Paul E. Pfeiffer
Expansion of a presentation at the thirtieth anniversary celebration
of the Department of Mathematical Sciences
(now Computational and Applied Mathematics)
This presentation has obvious limitations on detail and is biased by my personal views and by the failure of an aging memory, in spite of use of some records, such as minutes and excerpts from proposals and reports.
On February 14, 1968, President Kenneth Pitzer sent the following memorandum and statement of policies to Friedrich (Fritz) Horn, who had agreed to chair the new department until a permanent chairman could be found.
To: Professor Friedrich Horn
From: K.S. Pitzer
Subject: Establishment of Department of Mathematical Sciences
Upon recommendation of Dean Gordon I am hereby approving the establishment of the Department of Mathematical Sciences to begin active operation on July 1, 1968. Attached is a statement of policies relevant to the new department. Details for the first year of operation will be covered by the budget approved for 1968-69.
(Signed) K.S. Pitzer
The Department of Mathematical Sciences at Rice University will be devoted to areas of mathematics which are important to applications and certain areas of interdisciplinary and theoretical character. The new department will provide some of the instructional needs in applied mathematics of students in engineering and the physical and behavioral sciences. A particular effort will be made to strengthen the areas of computer science, probability theory, and numerical analysis at Rice.
A typical member of the new department will be either a scientist or engineer who gives more attention to the mathematical aspects of his work than would be normally true of equally competent men in his professional field, or he will be a mathematician who is interested in the relationship of his mathematical work to applications and who desires to associate professionally with persons concerned with applications.
In order to ensure a proper interaction between the new department and other departments, a number of faculty in the Mathematical Sciences Department will hold joint appointments with either the Mathematics Department or another science or engineering department. Of necessity, at first, most of the members of the new department will hold joint appointments.
The department will have a graduate program which will be open to any engineering, science, or mathematics major who has sufficient qualifications and is willing to supplement his background in either mathematics or one of the engineering and science areas.
The department may develop a proposal for a curriculum leading to a B.A. degree with a major in Mathematical Sciences for presentation to the University faculty.
Thus the department was born. But as with most births there was a long gestation period.
The original proposal, dated December, 1964, and entitled "A Program on Mathematics, Systems Research and Engineering", envisioned a broadly conceived interdisciplinary program encompassing a variety of activities in mathematics, science, and engineering. In April, 1965, an addendum to the original proposal in which particular emphasis was given to enlarging the scope of the behavioral and social sciences at Rice was submitted. The entire program was to be organized with the objective of promoting interaction among disciplines rather than the creation of new disciplines.
The "systems" concept, with its attention to "models" of a wide variety of behavioral and physical systems, provides the unifying perspective of the program. Since these models are most often mathematical or logical in character, mathematics and mathematical surrogates such as computer languages become fundamental disciplines of inquiry. It is clear that the primary role of mathematical studies in this program is to aid in formulating, testing, and studying models designed to assist in the explanation of physical and social phenomena. These studies often lead to important mathematical and computer investigations not directly related to applications and often may use the results of pure mathematical studies undertaken without concern for applications.
It seems natural to refer to the program as the systems program, although the diverse applications of the word "systems" in scholarly literature makes its use somewhat unsatisfactory. In a similar way, Rice has tended to speak of systems personnel, systems research, systems grant, and the systems area. In each case, the term "systems" must be interpreted broadly, as the nature of the original proposal made clear.
Oversight of the grant was placed in the hands of a Committee on Applied Mathematics and Systems Research (the "systems committee"), whose chronology through June, 1968, is as follows:
To consider the mathematical aspects of the program, Pitzer also named a Committee on Applications of Mathematics, chaired by F. Horn. As of March 31, 1965, this committee consisted of:
Not only was the gestation period long, but the childhood and adolescence of the department were long and sometimes difficult.
This was not without problems. Scheduling was a difficult task. Even though an individual wanted to teach one of the Masc courses, his department may have other needs. And of course, this raised problems for junior faculty who had the task of gaining tenure before them. Not the least of the difficulties was the problem of departmental identity, which had important implications for our relations with the administration.
* Seventeen persons were named as Mathematical Science faculty for 1968-69. One was on leave and R.M. Thrall (see below) was listed as a consultant, since he was hired in 1968, but could not come until May, 1969. Of the sixteen beside Thrall, only two were full time (C.C. Wang and W. Schmaedeke). One was 75%, five were 50%, and eight were less than 50%. Of the fourteen joint appointments, three were in Chemical Engineering, three in Electrical Engineering, two in Mechanical Engineering, and one each in Civil Engineering, Chemistry, Computer Science, Economics, Mathematics, and Physics.
His interest in consulting helped underline the importance of working on important problems. This broadened the horizons of young faculty and graduate students. At times there was concern that some of the latter may have been rushed into applications before gaining a suitable mastery of the necessary mathematics. But the nature and importance of applications were effectively highlighted.
I think the department has "come of age." In spite of many frustrations, it has been a gratifying experience to watch its development from a nondescript academic entity (albeit with a sound vision) to a strong department with an international reputation and a world class faculty. Many of its students have distinguished themselves professionally and personally. We are on the way. Keep it up!
The following proposal was presented with a covering memorandum from F. Horn, dated November 22, 1967, to Department Chairmen, Prospective Faculty of the Department of Mathematical Sciences, the Faculty Council, and the Committee on Applications of Mathematics.
