February 27, 1996
President Thomas H. Jackson
University of Rochester
Rochester, NY 14627-0011
Dear President Jackson:
I write to protest the planned closing of your graduate mathematics program.
In my view, a graduate program in mathematics is the very last graduate program that a university ought to contemplate closing. Mathematics, as the oldest branch of science, as both the queen and servant of the other branches of science, is quite simply the very deepest and most important of subjects. The singular status of mathematics can perhaps be most clearly seen by observing that it is through mathematics that all scientific knowledge is expressed.
Research in mathematics has often paved the way for major developments in other branches of science and of technology. For example, the history of computing was influenced in the most profound ways by the previous mathematical research of such figures as von Neumann, Turing, Post, Godel, Skolem, and Herbrand. The concept of formal language, of which programming language is a prime example, arose from mathematical research of the purest variety, long before electronic computers could be built. In our own day, the greatest living computer scientists, people such as McCarthy, Minsky, Knuth, Karp, Dijkstra, and so forth, are, as a rule, mathematicians of the first rank, and the majority of them were trained in graduate mathematics programs. The history of science and technology is replete with stories of the most profound results flowing from mathematical research.
I predict that killing the mathematics graduate program at Rochester will result in the departure from Rochester of all your finest mathematicians. First rate mathematicians are unlikely to be retained merely by the prospect of teaching rudimentary courses. Teaching and research at rather advanced levels is essential to the life of the mathematical mind. The departure from your faculty of its best mathematicians will result in a considerable reduction in the international standing of your university.
I can easily understand that cost reductions at Rochester are necessary. But I could not have been more shocked had I learned that you had decided to close your library. Surely, far more sensible cost reductions can be found than the elimination of your graduate program in mathematics.
Robert S. Boyer
Department of Computer Sciences
College of Natural Sciences
The University of Texas at Austin