Last week the news came round that the University of Leicester is forcing most of the mathematics departments to resign their posts and re-apply for them, with a quarter of them to be made redundant and many of the rest moved to teaching-only contracts. The reason given is a budget deficit which is thought to be temporary and caused by a drop in overseas students (not surprising in these troubled times); no-one has suggested that the long-term future of the University is in trouble.
If you don’t need to read any more but simply to sign a petition, here is the link:
A few points occur to me.
- There is more damage being inflicted than just the death of the mathematics department: but I can most effectively support what I know about.
- There are, surprisingly, a few universities where this process has been applied to administrative staff rather than academics, though this is not at all usual. In this case, one might say that a budget deficit is the responsibility of the finance department and/or senior management, so they should take the cuts, not the mathematics department.
- There is plenty of evidence of the deep commitment of academic staff to the university and its students. Consider the extra hours we work when necessary (setting or marking exams, writing grant applications, and so on), while the administration almost without exception work a 9 to 5 day (and there is evidence that they are under the impression that we do the same).
- It is easy to destroy a mathematics department, much harder to re-create one. And a mathematics department is very important to a university. I will not forget in a hurry an incident that occurred when I was on a committee considering whether or not to kill off the mathematics department in a certain university. The head of another department was being interviewed by the committee. Before he could be asked any questions, he said, “I would just like to say that I couldn’t hold up my head if I were in a university without a mathematics department”. This was perhaps the turning point, since it was a point of view that the administration had clearly not considered.
So here is that petition again: