Syracuse University College of Arts and Sciences
Syracuse University
Department of Mathematics

History of Mathematics Department

Kiblec

by Professor Donald E. Kibbey

I am complimented to be asked to do this, of course. I should mention what should be an apology but won’t be, and that is that I cannot avoid talking without a bias, so I’m a poor historian. Syracuse University began rather small. Now I’ve been watching some of the TV shows. You’re supposed to say: how small? (Laughter) Believe me, there were five on the faculty in 1871. You mean the math faculty? No, the faculty. The faculty of the University numbered five, including the chancellor and the dean of the college. The dean of the college was a man named John Raymond French. Ah, that might be a well-known name around here, but probably is not. There is a John Raymond French Professor of Mathematics, Professor Jurkat. I have often thought that Jurkat, who is German, you know, has gotten a laugh more than once out of the fact that he was the French Professor of Mathematics (laughter). John Raymond French was the professor of mathematics. There was one. He was one of the five. He was the dean of the college, meaning the College of Liberal Arts, as it was known initially, and until Prucha became the dean of the College. He was John Raymond French, the Francis H. Root Professor (writing on the blackboard). So the Mathematics Department started out in a big way with one endowed chair and a man in it.

These two names are interesting to us because we have a John Raymond French Professor named Jurkat and we have a Francis H. Root Professor named Church. And these two chairs have been in the department all these years, much of the time until a professor passed on. Francis H. Root was not a mathematician, as far as I can tell. He was a trustee who had endowed the chair and it was named after him[1] (cf. footnotes at the end). These five did not include a professor of physics or a professor of chemistry, so designated; he was called a professor of natural philosophy and, of course, there was a professor of classics, a professor of English and a professor of history. You’d be surprised how long things stayed pretty much this way. And this was 1871. And in 1881 it didn’t look much different. The faculty could still be listed on one page, and if you look at the bulletin of the university for that year, you will find them all listed on one page. The students still numbered you know a hundred or so. And so for some time it just sat[2].

There is one quality about those early years that seems to have stayed throughout, and even until today. And that’s a matter of standards. Let me tell you what the curriculum was at that time. And everyone took the same curriculum at first. In order to have a proper entrance, you had to pass a very stringent English examination. I saw a copy; it was tough. You had to pass examinations in Latin and in Greek and in mathematics. That was to get in (laughter). The curriculum after you got here was the classics, Latin and Greek. You know: Caesar, Cicero, Virgil. You’ve heard those names. They studied them--all of them[3]. They all took college algebra, which included Horner’s method. Did you ever see Horner’s method, a method for approximating roots of algebraic equations? Trigonometry, analytic geometry, calculus. All students took a year of calculus. The third year in mathematics was mechanics and the fourth year was a sort of selection of topics. That was the undergraduate program and it remained that way pretty much until just about the turn of the century.

Now, if we look in between these years, roughly, there was Mr. French, who seemed to be omnipresent, and an instructor and those were all that were listed (I’ve got the instructor’s name here somewhere) Harry Peck. These people are interesting because somehow between them they covered nine math sections Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 8 (laughter). One can’t believe this. It, of course, is incredible, so first I thought, well they just list the professors. No, when I looked at the faculty list, it had instructors, little people like Mr. Peck. So then I explored a little farther and it turns out that you can simplify things a little bit. {(Now, softly, as if partly to himself) And how many administrators are [?] at least friendly? (laughter.)} Maybe one section meets Monday and another meets Wednesday and another meets Friday. And indeed this was the case. Ah--now of course we didn’t have the state department regulations then that we do now, but even so, you know, that isn’t necessarily bad. After two teaching experiences of mine, one at West Point where the students were over-taught, and in the bachelor of liberal studies program where if anything they were under-taught, I find that the motivation and the intelligence are more important than how much time you spend in the teaching. So, I still have to believe that the standards were relatively high. As far as the curriculum is concerned, it was just like Harvard’s or Johns Hopkins’ at about the same time. That was what was being given in the undergraduate years in those days.

By the way, I intend to give you an opportunity to ask questions, and you may interrupt me either to ask a question or to correct me, because I’m - when it comes to giving talks I’m a great approximator.

About the turn of the century, some things of importance happened. In 1897--right in here things just didn’t change much--but in 1897 a man named William Henry Metzler was made the Root Professor of Mathematics. Now that suggested that Mr. French had retired, and indeed he had. But it’s worth mentioning, I guess, that Mr. French not only had the title of Dean of the College and the Francis H. Root Professor of Mathematics, but he was the first Vice-Chancellor of the University, for perhaps a half-dozen years before retirement. Then Edward Drake Rowe became the first John Raymond French Professor in the Math. Department, so we now have Mr. French and Mr. Root split up into two people, a professorship named after French himself. French had a doctor’s degree, by the way, it was an LL.D.

