Friend of the University of Rochester
December 11, 1995
Dr. Thomas H. Jackson, President
The University of Rochester
Office of the President
Rochester, NY 14627
Dear President Jackson,
I was proud to receive an honorary doctoral degree from the University of Rochester in 1979, for I knew Rochester as a distinguished center of research in physics, my own field. This has remained true of Rochester since then, but recent news from your university makes me fear that it will not be able to continue to maintain this high reputation.
I refer of course to the cancellation of your graduate program in mathematics. I am not a mathematician, but I regard mathematics as the core of any research program in the physical sciences. My own work as a theoretical physicist (which was honored in 1979 with a Nobel Prize) has been enriched by contacts with active researchers in mathematics at all the universities at which I have worked: Columbia, Berkeley, M.I.T., and Harvard as well as Texas. If you do not have a graduate program in mathematics then eventually you will have no research mathematicians, which will make Rochester far less attractive to theoretical physicists. Experimental physicists may not feel the loss of the mathematics program directly, but with with fewer first-rate theoretical physicists you will begin to lose your best experimentalists as well. You will also be weakened in your ability to compete for good students; both graduate and advanced undergraduate physics students need to take advanced courses in mathematics, which can only be taught well by active research mathematicians. I imagine that similar effects will eventually be felt in your chemistry and optics departments. I would not advise any prospective undergraduate or graduate student who wishes to concentrate on the physical sciences to go to a university that did not have a graduate program in mathematics.
I do not know the details of Rochester's financial problems, but I do understand that you may find it necessary to cancel some of your graduate programs. Nevertheless, it seems to me extremely unwise to eliminate your program in an area like mathematics, that stands at the intellectual center of a large part of modern science. This is especially so as the mathematics department at Rochester has real distinction in some fields, such as algebraic topology. Please forgive me for intruding on what is not really any of my business. Even though my only formal connection with Rochester is an honorary degree, I felt a responsibility to comment on what seems to me a disastrous step.
cc: Robert B. Goergen, Charles E. Phelps, Richard Aslin