Leicester mathematics under threat again

Four years ago I wrote a post about an awful plan by Leicester University to sack its entire mathematics department, invite them to reapply for their jobs, and rehire all but six “lowest performers”. Fortunately, after an outcry, the university backed down.

Alas, now there’s a new vice-chancellor who appears to have learned nothing from the previous debacle. This time, the plan, known by the nice fluffy name Shaping for Excellence, is to get rid of research in certain subjects of which pure mathematics is one (and medieval literature another). This would mean making all eight pure mathematicians at Leicester redundant. The story is spreading rapidly on social media (it’s attracted quite a bit of attention on Twitter, Reddit and Hacker News, for example), so I won’t write a long post. But just in case you haven’t heard about it, here’s a link to a petition you can sign if, like a lot of other people, you feel strongly that this is a bad decision. (At the time of writing, it has been signed by about 2,500 people, many of them very well known academics in the areas that Leicester University claims to be intending to promote, in well under 24 hours.)

3 Responses to “Leicester mathematics under threat again”

  1. Derek Jones Says:

    What is it that the new vice-chancellor has not learned?

    I would argue that it is you who have not learned that economic principles apply to everybody, that includes academics and the subset that is mathematicians. The world does not owe academics a living.

    It is an archaic form of employment contract that forces Leicester University to sack its entire mathematics department, and then rehire everybody minus six.

    I’m sure that mathematicians will point to the economic value of some work of earlier mathematicians, and use this to justify their view that they should be employed to do mathematical research. The fact that in earlier times there were many fewer mathematicians, and their funding was a lot less generous than it is today, never seems to get mentioned.

    I think the way forward is to go back to governments funding prizes for discoveries. People can still do mathematics to their hearts content, but the taxpayer gets a more direct say in what problems get the attention.

  2. Alexander Kurz Says:

    I am glad you bring up the larger question of “the way forward”. If we want human civilization to survive for, say, another 500 years, we need to think seriously about how to transition to a sustainable economy. This will require to shift human activities from unsustainable consumption of material resources to spending more on maintaining a stable environment, healthcare, and education. What we need is a debate on how much of our economic activity we want to devote to these sectors. Once we decided this, we can design a tax system that is fair to everybody. Personally, I think it is rather clear that we need to spend more on education and research if we want to stay inside planetary boundaries. It is a question of survival for all of us.

  3. Carnival of Mathematics 190 – Sophie the Mathmo Says:

    […] Like me, he has a blog (but unlike me, he has a Fields Medal). He has recently taken to his blog to inform people of how Leicester University is planning on making its Pure Mathematics department […]

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