And now because it is about the same time, before I get too far, to late years, those of us who were around here in the old days along about 1946 to '50 used to think that F. F. Decker, whose name I’ll mention presently, was the first Ph.D. of the Department of Mathematics. According to the records, this is not so. He was at least fourth[4], maybe more. If you’re trying to find when the Ph.D. program in Mathematics was established and approved, which is a natural thing to do, you’ll find that there is no record of it. It is assumed that when the university was founded, the Ph.D. was granted, and indeed it was. By the way, don’t look for references to graduate students in the early literature. They’re called postgraduates. In 1884 there were two Ph.Ds in mathematics: Isaac J. Birchard and Joseph Morrison. I made one little attempt to find out something about them, and failed. In 1894 Clarence A. Waldo got a Ph.D. in mathematics. There were Ph.Ds in other fields: the humanities, classics, English, history. Not more than in mathematics, I would say, but nevertheless some. Now you see 1884, that’s 13 years after the University was begun. It was probably something that Mr. French did after hours, do you suppose? It’s hard to put all these pieces together to make a great deal of sense.

Now sometime--and I apologize for not checking this out, because I could have--now sometime in here, F. F. Decker got his degree here and he remained here, and he is the only one of the old guard who was known to any of us in this room. It would be kind of cute to spend a lot of time with this, but I mustn’t do it. The Department at the time of Metzler and Roe, and they did have some help from an associate professor named Warren Bullard. But this bunch got things going. Let me prove it to you. They listed the following graduate courses in the bulletin: Newtonian potential functions, spherical harmonics, projective geometry, theory of surfaces, symmetric functions, elliptic functions, complex variable, Weierstrass theory of functions, theory of invariants, theory of substitutions, differential geometry and a seminar. Not bad considering that they must have had hundreds of undergraduates to teach.

Ah--I neglected to say that I have sort of arbitrarily divided this talk into ancient, medieval and modern[5] (laughter). (He writes on the blackboard here.) Aren’t you glad I didn’t put a terminal date on that last one (more laughter). I would like to mention one more extension here of this staff, actually two more. In 1915-16 the faculty consisted of: Metzler, Roe, Bullard, an associate professor named Metzler-- Ah, I don’t know whether it was his wife or child or unrelated--Professor Decker, who was appointed in 1906[6], and these people were associate professors. I’m sorry, I did write it right here--assistant professors Rice and Lindsey--who were known to a few of us, and just to reflect the chauvinistic nature of the times, Mrs. Harwood. That’s the way they were listed in the Bulletin: associate professor, assistant professor and Mrs. Harwood.

I want to write down here--This I want to mention later, finally, a man named--in 1927, a man named Alan D. Campbell was appointed as an associate professor. He later became--the next year became professor and chairman of the department. Ah-- these, these people did three very nice things for us. They established Pi Mu Epsilon, which was founded here at Syracuse; ours is the alpha chapter. They got started one of the finest libraries in America, I’m thinking, of course, of the math library. And they set some standards, that, as far as I can tell, we have not really exceeded. I can’t speak with authority there, of course, I’m an approximator. Ah--I will recall Hemmingsen’s reaction when he first had a chance to look at the library thoroughly. He was really amazed. The Mathematische Annalen was complete, Zeitschrift was complete, Crelle’s Journal was complete, Comptes Rendus was complete, all the good American journals were complete[7]. There was a copy of Descartes’ original, from 1645, or whatever it was[8]. Ah--Now these things don’t just happen. Ah--Someone has to be around who knows mathematics, who understands mathematical research and scholarship, and who knows the importance of the presence of these journals. It is almost impossible to acquire them. If you haven’t got them, you just wish you had them. And they were here. In a few cases there were some gaps, but Hemmingsen filled those.

And let me, for the record, record that we owe our library to Hemmingsen’s diligence--what people in the School of Education call dedication. It takes a certain amount of money, to have a library, but the money is nowhere near enough. It takes painful dedication to the presence of the right volumes and the matter of keeping them up, and, of course, trying to avoid thefts and security problems. In this Hemmingsen had some help, Jerry Cargo and others, but by and large it has been his job. Some departments have committees for libraries. I don’t think you can run a library with a committee, I think it takes a czar. And he has to be given credit for maintaining the quality of the library which we discovered when we came.

