathematical inquiry if staff were confined to routine service teaching. Staff forced into a service role, deprived of the opportunity to profess their discipline, would suffer seriously in any comparison with staff at a research-active institution, and would be likely to seek other employment. The staff which a service-only department would attract would be unlikely to embellish the reputation of their institution.
A faculty of science at a teaching university without a mathematics department, staffed by well-qualified mathematicians, would be a very poor faculty indeed.
I put these considerations to you in the hope that they will persuade you of the vital necessity of maintaining at USQ the specialist mathematics courses and respect for research which are the life-blood of an active mathematics department. I urge you also to listen to the serious appeals of the many distinguished mathematicians who put these arguments to you.
Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, Monash University
Used with permission.