Defining Departmental Responsibilities

  • Diversity in the focus of different mathematical sciences departments is desirable and healthy, but each department will necessarily define its unique role. An individual department is the best body to decide what it could or should do to meet its societal responsibilities and respond to the challenges that face the community.
  • This is a good time for a department to re-examine its responsibilities and goals within its local university framework. In so doing, it might delineate for itself what challenges it needs to address, and devise strategies for addressing them. Added to the omnipresent challenge of preserving the nation's pre-eminent strength in research and discovery in all mathematical sciences areas, there now are new challenges confronting mathematical sciences departments. They include educating large numbers of non-mathematical sciences majors; making the mathematical sciences more accessible to all students; training mathematical sciences majors in a manner that promotes career development in teaching, business and industry, government, or advanced study and research; and preparing mathematical sciences graduate students for diverse career options. Provided with the necessary resources, many departments might be even more successful in meeting these challenges than previously. Those departments that wish to have a way of demonstrating their progress, both for their own benefit and for communicating their accomplishments to others, might identify ways to assess performance or progress toward meeting these challenges.
  • Mathematical sciences professional societies are the best stewards to develop an effective means for accumulating, centrally depositing, and making available for general use (say, through the World Wide Web) valuable data of interest to many departments, as well as to the whole profession. In recent years, a number of mathematical sciences departments have developed creative or more effective ways of performing customary tasks and implementing innovative directions or methods.1 However, it takes considerable time for the larger mathematical sciences community to learn what works well, what has been or is being explored, and what changes are under way at various different institutions. Information about innovative departmental strategies—for instance, in curriculum and educational programs, as well as about unusually successful traditional ones—might be made more widely available as examples to emulate and analyze. A coordinated database of departmental strategies that are submitted in a standard format could be created at a single site on the World Wide Web, and availability of this database made known at national professional society meetings. Having such information posted in a consistent format on the World Wide Web would permit searches, an accumulation of data on mathematical sciences departments for continuing analysis, and a repository for archiving and accessing the experiences of different departments concerning innovation and experimental approaches in research, scholarship, and education. Such postings might also be


Examples include the University of Chicago mathematics department's new master's degree program in financial mathematics, and the University of Notre Dame mathematics department's new policy to have senior faculty who are the most effective lecturers teach the freshman-level courses for non-mathematics majors.

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