It is proposed that a Department of Mathematical Sciences be established at Rice University. This department would be devoted to areas of mathematics important to applications and to other related areas of an interdisciplinary and theoretical character. It would be tied to existing departments by a number of joint appointments which would stimulate research not only in the new department but also in the existing departments. It would also provide a "home" for new faculty personnel who are interested in mathematics and theoretical aspects of science and engineering, but who do not identify themselves sufficiently with any one of these fields to be satisfied with membership in already established departments. The new department would undertake to provide some of the instructional needs of students of engineering and the sciences as well as those of its own students.
In order to achieve or maintain excellence in the various fields of engineering and science (throughout this proposal, we include under science the behavioral and social sciences), it is necessary for the University to establish an appropriate mechanism of interaction between mathematics and areas of application. Most good mathematics departments are devoted primarily to the development of mathematics as an end in itself, with secondary interest, at most, in applications. In order to maintain high professional standing in the mathematical community, they must pursue policies of hiring and promoting personnel and of organizing courses which fail to provide certain needs and exclude or neglect significant areas of mathematical and theoretical research important to modern society.
Much important work in these areas is being carried out in existing departments. Freedom of research at Rice is such that an engineer or scientist can (and many do) engage in work which is essentially applied mathematics. However, there are significant limitations and omissions — e.g., in probability and statistics, computer science, mathematical programming, etc. Recent recruiting experience has shown that the hiring of qualified persons has been hindered by the fact that many of the best people available do not wish to identify with one of the existing departments but have indicated an interest in a department of the kind proposed. Many see their work as sufficiently distinct from, although related to, science and engineering to want to maintain a separate identity. In particular, they want to be free to give more attention and emphasis to the purely mathematical aspects of their work than they feel is consistent with the interests of a department in one of the fields of engineering or science. In addition to these considerations is the fact that some of the current activities carried out in the departments — notably, the development of courses of instruction in applied mathematics — would profit by the structure and associations provided by a new department.
In the past, an instructional program in applied mathematics has been developed by members of the faculty in engineering and science. The need for this program has been demonstrated by the large enrollment of students from many departments in the University. It is a common conviction of those who have participated in producing this program that the organization and development of such courses could be carried out much more effectively and efficiently by a department rather than by an interdepartmental committee. Not only could more and better courses be designed to serve the instructional needs of students of engineering and the sciences, but they could serve as the basis for degree programs in Mathematical Sciences itself. Current trends in research point to the desirability of such degree programs. There are significant areas of research that are ordinarily neglected in departments of mathematics and which attract persons who do not wish to be identified as engineers, economists, physicists, etc. The total effectiveness of the research and instructional program at Rice would be enhanced by attracting some of the outstanding people in this category.
In view of the rapid and often unexpected developments in modern research, it does not seem proper or possible to divide mathematics into two areas, one of which is "pure" and the other "applied". For this reason, the name "Department of Applied Mathematics" would seem misleading, since it suggests such a division. On the other hand, most of the members of the new department will have interests in the theoretical foundations of science and engineering as well as in mathematics. This fact should be expressed in the name of the department. In view of this, it is proposed that the name of the new department be "Department of Mathematical Sciences." This proposed name has been discussed widely among those concerned, including members of the Department of Mathematics. There is rather general concurrence that this designation would be appropriate.
The research areas will be, as it is the case for other departments, determined by the members of the new department. In order to achieve the objectives of the new department, the following policy will be adopted.
The department will be responsible for some of the mathematics courses offered to engineering and science undergraduates in the third and fourth year. This will include the mathematics courses presently taught by members of the engineering and science faculty. There will be a departmental committee responsible for planning these courses. This committee will have at least one member from each department which is represented in the Mathematical Sciences Department by a joint or visiting appointment. Any department interested in this instructional program will have opportunity to discuss the content and organization of courses with members of the committee before major decisions regarding these courses are made.
The Mathematical Sciences Department will also develop courses for its own undergraduate and graduate program as needs arise and staff is available.
The department will develop a program leading to M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. Admission to this program will be open to undergraduates of the Department of Mathematical Sciences with sufficiently good records and to any engineering, science or mathematics major who has sufficient qualifications and is willing to supplement his background in either mathematics or one of the engineering and science areas.
Candidates for a degree will have to pass a qualifying examination in which competence in mathematics and in one area of the physical and behavioral sciences is tested.
The thesis topics will reflect the interests of the members of the new department. A departmental committee will decide on the suitability of thesis topics regarding mathematical significance.
The department will be responsible for a curriculum leading to a B.A. degree with a major in Mathematical Sciences. This program would attract students interested in mathematics who are strongly motivated by applications and also students primarily interested in engineering and science who wish to go deeper into the mathematical aspects with less emphasis on experimental aspects.
During the freshman and sophomore years, students intending to major in Mathematical Sciences may register in either the Academic Division or the Science-Engineering Division, provided they take suitable courses in science and mathematics. For the third and fourth years, about nine mathematics courses (including probability theory and numerical analysis), four interrelated courses of theoretical nature taken either in the Mathematical Sciences Department itself or in an engineering or science department, and two additional Group B or C courses would be required.
It is estimated that in the academic year 1970-71 the total number of appointments should be 15. Joint appointments are included in this number and counted as one-half. The estimated graduate enrollment should be about 50 at that time.
Committee on Application of Mathematics
11/21/1967