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Popular Math Ar Professor Will Return

Hughes Hallett Rejects Arizona Offer Despite Harvard Curricular Controversy

By Sarah J. Schaffer

Although the University of Arizona has offered position, Professor of the Practice in the Teaching of Mathematics Deborah Hughes Hallett--who is on leave this year--will return to Harvard next fall.

Hallett is best known at Harvard for launching the Math Ar course nearly 25 years ago.

"Before Deb, precalculus didn't exist at Harvard," said Eric D. Connally, course head of Math Ar, "Precalculus Mathematics." "Before Deb, precalculus didn't exist at many universities, period."

But the decision to return was not an easy one to make, said Hughes Hallett, whose position at Harvard carries job security but is not tenured.

During her year-long stay at Arizona, Hughes Hallett has been a frequent topic of conversation among her Harvard colleagues because of departmental politics and curricular developments.

Senior Preceptor in Mathematics Robin Gottlieb and Preceptor in Mathematics Esther Silberstein have proposed an experimental course that will be tested next year: Math X, a two-semester class designed to integrate precalculus and calculus.

The course is intended to be an alternative to Math Ar for students who need some help with precalculus but do not want to wait to learn calculus, according to Silberstein. It will have small sections and meet five times a week--three times as a class and twice in discussion sections.

Hughes Hallett, who is widely respected for her pedagogical skill and will soon be lecturing in Switzerland, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates, said she supports the idea of such an integrated course but is disheartened that she was not notified when it was first proposed.

"I was really quite sad to discover that new courses were being planned and I had not heard about them," Hughes Hallett said.

She said that when she came to Boston last January, "I talked to the department about the fact that I would have liked to be included in the discussions."

Hughes Hallett said Department Chair David Kazhdan expressed regret that she had not been informed. She said does not believe that the department intentionally neglected to notify her.

She also has not brought up the issue with the department, even when she recently notified Kazhdan, who is also Perkins professor of mathematics, of her decision to return next fall.

"I haven't asked them about this. The whole situation is just too uncomfortable," Hughes Hallett said. But she added, "If I thought the situation was hopeless, I wouldn't come back."

Hallett suggested that if department members want to revise Harvard's precalculus teaching, using Math Ar as a springboard for change might be preferable to creating an entirely new class.

"I think that Robin and Esther undoubtedly havea lot of very good ideas and they have lots ofsense in this direction," she said. "I also thinkthat Math Ar continues to have good ideas and goodpeople and we ought to be able to build on whatwe've got."

Many of Hughes Hallett's former students,however, said they believe that her not being toldwas more than just an administrative oversight."We feel that decisions are being made excludingpeople who would really bring valuable insight,"Connally said.

He said he wonders why the department has notasked Hughes Hallett or any Math Ar preceptors tobe a integral part of shaping the new course.

In March, amid rumors that some members of thedepartment would like to see Hughes Hallett stayat Arizona permanently, Bridget Neale '91, now afirst-year math graduate student at BostonUniversity, urged others to write letters insupport of the absent professor. The student'seffort resulted in more than 20 letters expressinghope that Hallett would return in the fall.

But the acting chair of the department said hedoes not understand why such rumors made therounds.

"The department has gone on record that we wanther back," said Robinson Professor of MathematicsWilfried Schmid, who is acting as department chairwhile Kazhdan is out of the country. "Thisletter-writing campaign to us seems absolutelyconstructed from nothing."

Schmid added that when Hughes Hallett returns,her responsibilities will be similar to those shehad before she left. "She will retain the hiringresponsibilities for Math Ar," Schmid said. "Myexpectation is that Math Ar will continue and Debwill continue to run it without interference. Ibelieve that is the expectation of everyone in thedepartment. Nor do I believe that anything to thecontrary has ever been communicated."

But a former Math Ar instructor said she doesnot believe the department feels that HughesHallett's focus on curricular reform is asimportant as other members' focus on research.

"Harvard likes researchers and if you're notdoing a lot of hard research and not publishing alot, they don't like it," Jeanne Smith Jacobs '76said. "I think she is a second-class citizen inthat department."

A number of mathematics professors could not bereached or refused to comment yesterday.

Hughes Hallett's former students and courseassistants interviewed said they were delighted tohear that she is returning. One current instructorattested to Hughes Hallett's enormous draw.

"I left an amazing job as head of thedepartment in Hong Kong to come and teach MathAr," said Rajini Jerudason, a Math Ar instructor.

And Smith Jacobs lauded Hughes Hallett'sability with people.

"We call ourselves all Deb's children," saidSmith Jacobs. "She has this enormous knack withhuman beings. I don't think the University seesthat."

Karen L. Heath, assistant dean of freshmen,said, "She has participated in the trainingsessions for freshman advisors every year, and infact, it has been one of the sessions advisors saythey can't live without.

"I think that Robin and Esther undoubtedly havea lot of very good ideas and they have lots ofsense in this direction," she said. "I also thinkthat Math Ar continues to have good ideas and goodpeople and we ought to be able to build on whatwe've got."

Many of Hughes Hallett's former students,however, said they believe that her not being toldwas more than just an administrative oversight."We feel that decisions are being made excludingpeople who would really bring valuable insight,"Connally said.

He said he wonders why the department has notasked Hughes Hallett or any Math Ar preceptors tobe a integral part of shaping the new course.

In March, amid rumors that some members of thedepartment would like to see Hughes Hallett stayat Arizona permanently, Bridget Neale '91, now afirst-year math graduate student at BostonUniversity, urged others to write letters insupport of the absent professor. The student'seffort resulted in more than 20 letters expressinghope that Hallett would return in the fall.

But the acting chair of the department said hedoes not understand why such rumors made therounds.

"The department has gone on record that we wanther back," said Robinson Professor of MathematicsWilfried Schmid, who is acting as department chairwhile Kazhdan is out of the country. "Thisletter-writing campaign to us seems absolutelyconstructed from nothing."

Schmid added that when Hughes Hallett returns,her responsibilities will be similar to those shehad before she left. "She will retain the hiringresponsibilities for Math Ar," Schmid said. "Myexpectation is that Math Ar will continue and Debwill continue to run it without interference. Ibelieve that is the expectation of everyone in thedepartment. Nor do I believe that anything to thecontrary has ever been communicated."

But a former Math Ar instructor said she doesnot believe the department feels that HughesHallett's focus on curricular reform is asimportant as other members' focus on research.

"Harvard likes researchers and if you're notdoing a lot of hard research and not publishing alot, they don't like it," Jeanne Smith Jacobs '76said. "I think she is a second-class citizen inthat department."

A number of mathematics professors could not bereached or refused to comment yesterday.

Hughes Hallett's former students and courseassistants interviewed said they were delighted tohear that she is returning. One current instructorattested to Hughes Hallett's enormous draw.

"I left an amazing job as head of thedepartment in Hong Kong to come and teach MathAr," said Rajini Jerudason, a Math Ar instructor.

And Smith Jacobs lauded Hughes Hallett'sability with people.

"We call ourselves all Deb's children," saidSmith Jacobs. "She has this enormous knack withhuman beings. I don't think the University seesthat."

Karen L. Heath, assistant dean of freshmen,said, "She has participated in the trainingsessions for freshman advisors every year, and infact, it has been one of the sessions advisors saythey can't live without.

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