Letter from the Chair

Alex Nagel

Welcome to the 2012 edition of the Van Vleck Notes!

Putting a newsletter together requires a tremendous amount of work, and the math department is especially grateful to the editors Sasha Kiselev and Andrej Zlatoš for all their efforts, and to Yvonne Nagel for her technical support. This is particularly noteworthy this year since two of these colleagues are new fathers and one is a new grandmother.

These are `interesting times' for UW-Madison and the Department of Mathematics; this is usually thought of as a Chinese curse, but as we shall see, there are reasons to be optimistic as well. On the negative side, the campus is dealing with a budget cut and an additional budget lapse; the effect on our department is a 6% reduction in the state-funded portion of our income. We are dealing with this primarily through careful cuts in our Teaching Assistant and Supply and Expense budgets. Also, size limitations have forced us to require some students to postpone taking needed math courses for a semester. According to Interim Chancellor David Ward, the University should not expect either state funds or tuition increases to make up these budget deficits in the foreseeable future. Rather, he points to the need for philanthropic gifts to help pay for some of the core functions of the campus. These are grim times indeed!

Nevertheless, the math department continues to bustle with ideas and activity. We are currently engaged in a variety of projects to review and improve instruction at all levels of our undergraduate program; examples include the Wisconsin Collaboratory for Enhanced Learning (WisCEL) experiments in pre-calculus instruction, our Madison Initiative for Undergraduates (MIU) sponsored enhancement of our calculus courses, and our reworking of Engineering math courses such as Math 321. Despite the economic hard times, faculty and staff continue to give their time and energy to the three pillars of an academic life: research, teaching, and service. I am especially grateful to the classified and academic staff for helping me get used to life in the Chair's office for the second time. (As the philosopher George Santayana wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.")

Perhaps the most interesting aspect about the current situation in this department is the age distribution among our faculty. As a result of many recent retirements, we now have more than a dozen tenure-track faculty members (the largest number in more than forty years) and we are authorized this year to search for five more. The presence of so many young and enthusiastic colleagues in Van Vleck Hall surely means that we should temper our concerns with financial difficulties with a strong dose of optimism. The future of our department can be seen in our younger colleagues, and it is looking good!

Alexander Nagel, Chair