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9 FOSTERING UNDERGRADUATE
PROGRAMS IN STATISTICS
How to develop, nurture, and sustain an undergraduate program in statistics is
discussed by a panel of statistics adr~urustrators.
Jaryaram Sethuraman (Organizer), Florida State University
STATISTICS AS AN INDEPENDENT UNIT
Dean L. Isaacson, Iowa State University
THE CARE AND FEEDING OF UNDERGRADUATE STATISTICS PROGRAMS
Walter R. Pirie, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
THE UNDERGRADUATE STATISTICS MAJOR
James R. Thompson, Rice University
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FOSTERING UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAMS IN STATISTICS
STATISTICS AS AN INDEPENDEN r UNIT
Dean L. Isaacson
Iowa State Uraversit~y
It may seem somewhat paradoxical that statistics asks to be an independent unit and at the same time claims
to be a part of most scientific research. How does statistics establish an identity when the subject is being taught
in many departments across most campuses? The importance of data collection and analysis is spread
throughout the college or university so that students do not view statistics as a separate discipline. This paradox
represents both a problem and an opportunity.
Statistical methods courses are often taught in departments outside of statistics by professors without a
degree in statistics. Hence, there is no natural "home" for applied statisticians. The theoretical statisticians are
often absorbed into mathematics departments and then tend to become mathematicians in order to get promotion
and tenure. This lack of a natural home where statisticians can be nurtured has hurt the visibility of the discipline
and in turn has made it difficult to establish an undergraduate program. We must pull statisticians together into
a single unit so that students recognize it as a viable major.
The first stepis to separate statistics from mathematics. Statisticians cannot move freely between theory end
applications if tenure decisions will be made by theoretical mathematicians. Within a mathematics department
there will be no incentive to do statistical consulting and collaborative research. So a significant portion of
statistics will wither and die. There are also problems associated with having mathematicians teach statistics
courses. The theorem-proof approach is often used, and hence students cannot see the difference between
mathematics and statistics.
In most colleges and universities, the number of statisticians in the department of mathematics is not great
enough for the formation of a separate department. They also usually lack the breadth to satisfactorily cover the
statistical methods being taught and used on their campuses. Hence, the next step should be the centralization
of applied statistics. This may be a sensitive issue on many campuses, but with help from central administrations,
it can be done. On most campuses there are courses in business statistics, engineering statistics, educational
statistics, psychometrics, econometrics, etc. These courses should have primary listing in the department of
statistics so that the material is recognized as statistics, and students who enjoy the material might consider a
major in statistics, or a double major. It is not feasible to hire new faculty members to teach these courses, and
so the existing faculty should be given fractional appointments in statistics. In this way, all of the "applied
statisticians" would interact on a regular basis and thereby keep current in statistics. The applied courses would
still be taught by individuals with expertise in the field of application. Through the above process, statistics could
be centralized on campus. This would give it strength and size and hence a competitive position as a possible
major.
If students choose statistics as a major, there must be some flexibility in the curriculum. These students will
have different career goals, and so they must have a variety of courses from which to choose. This is impossible
to do if the courses are designed for statistics majors only. The theory courses should be designed and taught
in such a way that undergraduate students in mathematics and engineering will also take the courses. Similarly,
the applied courses should give adequate graduate credit to majors in the sciences. Hence, courses in design of
experiments, survey sampling, quality control, regression, etc., will be filled primarily with graduate students
from outside statistics and also will be available to the undergraduate statistics majors. By listing all of these
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CHAFING TO MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES DEPARTMENT OF TO 1990S
courses through statistics, control is maintained so that He courses remain appropriate for an undergraduate
mayor.
A successful undergraduate program must also be separate from the graduate program. At many universities
the graduate statistics program is strong and the undergraduate program suffers by comparison. In such cases,
there must be an undergraduate coordinator who acts as the administrator for the undergraduate program. If
possible, a separate "main office" with secretary should be used for undergraduate matters so that the
undergraduate students do not get pushed aside when seeking advice. There also should be a core of
undergraduate advisors who take the program seriously and are rewarded for doing that part of their job well.
This subunit, no matter how small, gives the undergraduates a sense of unity and a home within the larger
program.
The resources needed to run an undergraduate program will vary. In most cases the resources are already
there and simply need to be pulled together and identified as a program. Through joint appointments, selection
of an undergraduate coordinator, selection of the undergraduate secretary, and centralization of statistics
courses, a viable department can be formed. The main resources it needs are encouragement and respect.