That is no mean heritage. And there is no other explanation than that these people saw that it happened. Ah--I will recall a remark of Decker. That one time when the Chancellor came in, the new chancellor, maybe it was Day, came in and he didn’t know anything about research but he had heard there was research and he had heard that we should do more of it and that the research was good, and so he wanted to know what could be done to help research, and so Decker gave him a list of the five of the journals we needed, and he bought them. I mean, that’s the way you do it and that’s the way Hemmingsen did it. We used to have a library director around here named Wharton Miller[9], who traditionally at the end of the year would have some money left over, because he was one of those who thought that good administration meant running the store cheap. And Hemmingsen would go over in May and say, Mr. Miller we need this and this and this and this and this, and Mr. Miller would take funds left over from budgets other than the math budget, and buy them. And it’s that kind of effort that filled in the journal gaps that we had; I don’t mean we don’t have any, but we don’t have many.

Now, it would be nice, as I say, there are all kinds of charming tales about these people that I unearthed, but I think I ought to mention their primary contributions for our purposes. In 1942 or thereabouts, two somewhat unrelated or apparently unrelated things happened, which turned out to be very important for the Mathematics Department here: one was William Pearson Tolley was appointed chancellor of the University; the other was Mr. Alan Campbell died. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t say he died; Mr. Alan Campbell vanished, he disappeared. His car was found by the shore of Green Lake, and that was all that was ever found related to Mr. Campbell. Except his wife, of course, who was left behind. He just vanished and there’s been no suitable explanation of his disappearance. Well, when the chairman of the Department vanishes, you find another chairman (laughter).

They picked a little-known, outside his own profession, man, an assistant professor at M.I.T. named W. T. Martin[10]. And I want to tell you what the Math. setup was in 1943-44[5]. In that year the mathematics faculty listed was: Martin, Harwood, Carroll, Church (and certainly not Philip Church) and Decker. Count them, five. Yes? [Someone else: Wasn’t Whitney one?] Whitney--no, that’s--thank you for reminding me, because that’s a remark that has to be made in here. At the time that Martin came, Whitney was not one. Whitney and Lindsey and Rice were in these other departments. See, at the time that Martin came there was a math department in the Forestry College, and one in the College of Business it was called and one in the College of Engineering. When Martin came, they were all put together. But at the time of his arrival and in the Liberal Arts Bulletin, we find only these names listed.

And, of course, Professor Carroll had the responsibility that Professors Exner and Johnson have now. He was mathematics education as well as math. Now what had happened? Well, in this period, in here, initially Syracuse University had three colleges: Medicine, Liberal Arts and Fine Arts. They started with three. They had no more for a long time. But in this period, you know, we began to get new colleges: a College of Business, a College of Engineering, and in those days, at least in some places, the College of Engineering had its own Math Department. And what they did was, in a sense of course, draw the strength that might have been put into a Liberal Arts department and put it in these disparate places. When Martin came in, they were all brought back together. Now it didn’t add much to Martin’s staff, I mean even in numbers, to appoint these people.

Well, Martin was a man of action. In 1944-45 he appointed Samelson, Gelbart, Halmos, Scheffé and Fox. Now, I know that to many of you those names don’t mean too much. But maybe you know Halmos, because he was here and because he’s a fine expositor and he’s better known than most of the others, but I tell you, he wasn’t a better mathematician than any of these people. They were all first rate. In 1945-46 Martin appointed Karl Loewner and Lipman Bers. Now Loewner was known best at that time for his proof of the third coefficient for the Bieberbach conjecture, which D. C. Spencer said it took him a year to learn, and Lipman Bers, who was just president of the American Mathematical Society two years ago? One year ago? Very recently.

Now, of course, this is a tremendous change. Here’s the math staff, supplemented with Rice and Lindsey and Whitney indeed, and a full-fledged graduate program is introduced, and three graduate students are imported from Brown: Titus, Aulbach. How do you spell his name? How do you spell Tommy’s name? [Answer: Aul.] They were actually imported from Brown. They were students of Loewner, and they came from Brown University. Our first modern Ph.D. was Titus in 1948, Aulbach and Resch were a little later, and Professor Exner, who was in the middle somewhere[11]. So that was the beginning of the modern mathematics department[5].

