Friend of the University of Rochester

December 12, 1995

Thomas H. Jackson
Administration 240
University of Rochester
Rochester, New York 14627

Dear Dr. Jackson,

I am very disturbed to hear of your plan to eliminate the graduate program in mathematics at the University of Rochester, and to replace many of the full time faulty members with adjunct faculty to teach your calculus and other undergraduate mathematics courses.

No matter how much time you spend trying to convince yourselves otherwise, this will certainly hurt the quality of your undergraduate mathematics education (and hence their education in all the engineering and scientific fields). The adjunct faculty will have less passion for the subject, less understanding of how it fits together, and since their contracts will presumably be renewed year-to-year, they'll tend to come and go, and hence will have less idea of the mathematical requirements of your other departments.

In the 13 years since I helped to found the company Silicon Graphics, I've noticed that it is becoming more and more difficult for us to hire students with a sufficient background in mathematics. Every year, we require more, and the students seem to have less.

To do computer graphics, calculus is not enough -- we require a strong background in linear algebra, and people who are interested in making computer-generated dinosaurs for "Jurassic Park" or a liquid metal man in "Terminator II" or want to have Forrest Gump shake hands with Richard Nixon had better have a solid grounding in advanced calculus, differential geometry, and projective geometry.

Computer graphics is clearly a rapidly growing field, and it is now possible to do very effective 3 dimensional renderings on modestly priced personal computers. Hence, the job market is rapidly expanding, but the mathematics is not getting any easier. In fact, techniques like morphing (making one face or shape change to another smoothly), texture-mapping, physically-based modelling, virtual reality, robot motion and control, et cetera, are all becoming affordable for the general public, so those who hope to deliver products based on these technologies had better understand calculations in phase space, Fourier and discrete cosine transformations, mathematical physics, and be very comfortable with 3 dimensional geometry, including differential geometry.

There is a big push these days to make World-Wide-Web pages on the Internet support three-dimensional objects with motion, shading, and the other usual bells and whistles, and we're only one company of many that is hiring lots of engineers to work on these projects.

So if you're interested in producing students who can compete in these rapidly-growing job markets, you should be thinking about how to increase the amount and quality of mathematics they learn. I checked the records for the last couple of years and we've hired 4 University of Rochester graduates. I hope we'll be able to continue to find the sorts of people we need from there.


Tom Davis
Principal Scientist, Silicon Graphics

American Mathematical Society