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FOSTERING UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAMS IN STATISTICS
THE CARE AND FEEDING OF UNDERGRADUATE STATISTICS PROGRAMS
Walter R. Pirie
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
I wish to tank today about how to make undergraduate programs work, both for the department and for the
students. Both aspects are equally important for the success of the program. My colleagues this afternoon have
provided some important insights into the administrative aspects, both nationally and within the institution. One
has also discussed some unique problems for small departments. I wish to focus mostly on undergraduate
programs within statistics departments in large universities that have heretofore existed primarily for their
graduate programs. That is my primary interest and my background.
Program Content
How should a program be designed? I think the operative phrase is "by intent" and not by default. By that
I mean the program designers, after some careful thought, should come to an intellectual conclusion about the
desired nature of the program. Necessary actions should then be taken to allow that program to be implemented.
If local conditions demand major compromises and a considerably weaker program, the project should be
abandoned. This is particularly true of undergraduate statistics programs. Despite the continuing health of the
discipline, demand will never warrant a statistics major at every college and university in the country as for
mathematics or physics. It is in everyone's best interest that only those who can support well-designed programs
should do so.
Although diversity and flexibility of program content are desirable, I think most would agree on a few basics.
A program should be designed around a core of required courses. That core would likely be similar in most
programs, including the most commonly used statistical methods, a solid introduction to probability and
statistical inference, mathematics that includes calculus and matrix algebra, and some use of computers.
Beyond the core there is room for considerable flexibility, but a program should demand considerably more
statistics than just the core, whichever direction it chooses. If not, it is more appropriate to call it a concentration
rather than a major. The guidelines published in AMSTATNews, June 1986, cover this in more detail.
Who Should Teach the Courses?
Physics is not considered to be a branch of mathematics just because it uses a lot of mathematics, nor is
computer science. True, advanced theoretical topics in statistics are very mathematical, but statistics is not a
branch of mathematics. It is a science in its own right and cannot be adequately taught by most mathematicians
(or psychologists, or Ed.D.s, etc.), at the very least, not to future statisticians.
To offer an appropriately broad degree program in statistics requires a core of professionally educated
statisticians. I don't claim to have a magic number, but I cannot imagine it with less than three or four
professionally qualified statisticians. Can anyone envision a mathematics degree program with fewer faculty?
As David Moore has said, "it is unprofessional for mathematicians who lack training and experience in working
with data to teach statistics."
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CHASING TO MATHEMATICAL S(:~NCES DEPARTMENT OF TO 1990S
Enrollments
How does an undergraduate statistics program attract the students necessary to warrant a strong program
with a sufficient variety of courses? The answer comes in several pieces. In the introductory-level courses, it
is usually satisfactory to combine majors and general service teaching; so enrollment is often not a problem.
In upper-division courses, that is often not the solution. Courses need to be designed more specifically for the
statistician. In a major research institution, such courses will still attract some students from other data-oriented
disciplines, and offering a minor in statistics will also be effective. Many smaller institutions will have to rely
on majors only for these courses.
The question becomes one of how to attract and hold not just numbers of students but also highly qualified
ones. The factor that makes this difficult is that most high school seniors are not even aware of statistics as a
separate discipline. One of my major points is that the traditional practice of relying on transfers from other
disciplines is not satisfactory. Often the numbers will not be adequate, and few if any will be the high-quality
students we need to attract. The only reliable way to consistently maintain both the quantity and quality of
students is high school recruitment.
The experience at my home institution over the past decade is that in years when we sent a mailing to high
schools throughout the state, our freshman classes varied from 15 to 20. When we have not used a mailing, the
numbers have been two to eight. We have found this to be a very effective recruitment mechanism Cat utilizes
relatively modest resources in terms of cost and faculty time. The alternative of faculty visits to high schools
is resource-intensive and reaches far fewer students. This year we have added a direct mailing to students whose
names were selected from the PSAT list, which is available to admissions offices, and so far, that seems to be
effective also.
Then, of course, there is the issue of keeping the good students and building a reputation within the
institution. Professor Isaacson has already discussed the importance of that. Students must feel that the
department values the undergraduate program. That issue still requires a change in attitude for many statistics
faculty members.