Now I’m not quite through with this. I want--I’ll get started on the modern shortly, and out of it you’ll be surprised how fast. In between here and there, sometime in the '30s, an event occurred which makes clear my designation of this as the medieval period, which sort of strengthens my designation. It was medieval in the sense that the department just kind of sat there. I examined the curriculum each year. It just didn’t change. It was the same. And in view of the fact that, at times, there was a smaller staff, I wondered if that ambitious graduate program, which I mentioned to you a minute ago, was actually properly carried out: I question it.

But something else happened. The faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences (the College of Liberal Arts) in their wisdom dropped the requirement that all students were supposed to take calculus. The textbook for the course was Granville, Smith and Longley, which some of us cut our teeth on. You probably never heard of it. Translated into 27 different languages. Well, when the calculus requirement was dropped, the students took their Granville, Smith and Longley books and they burned them in the middle of the quad (laughter).

In 1946-47 Professors Morgan, Exner, Gilbert, Cairns, Kibbey arrived, and then things began to happen. In the summer of 1946, let’s see: Professor Morgan showed in April, Exner, was it April or June? [Answer: April], I came in July, Gilbert came in September and Cairns came in September. Right in here, in the midst of these three people, Mr. Martin tells us he’s leaving.

He’s leaving to return to MIT as chairman, having made a pretty fast move there, from assistant professor to professor and chairman in three years. It’s not really astonishing that MIT would want him back. The additions of those prominent people in a relatively short time, at a time when it was still relatively easy to get people, true, but still it was quite an achievement, and as far as they were concerned, that meant he was good enough to be chairman at MIT. And he departed.

He left us with a number of headaches, but he left me with one good piece of advice that I shall remember always. I was assigned, in July when I came, the problem of making out--among other assignments--the job of making out the schedule for the fall term. I was amazed to discover that lots of names in front of me were down to teach 15 hours, and no one was down to teach less than 12 hours. And I said: "Look, do you really mean this?" I said: "People cannot teach that much and do mathematics." "You think it’s too much?" I said: "yes". "Then why don’t you cut it?" (laughter). Well, I didn’t need a second invitation. I cut it, and each semester we cut it, and we cut it, and we cut it, until we got it down to something respectable.

The lesson there--and I will spend a few minutes on lessons in a minute--the lesson there is that when you have an opportunity to do something which you know is constructive and will help, you just do it, and you don’t worry about how things fall out later. You run a risk, of course, of getting fired, but that isn’t all bad.

Now Martin’s successor was found relatively quickly: S. S. Cairns, who was at Queens College in the City of New York, a topologist who has done some good work, and he came. And Cairns was chairman from 1946 to 1948. I must mention some things that happened in there, because it gave us an opportunity to do something later. We got the GI Bill. Have you heard of it? Thousands of students who had been fighting in World War II valiantly, and had earned the right to go to college at the expense of the country, and they came. And we took them. It was never clear to me whether we took them to get the tuition or out of a sense of patriotism, but either way, I’ll buy it. It was something that should be done, I really think. Of course, there were an awful lot of headaches. We had prefabricated buildings on this campus. We had staff members in them for offices. We had prefabricated buildings all over Skytop, and all over Manley, to accommodate these students, and, in some cases, members of the faculty. It was a major effort. To meet this need, we appointed--count them--28 temporary instructors. Twenty eight! If you start counting up here, you’ll find that’s a good deal more than we had. Nearly all of them had master’s degrees, and we were quite proud to say, after it was all over, that most of them were better off when they left. The appointments were temporary, it was understood they were temporary. Only one of them, Professor Exner, became permanent. But by and large, they left knowing more than when they came and with a better job than when they came. The market was unbelievably good in those days. Now what significance does that have? It has this significance: that every time one of those persons left, we said he had to be replaced. And that is one of the reasons for this rather fulsome list here.

I wrote these down, because I thought you might be interested--some of these names aren’t here anymore, of course--I wrote these down because I thought some of you may be interested and somewhat curious when your favorite professor arrived on the scene. And I won’t vouch for any of those dates. They are all close, but I’m not certain of their accuracy. [Question: When did Nancy Cole come?] When did what--Nancy come? I’m about to write it. {He writes on the blackboard.} In '47--'48: Cole, Hemmingsen, Arthur Milgram, Paul Rosenbloom, Atle Selberg (I may be off a year on this), Paul Erdös, Daniel Mostow, Murray Protter. And sometime in here, between '48 and '51, somewhere in here: Austin--Donald Austin, Blackman, Walter Baum, Bill Pierce. Put the other names all here [12].

Now, in 1948 the University of Illinois, in debating whether to take Bers and Gelbart, so that they would have the two best applied mathematicians in America, or to take Cairns, who they felt would make the best chairman possible, decided that it wasn’t fair to take all of them, and took Cairns only.

