Lead Article on the Retirement of 14 Faculty Members

Newsletter, Department of Mathematics & Statistics

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Academic Year 2001-2002, Volume 17, page 1

by Richard S. Ellis



      The numbers overwhelm.  Of the 50 faculty members in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, 14 are projected to depart, almost all through retirements, at the end of the current academic year or shortly thereafter.  These 14 include Donald St. Mary, the Department Head, who has provided superlative leadership during the past eight years.  Mrs. Judy Ksieniewicz, the Administrative Assistant to the Department Head, is also retiring.

      The numbers overwhelm, and the effects of the exodus of 14 senior faculty members plus the staff person who provides central support to the executive offices of the Department are potentially devastating.  The reasons for the exodus are clear.  Most of the retirees are taking advantage of early retirement initiatives proposed first by the State Legislature and then by the University to address the State’s current budget crisis.  Because the first of these plans stipulates that a large percentage of the salary of any retiree be absorbed by the State, in response the University, already hard hit by a sizable budget cut at the end of 2001, presented its own initiative.  The names of the faculty members who are scheduled to depart are Melvyn Berger, Thomas Borrego, Edward Connors, Donald Geman, David Hayes, Joseph Horowitz, Aroldo Kaplan, George Knightly, Ramesh Korwar, Mei-Chin Ku, Teng-Sun Liu, Ernest Manes, Donald St. Mary, and Jon Sicks.  A joint retirement party was held on May 20, 2002 to celebrate the careers of all those who are departing.

      While the effects of this exodus of 14 senior faculty members are potentially devastating, the Department will use every resource at its disposal to transform what could be a crisis into an opportunity for self-examination, restructuring, and growth.  As sages from many spiritual traditions have pointed out, one's expectations create a reality in which one's expectations are validated.  Our goal is to foster positive expectations that will create a reality in which the Department, whose growth Donald St. Mary so carefully nurtured, continues to flourish.

      There are many positive signs.  In the spring of 2002 we hired two outstanding tenure-track faculty members who continue the tradition of top-level academic appointments initiated during Don's headship; another article in this newsletter highlights the five extremely talented faculty members who were hired last year.  Although eight of our postdocs are scheduled to complete their appointments at the end of the current academic year, we have appointed 12 new postdocs, who will not only teach but will also invigorate the research atmosphere of the Department by bringing in new mathematical ideas.  In addition, because of the extensive publicity that the Department has received in reaction to our retirement exodus, we will almost certainly be given additional resources that will obviate a nightmare scenario: significant numbers of students unable to enroll in our courses in the fall because of the lack of faculty members to teach those courses.

      We are greatly encouraged by a letter sent to our faculty by the Dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, who writes the following:

Let me state as strongly and unequivocally as possible that rebuilding and resolidifying the Department of Mathematics and Statistics is of primary importance to me. ... Research and teaching in the sciences, in engineering, and broadly across the campus, cannot expect to aspire to greatness without great strength in Mathematical and Statistical research and teaching.  Accordingly, the current departures from your Department cannot be allowed to lead to a permanent erosion of that strength.  Indeed, we must view those departures, to the extent possible, as an opportunity to reposition, reshape, and build even greater strength in Mathematics and Statistics.

We look forward to working with the Dean and with the rest of the higher administration of the University to take advantage of this opportunity to reposition, reshape, and build even greater strength in our Department.

      In an echo of the praise lavished on Donald St. Mary at the retirement party on May 20, once again let us honor Don for the enormous progress that the Department has made during the eight years of his tenure as Department Head.  Let us also honor Don for his energy and for his tireless efforts aimed at actualizing his vision: to build a world-class research department while maintaining a high standard of excellence in teaching throughout the entire spectrum of the curriculum.  Don, for all these achievements, the members of the Department extend to you our profound appreciation from the depths of our collective soul.  You will be missed but not forgotten.