What we have discussed today is not revolutionary. With the exception of a greater need for recruiting, we
are simply emphasizing what happens in most good programs in any discipline. It is just that in statistics we have
not paid much attention to undergraduate programs in the past.
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FOSTERING UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAMS IN STATISTICS
THE UNDERGRADUATE STATISTICS MAJOR
James R. Thompson
Rice University
Thinking back on my past doctoral students, I recall that two of them had undergraduate majors in English.
One was a Chaucer specialist, the other a Beowulf enthusiast. Other doctoral students had done prior work in
sociology, physics, electrical engineering, and medicine. Such backgrounds might seem bizarre for aspirants
to doctoral work in mathematics. In statistics, they are not unusual. Each had as his major motivation for doing
doctoral work in statistics not the techniques of mathematics but rather the uses to which statistics might be put
in attacking the problems of science.
It appears to me most appropriate that undergraduate statistics majors should have majors in other university
departments as well. At Rice, all of our undergraduate statistics majors have another major in addition to
statistics. We have some majors who quite frankly pick one major, such as English, independent of any prospects
of a profession in the area, and another in statistics because they find it interesting and it offers promises of future
employment. I do not find this strange or insulting to statistics. It seems to me, on the contrary, an intelligent
approach to one 's undergraduate curriculum. Ofthese students, many will seek employmentin statistics without
further academic Raining beyond the bachelor's degree.
A statistician who has expertise only in the mathematical techniques of his discipline stands outside the
historical mainstream of the field. Statistics began in earnest during the Victorian Enlightenment. Gallon and
Pearson were not very good mathematicians. They were, however, very good scientists and individuals whose
interests stretched from psychology and ethics to astronomy and agriculture. It is this fundamental curiosity
which, more than any other factor, defines a statistician.
If I must write down a list of fundamental statistics courses for a statistics major, I am in a much greater
quandary than if I were given a similar task for a mathematics major. Every mathematics major should have
an essential core of courses in algebra, complex analysis, and real analysis. This may well extend to a list of at
least ten courses beyond calculus and differential equations.
For a statistics major, I will grant the necessity of a Hogg and Craig type course. Beyond this, however, a
wealth of paths becomes feasible. One student might, for example, spend a great deal of time in probability
theory and stochastic processes, together with the pure mathematics courses required to handle them. Another
student might elect a concentration in psychometrics. Still another might elect to press forward with
concentrations in a classical statistics curriculum with courses in sampling, experimental design, Bayesian
analysis, and linear models. Which is the correct curriculum? What is the irreducible core? I cannot answer these
questions, and I am troubled by the excessive confidence of those who think they can.
This may be unfortunate, for statistics is a profession, and there is a keen need for a plan to accredit
undergraduate statistics programs. Such plans are currently under consideration by the American Statistical
Association and the Southern Regional Committee on Statistics. Statisticians are beginning to notice that their
present position as members of a subcategory of applied mathematics is serving their profession ill. They find
that, in problems where their expertise is acutely needed, they may have little if any voice. Examples abound.
The quality control considerations of the Challenger disaster were dealt with cursorily by a physicist. In the
matter of AIDS, it was a matter of embarrassment to all when it was discovered how lacking were the Centers
for Disease Control in statistical expertise. It is not simply a question of fighting over turf that is at stake here.
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CHASING TO MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES DEPARTMENT OF TO 1990S
Rather, we have to deal with thereality that there are statistical questions of considerable importance thatreceive
the shortest of shrifts because of the institutionalized impotence of the profession of statistics. So long as
statistics is perceived as a proper subset of mathematics, this impotence is likely to continue.
This does not mean that I side with those who would make the union card in statistics an ability to run an
SAS System program. Mathematics will always continue to afford valuable transferrals of methodology to
statistics, and it ought not be despised by any statistician. H.O. Hartley once observed that there is a tendency
of some statisticians to regard as irrelevant any branch of mathematics that they could not readily understand.
What then should be the criterion for accrediting undergraduate programs in statistics? In my view, it should
be a commitment of such programs to prepare the student for doing original modeling and inferential work in
science generally. The gate must be sufficiently broad that the stochastic process enthusiast and the quantitative
agronomist can both pass through. It must be sufficiently narrow that the student with only a casual interest in
the discipline cannot pass.