Now that was great for us, in a sense. I mean, Bers and Gelbart were, indeed, the best known people in what was called applied mathematics in those days, which was the theory of partial differential equations, and specifically in their case, a modified equation, which was called sigma monogenic--the solutions of which were the sigma monogenic functions. And for which Bers and Gelbart had developed a Cauchy theory of these sigma monogenic functions. They were two extremely well known names and probably the best.

Cairns, of course, was a good topologist, well known, but Cairns wanted to go and be a chairman, he wanted to be head of the department. Here he was chairman, this meant that he had to contend with what faculty wanted to do, and when he was appointed at Illinois, it was understood that he was the big boss. At any rate he left and that gave us a tough period, this period. We tried to find a chairman, a successor for Cairns. We almost got A. H. Taub, who turned out to be a prominent man in Urbana, but Urbana promoted him about the same time and they won.

We made several attempts; they all failed. We were in this period without a chairman, and the department was led, if you’ll permit the word, by the Executive Committee, which did exist, which had existed when Martin and Cairns were here and still existed. Now this Executive Committee had its problems, such problems as who was to sign for the Department. A question like that could take hours to debate. It was unbelievable. We had very serious troubles.

All of this was climaxed when Gelbart and Milgram had a fight about whether Gelbart had a proof to an analog of the Riemann Mapping Theorem for sigma monogenic functions. Gelbart said he had, and Milgram said he didn’t. Gelbart threw Milgram out of his office and the department was supposed to choose up sides. It was hard because some people, namely, well, some people you know, tried to remain on the fence. You know, they wanted no part of it, including Loewner, who tried valiantly to remain on the fence. But there were very strong efforts to make everyone commit himself one way or another, and one day Professor Rosenbloom took it upon himself to go to the Dean’s office and say that unless something or other happened, and I don’t know what was supposed to happen, but unless something or other happened, he and a great many others were going to leave, and the Dean said he was sorry if that was the case and that was the way he felt, but that was the way things were. You can’t blame the Dean too much, he doesn’t have that much choice when something like that happens. If you walk way out on a limb and hand the other guy a saw, you have to figure that he might put it to work. There were two--so all of these people, an awful lot of mathematical talent in here. These people {here Kibbey is writing on the blackboard} left when Martin left: Samelson went to Michigan, Halmos went to Chicago, Scheffé went to Columbia, and Fox went to Princeton. When we had this problem here in 1948-51, as a result of that, eventually, not all at once, but eventually, Loewner left, Bers left, a good deal later, but still left, Gelbart, Mostow, Protter, Selberg, his departure had nothing to do with this, Milgram and Rosenbloom left.

Now that brings me to this list of names over there, on the far right. This must look kind of strange to you. Ah, these are the names of the people who were here, but aren’t here. Now, this is not true, this is something that--Martin went to MIT, Fox to Princeton, Scheffé to Columbia, Samelson to Michigan and then California, Halmos to Chicago, and then you know Michigan, Hawaii, Indiana; Loewner went to Stanford, Bers went to NYU and then Columbia, Gelbart went to Yeshiva, Cairns to Illinois, Milgram to Minnesota, Rosenbloom to Minnesota and then Columbia, Lorentz to Texas, Chung to Stanford, Greub to Toronto, Gilchrist to IBM, Rheinboldt to Maryland, Mostow to first Virginia and then Yale, I’m sorry Hopkins, first to Hopkins and then Yale, Rosskopf to Columbia, Robert Davis to Illinois, Donald Austin and Mark Mahowald to Northwestern, Kleinfeld to Iowa, Ryser to Cal Tech, and Selberg to the Institute for Advanced Study, and Erdös to the world (laughter).

Ah (pause). That’s an impressive list, you see. I mean those people, in order to leave here, had to be here. And Syracuse gained therefrom the tradition of having appointed important people, the practice of appointing important people, which has stood us in very good stead. It’s too bad we didn’t keep some of them, I of course had my druthers, some people in there--some were magnificent. But think how much we helped the other places, Stanford, in particular, two of the finest.

I want to talk a minute about the Syracuse Ph.Ds. I know they now number hundreds, but in an estimate that I made while I was sitting over in the administration building, about 40% of our Ph.Ds have published beyond their thesis. That’s high, well above the national average, which in the '30s was something like 15%. They occupy, as you probably have heard, some very important positions in American universities[13]. They’re important to us, they’re our immortality. In the late '60s GSO got started and its branch MGO[14]. This is an historic development, as far as I am concerned, a matter of importance. The Upstate Topology Seminar got started about the same time, and unrelated, it’s actually turned out to work hand-in-glove.

