I am writing regarding your recent decision to eliminate the graduate program in mathematics at Rochester.
I have read a good deal of the correspondence you have received, as well as your response, in effect suggesting that the matter be put to a vote of the other physical sciences departments. All of this indicates to me that there is a serious communication gap here. Let me put it this way. The problem with your decision, which you don't really seem to have appreciated, is not so much the action itself as the message which it sends. You are saying, in very loud and no uncertain terms:
"At Rochester, we don't care very much about mathematics. It has low priority."
Surely, you must see that such a statement strikes directly at your credibility as a major physical sciences research university. It suggests that you do not grasp the central role of mathematics in virtually all physical sciences research. The fact that your present department does or does not have particular strength in some field, or even that its overall strength may be lacking, is not at all the issue. It is rather the way in which you have chosen to deal with the problem. Coping with perceived weakness in the mathematics graduate program by abolishing it is somewhat akin to a major league manager dealing with his pitcher's sore arm by amputating it. In short, there is no way that you can make the above statement and still expect to be taken seriously by the scientific community.
If you believe that the mathematics department is weak, you must take steps to strengthen it. We all understand the problem of scarce dollars - as a manager I certainly do. If, for the sake of an example, you were to say that the graduate program in East Asian Studies was at the bottom of your priority list and was being eliminated, I think you would certainly find some unhappiness, but hardly the gaping astonishment that you have created here. When you put the queen of the sciences at the bottom of your list, your action appears absurd.
A research university lives by its reputation. That is what draws the best faculty, which in turn draws the best students, the research dollars, and so forth. But reputation and prestige are fragile commodities, and I'm afraid that yours has already suffered some damage. I don't want to be rude, but you need to know that Rochester is fast becoming the butt of some serious cocktail party humor. Unless it is reversed, this loss of credibility will ultimately cost you many times more than whatever you think you are saving in the short run.
Fortunately, I think there is still time to reconsider. Most people I know believe that you will very shortly come to your senses and correct this mistake. I, for one, certainly hope so.
David M. Goldschmidt
cc: Robert B. Goergen