The judgment must of necessity be based on the interests and orientations of the faculty who manage the
undergraduate program in statistics. Do they carry out original statistical research? Do they carry out statistical
consultation for industry and government? Do they show evidence of interdisciplinary research with faculty
from other departments? What are the stated goals of the managers of the program? How realistic are these goals
in the light of the curriculum and the student population? The questions may sound as though a great deal of
subjectivity must be involved in their answers. I doubt that the subjectivity problem will be as serious as might
be supposed.
Statistics programs at smaller universities are presented with special challenges. First of all, such programs
must rely substantially on joint faculty appointments with other scientific departments, to provide diversity and
stimulation for their students. At Rice we have only four full-time statistics faculty members. (Naturally, we
are doing our best to increase the number of full-time faculty.) Yet we manage to run an undergraduate program
and a doctoral program. (Interestingly, of our nine doctoral students, all are U.S . citizens except for one Mexican
national.) We run a weekly seminar, and both graduate and undergraduate majors are encouraged to attend.
Without our joint faculty, our task would approach nonfeasibility. Joint faculty are not interested in teaching
solely low-level service courses; at Rice they teach upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses as well. A
good deal of care and stroking is required to ensure the cooperation of the joint faculty. As a side observation,
I have noted that it is easier to obtain the participation of joint faculty within the structure of a department of
statistics than it was when we were a proper subset of a department of applied mathematics. At Rice a number
of upper-level undergraduate statistics majors take some graduate statistics courses. Given a choice, most
statisticians would like to see a group of eight or more full-time statistics faculty in a department of statistics.
With some care, however, the job can be done with fewer.
If statistics is to achieve Pearson's ideal role as the grammar of sciences, then academic statisticians must
turn their attention more to the scientific method itself and less to mathematical technique. The undergraduate
curriculum should reflect this realization.
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FOSTERING UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAMS IN STATISTICS
.... .
QUESTION-AND-ANSWER SESSION
QUESTION: How do you choose the target for your mass mailing?
DR. PIRIE: What we do is quite simple. We mail a copy to every high school in the state. Also, the Department
of Education publishes a list of high schools that excel. We target those in nearby states.
This year, we added to that a mailing to high school juniors based on PSAT scores. The admissions
department at the university or college can get a copy of the results of the PSATs. We sent letters to those who
did well and expressed interest in mathematics. The budget for all of this is well under $1,000 per year.
PARTICIPANT: I would like to supplement what you have said and give a slightly different view. I am from
a small university. We have a mathematics and statistics department with four Ph.D. statisticians. We do not
have the size or the number of majors to have a separate statistics department. We have actually been able to
do what Dr. Isaacson recommended. For example, we recognize consulting as professional work. One of my
goals is to attract enough majors so that statistics can become a separate department. The problem that a lot of
us face is trying to get an identity for statistics.
Accreditation may work against the profession. The fact is that we will not be accredited. We do not have
enough students or enough statisticians, and we probably cannot offer the courses. The university has limits on
what can be offered as a major.
If your accrediting plans follow those of every other accrediting agency, they will be self-serving. You may
end up cutting out departments, such as ours, that want to produce bachelor's degree students in statistics and
eventually grow into the position of which you speak.
DR. THOMPSON: You are right; it is self-serving. Many years ago, I read an argument by Milton Friedman
that indicated that accreditation of lawyers, doctors, engineers, and so forth was in the interest of the professions
that were accredited, but it was not necessarily in the interest of society at large. He convinced me with that
argument. However, I do not see any way statistics is likely to break out of its non-identity until it considers such
options as accreditation and splitting off from mathematics. None of the funding agencies from the federal
government, to my knowledge, has a separate directorate for statistics. We are always included as part of
mathematics. If you think that serves us well, I must respectfully disagree.
QUESTION: I can easily imagine accrediting a three- or four-person mathematics department. Thus, I was
expecting to hear you say that there is nothing wrong with four people in statistics if that is the right number
with respect to the number of students and the nature of the university. Can you imagine accrediting a three-
to four-person statistics department?
DR. THOMPSON: I can do what I do with four people. I could not do it with three. There is a minimum size
staff. I can see accrediting small statistics departments. However, it is very uncomfortable because there would
be no slack in terms of personnel. Every day would be crisis management. Eight people would be a nice size,
I think, for a statistics department
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APF^DICES
A: 1989 COLLOQuIU~ PRESENTERS
B: COMMISSION ON PHYSICAL SCIENCES,
~~HE~AT~S, AND SOURCES
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