In the early 1950s Chancellor Tolley came back from a trip and said that it took too long to get a Ph.D, and therefore we were going to offer some Ph.Ds that you could get in a shorter period of time. By the way, that reminds me; I didn’t tell you something that I thought back in the ancient period. You know what the Bulletin had to say about a Ph.D. in those days? Let me see if I can find it. {A long pause.} Doesn’t matter, I remember the phrase. To get a master’s degree you had to spend one year beyond the baccalaureate, and you had to show marked ability at investigation. To get a Ph.D. you had to spend two years in residence beyond the baccalaureate degree, and you had to show unquestionable ability at investigation. That was the nearest thing I could come to Ph.D. requirements. You all know what they are now. {Another pause.} There are some things we’ve never had that we should have. We’ve never had the postdocs that we ought to have. We’ve never had the visiting professorships, as some budget lines, you know, that we could fill five years ahead of time, if we wanted to, that we should have had. We have never had enough fellowships; never. This university now has 100 that pay, what is it? $4,600; it should have 300 that pay $6,000. But, you know, apart from that, we have enjoyed here what I would call a fine research environment.

Now what do you study history for? You hope to gain perspective. Some of it is curious, of course, but you hope to learn something from it. Well, one thing, and now I have to, you know, for the purpose of illustration I have to get a little personal. I’m sorry.

A university is people. The faculty are people, the students are people, the groundskeepers are people, the librarians are people. It’s all people, and so you have to expect them to behave like people. And you make dreadful mistakes assuming that they’re going to be fully rational human beings. Because they are people, they are going to have their days when they are emotional. And, of course, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s a mistake to set arbitrary limits on your aspirations. Let me illustrate. Eggers goes for a 35 million dollar fund drive. Piskor, who is the president up at St. Lawrence University, which is a fraction of our size, is launching a development program. He’s got 78 million dollars down for his goal. He’ll never make it, but I bet he makes more than 35. I was in Dean Faigle’s office one day when I shouldn’t have been, but I didn’t know it, that I shouldn’t have been there. I was admitted by the secretary. She opened the door and says go on in. I overheard the last lines of a conversation between him and the chairman of the Anthropology Department. One of their young faculty members had been offered a job at Harvard. The gist of the last sentence or two of their conversation was: if he’s good enough for Harvard, he’s too good for Syracuse. See what I mean? Don’t limit your aspirations. When Selberg got the offer from the Institute for Advanced Study, we stupid people here at Syracuse did every damn thing we could think of to try to keep him here. Of course, we lost. Who wouldn’t go to the Institute? But that’s what you have to do.

I’m going to corrupt a homily and say: honesty is the best politics. I do think it’s the best policy, but it’s also the best politics. Because while you’re hammering away straight down the middle, all of the people who think you’re going to be devious are puzzled by what you’re doing. By the time they have figured out, you’ve got it done (laughter).

Administrators are not always admirable. I’m not going to expand on that (laughter). Hang in there, is something I--let me illustrate that with the library piece. When Warren Boes[15] came in here as librarian, he was determined that the Mathematics library should be combined with the science library, and all of them thrown anywhere, perhaps in Bird. We had many meetings over this subject, and Mr. Boes put up all kinds of charts and diagrams and everything else under the sun to prove that the Mathematics library should be combined with these others. And dumb old Kibbey just sat in there and said no. No. No. And you know where the library is today. Of course, I had support in that position.

Consistency is a virtue. It promotes stability and stability people like. The period from 1948 to '51, anyone who had lived through that period would realize the importance of the statement that I make.

The times dictate the strategy, and let me illustrate that with a tale from F. G. Crawford, who was a remarkable man. I was delegated by the Executive Committee of the Senate to go in and ask Mr. Crawford if he was going to retire when he got to be 65, because by God we had to know. You know it was getting just a year or two away and we had to make plans. And he wasn’t telling anybody, he wasn’t volunteering to anybody. So I went in and spoke with Mr. Crawford and I said we’d like to know if you’re going to retire when you get to be 65. And he says: "The day I get to be 65, I’m walking out that door." And then he told me why. He didn’t have to, he did. "I like to think I’ve been successful in my job. But I know that the tactics, the techniques, the strategies that I have used, will no longer work. It’s your day, not mine, and I’m leaving."

