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State of the College

V. Mathematics Department


As a department whose concentrators form a minor part of undergraduate course enrollment and which, nevertheless, must organize its courses so that they are specifically related to even more complex study, the Mathematics Department is unique, It must satisfy mainly science concentrators for whom certain basis courses are mandatory, in addition to following the accepted University policy of being a fertile research center. The problem here involves reconciling the desire for advanced study by its staff members with the desire for grounding in fundamentals by its students.

Unlike men majoring in the Humanities where one may dabble here and there without ill effects, the undergraduate in Math or science must elimb, rung by rung, a ladder of prerequisites, which lead to graduate courses where the brilliance of the Department's permanent staff can eventually be appreciated. Since most undergraduates never intend to carry their Math studies that far, their concern is not stimulation by genius or authority but understanding and interest created by a good teacher.

Asking for both qualities in all Mathematics instructors is like asking for the moon. And, of necessity, a permanent staff member--there are ten--is chosen primarily for his ability as a mathematician, not us a teacher. The fact that over half the Department's men may be adequate teachers, however, does not men that there is no issue. Saying that the problem is exaggerated is no salve to the many students who have had to step to the next higher rung of the ladder with only a foggy notion of how they get past the preceding one.

Preoccupation with their own advanced theories has caused most professors to overlook the simple needs of the unenlightened undergraduate. to sweep the elouds from their lectures, the Department's top-flight men must recognize the student's dilemma through the use of various teaching methods and techniques such as understanding which park of the course proves most troublesome and anticipating any questions.

In Math A particularly, scholarly pursuits are allowed to overshadow undergraduate interests. A group of students with heterogeneous secondary school preparation is met by a group of teaching fellows of equally, heterogeneous teaching ability. In this case, the Department is concerned with research at long range, turning out graduate students for faculty jobs here or elsewhere. Experience in teaching will add to their qualifications and Math A is their only proving ground. The Department partially recognizes the faults of this system but goes not farther than trying to help the teacher get oriented. Again it is the student who pays. More of them could be helped by decreasing the ratio of teaching follows to annual instructors, which stands now at 18 to 3. In addition, the annual instructors could be selected primarily for teaching ability.

Long the bane of Math A goers, the course texts, written by former staff members Osgood and Graustein, are admittedly inferior and used mainly for their homework problems. In places the subject matter is incorrect and in others it is now taught differently. The Department has rejected all substitutes, however, as being even more inadequate for the purpose of the course. If the staff refuses to use other books in the field, then it is clearly time to write one of its own, designed expressly for the course, as in English A.

Locked in a soundproof study, the staff men responsible for departmental administration lack sufficient insight into student problems. The brilliance employed in publishing a treatise invoking worldwide comment is not applied to helping the undergraduate struggling with Calenlus. Obviously divergent interests create a need for balance not achieved by mathematical formulae. The Department must show more willingness to cope with student problem and devote more energy to improving the quality of its teaching if it intends to satisfy its befuddled charges.

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