Popular Math Ar Professor Will Return

Hughes Hallett Rejects Arizona Offer Despite Harvard Curricular Controversy

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.