Now these are different times. In the '60s, see all those people we appointed? Mr. Piskor, God love him, was a fine man who didn’t know beans about mathematics. And when I told him we should have somebody, he believed me. When you have an administration that believes that you know what you’re doing and you know where you’re going, and it’s all to the good of the institution, then it’s pretty easy sailing. But when you have someone sitting up there who thinks he knows some mathematics and who inhibits every turn you make, you simply have to, you have to devise a strategy that works in the times that we live in. And now if I could paraphrase Crawford, the things I did won’t work now.

And what have you got from all of this? You’ve got a tradition. You’ve got a tradition of standards that was set way back at the beginning of the department. You’ve got a tradition of a good library, you’ve got a tradition of a research environment, light teaching loads, expectation of research on the part of the faculty, a colloquium. You know that it was in about 1958 before the University of Rochester had a mathematics colloquium? The policy of attendance at mathematical meetings. A student-faculty relationship that is really very healthy. I visited Harvard in the '60s when they had 200 NSF Fellows and 12 faculty, and none of the 12 faculty were in their offices. And you know why. 200 plus students? No way they could get any work done. You have a graduate student organization, which gives you more freedom than you recognize, and a little more money than perhaps you’d like. You have a nice tradition of a department picnic. And you have a tradition of good teaching. Edrei once told me that at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology a professor would be embarrassed to give a poor lecture.

Well, we have a lot right here[16], [17]. The future is before us and it is going to be determined very largely by the people in this room. Good luck. And I’m through. Thank you very much (prolonged applause).


Footnotes added by P. T. Church

[1] According to SU press release dated December 9, 1976, P. T. Church was named the Francis H. Root Professor of Mathematics. Francis H. Root of Buffalo, a leather manufacturer, was a charter trustee of SU and became president of the Board of Trustees in 1879. The board established the professorship in his name in January 1893 after his death in September 1892. He made a $50,000 bequest for that purpose. John Raymond French was the first holder of the Root Professorship from 1893 to his death in 1897. William H. Metzler held it from 1897 to 1923, when it became inactive. Thus I am the third holder of the professorship. The Syracuse University Record of August 5, 1982 on page 5 stated that the University had just sold for $3.25 million the Samuel F. B. Morse painting "Gallery of the Louvre," believed to be the highest price ever paid for a single American painting. The article stated that University trustee Francis Root had purchased the painting for the University in 1892. The oil-on-canvas work measured 73 ¾ by 108 inches and in it Morse had copied 43 paintings and sculptures on display in the museum’s exhibition gallery.

[2] From Kibbey’s notes, in February 1882 the trustees authorized fifty $1,000 scholarships.

[3] Kibbey’s notes observe that admission requirements in Latin were 4 volumes of Caesar’s commentaries, 4 orations of Cicero, 6 books of Virgil’s Aeneid, some Roman history and Latin prose. In Greek they were 2 books of the Iliad and 3 books of Xenophon’s Anabasis.

[4] In Hemmingsen’s paper, footnotes on pages 2 and 3 cite the following. "In part II of the collection A Century of Mathematics in America, published by the American Mathematical Society, there is a table on page 366 showing the number of mathematics Ph.D. degrees in the American Universities from 1862 to 1934." The data for Syracuse University show 9 Ph.Ds through 1924, and there were apparently none between 1925 and 1947; but see [16].

[5] In Kibbey’s notes for this lecture he classifies the ancient period of the SU Mathematics Department as 1871 to about 1930, the medieval period as 1930 to 1943, and the modern period begins in 1943, with the arrival of Martin.

[6] Decker received his Ph.D. from Syracuse University in 1910. Cargo noted in an email to Church that in 1908 Edward Drake Roe, Jr. was Department Chair, William Henry Metzler became Dean, and Warren G. Bullard "donated many books to the departmental library." For a photograph and biography of Roe see Volume 1 Number 1 of the Pi Mu Epsilon Journal (November 1949), pp. 1--7. Also see the separate article by Phil Church on the Pi Mu Epsilon Journal.

[7] In a note to Phil Church, Erik Hemmingsen observed that Acta Mathematica was also complete.

[8] There was a copy of the first (Latin) edition of Descartes Analytic Geometry, published in the 1630s by Elzevir (see Hemmingsen’s paper listed below).

[9] Wharton Miller was Syracuse University Director of Libraries 1927-1955.

[10] William Ted Martin received his Ph.D. in 1934 from the University of Illinois Urbana-Campaign. His dissertation advisor was Robert Carmichael.

