Friend of the University of Rochester

December 12, 1995

Mr. Robert Goergen, Chairman
Blyth Industries
Two Greenwich Plaza
Greenwich, CT 06830--6353

Dear Mr. Goergen:

Mr. Thomas H. Jackson, President
University of Rochester
Administration 240
Rochester, NY 14627

Dear Mr. Jackson:

It is with great consternation that I heard the news from the University of Rochester on the elimination of the graduate program in mathematics and the drastic reduction in size.

I was offered the chairmanship of that department in 1986, and I had many interesting and impressive conversations about it with many people at Rochester. Though I decided in the end not to leave Princeton, I found the attitudes of the Rochester administration and the Mathematics Department very laudable, and I tried to use my influence in the mathematical community to help in the building effort. I expended considerable effort in influencing people toward going there, in particular pushing Sam Gitler to choose Rochester over other possibilities.

Sam did an excellent job in building up the Rochester department, creating one of the best groups in the world in algebraic topology, as well as making other strong appointments.

Now it usually takes a generation after the creation of a good department to attract good graduate students, but this was not the case at Rochester, and almost immediately many Ph.D's began to be produced, many of high quality. This was do largely, I suspect, to personal recruiting by the faculty.

It was a very successful performance and a vital, exciting department and graduate program had been created. Not yet at the level in all areas to which the 1986 administration had aspired, but at that level in one area, and much strengthened in others.

The results of all this hard work and careful building have now been destroyed with the stroke of a pen. A good department cannot stand on quicksand, and without some level of trust in the good intentions of the administration, which is probably irretrievably lost, the best people will leave as soon as possible, and good people will accept offers at Rochester only as a last resort. So even a reversal of these decisions can probably not salvage much.

The public rationale for this decision, I find incredible. It seems principally to be based on the ``National ranking'' as expressed in opinion polls of professors and deans. This is a very crude and uncertain basis on which to base drastic surgery. Can a small department, which is exceptionally strong in a special area be judged adequately, particularly when its greatest strength is of recent vintage? Are such polls based on any more than shallow impressions?

That a good department, which has been successful in research and teaching can be destroyed on such flimsy grounds, is bound to affect the morale of other departments, and I expect that this decision will push the quality of other Rochester departments quickly lower. I will be interested to read the next polls.


William Browder

American Mathematical Society