[11] The dates for the first "modern" Ph.Ds were Charles Titus, Ph.D. June 14, 1948, under Loewner; Helmut Aulbach (nicknamed Tommy, according to Hemmingsen), Ph.D. June 6, 1949, under Loewner; Robert Exner, Ph.D. August 12, 1949, under Milgram; and Daniel Resch, Ph.D. 1951, under Rosenbloom.

[12] From 1871 to about 1948 the Mathematics Department headquarters was in the Hall of Languages. It moved then to Smith Hall and in 1973 to Carnegie, first to 200 and then to 215 Carnegie.

[13] For example, students of Albert Edrei include Simon Hellerstein 1961 and Daniel Shea 1965 at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Alan Weitsman 1968 at Purdue University. One of Shea’s students is Albert Baernstein II 1968 at Washington University ( St. Louis, MO), and one of Baernstein’s students is Juan Manfredi 1986 at University of Pittsburgh.

[14] GSO is the Graduate Student Organization and MGO is the Mathematics Graduate Organization.

[15] Warren Boes was Acting Director of the Library in 1965-66, and Director in 1966-73.

[16] G. T. Cargo investigated at the SU Library and he discovered by name 12 Ph.Ds in Mathematics at Syracuse University, the first in1881 and the twelfth in 1921. There are listed below.

1881 Coit, Judson B., Orbit for the Double Star in Cassiopiae.
1884 Birchard, Isaac J., No title provided (but in Mathematics).
1884 Morrison, Joseph, Apparent Orbit of the Satellite of a Superior Planet.
1893 Conant, Levi L., No title provided (but in Mathematics).
1894 Waldo, Clarence A., No title provided (but in Mathematics).
1902 Taylor, William Erastus, On the Product of an Alternant by a Symmetric Function.
1910 Decker, Floyd Fiske, On the Order of a Restricted System of Equations.
1911 Lindsey, Louis, The Minors of a Compound Determinant.
1918 Roe, Josephine Robinson, Interfunctional Expressibility Problems Symmetric Functions (?)
1920 Nassau, Jason John, Some Theorems in Alternants
1920 Yang, Tsao-Shing, The Moving Trihedral Associated with a Triply Orthogonal System of Surfaces.
1921 Sun, Jung, Some Determinant Theorems.
The following dissertation is listed in Physics, General but is related to Mathematics. 1886 Mumper, William N., Mathematics as an Aid to the Study of Physics.

[17] Professor Cargo also uncovered the following information about early faculty members:
(i) James Lawrence Alverson, AM, LLD, was Professor of Mathematics at Genesee College, the forerunner of Syracuse University, from 1851 to 1869.
(ii) John Raymond French served as a professor, first beginning 1865 at Genesee College, and then from 1871 to 1897 at Syracuse University. He was Dean of Liberal Arts 1878-97, Francis H. Root Professor of Mathematics 1893-97, Vice-Chancellor 1895-97, and Chancellor Pro Tem October 1893 to April 1894.
(iii) William Henry Metzler, Ph.D. from Clark University, was Associate Professor at Syracuse 1895-96, Professor 1896-97, and Francis H. Root Professor of Mathematics beginning in 1897.
(iv) Henry Allen Peck, AM, Ph.D. at Kaiser Willhelm Universität in 1897, was Instructor in Mathematics 1887-91, and Director of Observatory beginning 1891.
(v) Stewart Scott, AB, was Instructor in Mathematics 1894-95.
(vi) Eugene Randolph Smith, AM, was Instructor in Mathematics 1894-98 (?).
(vii) William E. Taylor, Ph.M., was Instructor in Mathematics beginning in 1897, and Professor beginning in 1904.


A lecture given at the Graduate Student Colloquium on September 12, 1980 at 3 PM in 311 Carnegie by Professor Donald E. Kibbey, Acting Chair 1948-1952 and then Chair of the Department of Mathematics 1952--1971.

Professor Gerald T. Cargo taped this lecture at the time Professor Kibbey gave it in September 1980, and also got Professor Kibbey’s handwritten notes. He very kindly allowed me to use them to transcribe a first draft of this document. Because the tape was difficult to hear, there were many omissions and guesses as to the words and phrases.

I sent a copy of this draft to Professor Carl Kohls. Fortunately he had better recording equipment, had made a far better tape at the same time, listened to it repeatly, and he corrected many, many errors and filled in numerous omissions. I am very grateful to him. Furthermore Professor Cargo obtained the information given in [16] and [17] at the Syracuse University Library. Phil Church 6/3/02