# Are all math professors conceited bigots?

1. Nov 13, 2008

### Topher925

My university has only one math professor that I actually like and I will only take math courses taught by that one professor. This is because he teaches mathematics from an engineers standpoint by providing a lot of examples and application problems. He teaches this way because he is not a mathematician but an actual engineer himself. But because he only teaches mathematics courses he is filed under the math department.

I am currently taking an advanced mathematics for engineers course that he is currently teaching and recently found out that the rest of the math department is trying to get him ousted. They say that he is not fit to be a professor and that he should resign from his position. Their main argument for this is that he has only about a 20% failure rate compared to the 70% failure rate of the rest of the math department(I'm not exaggerating) so his classes aren't difficult enough. They also say that he wastes to much time with example and application problems and doesn't spend enough time on proofs. They also say that he shouldn't be teaching from his notes but off the top of his head and should only cover the material that is in the book (we cover things that are not in the book). This just seems completely *** backwards to me in every way but I have noticed this type of behavior from the majority of the math department since I transferred here.

The professor in question has done a lot of significant work in the field of finite element analysis and has published many papers and a book on the subject. He also has decades of industrial experience at institutions like NASA. So who the hell are these mathematicians to say that he isn't qualified to teach engineering math classes when they can't even get half of their classes to pass? Is there some way that the students can petition against the math department?

2. Nov 13, 2008

### TMFKAN64

Re: Are all math professors conseited biggots?

"Conceited bigots".

But that aside, I'm not sure you should put a lot of stock into what "they" say. Or have you have had other professors directly tell you that passing too many students is why they want to get rid of him?

If the professor in question is up for tenure, student support might be helpful. However, teaching is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tenure decisions, so don't be surprised if he is still denied tenure.

If he has already been denied, forget about it. It is very doubtful if this would be reconsidered because of student input.

If he already has tenure, what's the problem?

3. Nov 13, 2008

### mathwonk

Re: Are all math professors conseited biggots?

this sounds more like a rant than request for advice. for comparison, suppose it were titled "are all engineering students flat earth morons?".

4. Nov 13, 2008

### HallsofIvy

Re: Are all math professors conseited biggots?

No quite, mathwonk, you spelled correctly!

5. Nov 13, 2008

### kodiakghost

Re: Are all math professors conseited biggots?

Most math professors are alright. I mean I wouldn't take them to parties nor would I make one my wingman if I was flirting with a playboy playmate. But I'd definitely let them share my whiskey as long as they agreed not to talk about math all night.

6. Nov 13, 2008

### Hurkyl

Staff Emeritus
Re: Are all math professors conseited biggots?

Also, do keep in mind you're hearing all of this second hand (or worse), and probably from people who don't understand what the problems are. For example...

(I do not claim any of these actually apply -- just that they could)

If the faculty complains that a teacher isn't adequately testing his students' knowledge, and passing people who don't know the material... some people might think "They're complaining because he doesn't fail enough people!"

If the faculty complains that the students aren't developing mathematical sophistication, and aren't learning the art of approximation... some people might think "They're complaining that he's not making us do those stupid epsilon-delta proofs".

If the faculty complains that a teacher's diversions cause him to omit significant portions of the material he's supposed to be teaching... some people might think "They're complaining because he dared to teach something out of the book"

You really should make sure you know what you're talking about before you start petitions or any of that. (And you really should learn not to make hasty generalizations. The title of your post makes it look like you're not devoting any rational thought to the issue. :tongue:)

For the record, skill in practicing a subject is not the same as skill in teaching a subject.

7. Nov 13, 2008

### Topher925

Re: Are all math professors conseited biggots?

I am not hearing anything second hand. An editorial from one of the accusing professors was published in the school paper. The truth is that the math program at my school has been under a lot of scrutiny in the past for their methods of teaching which are looked down upon by most other departments, especially the chemistry and engineering departments. The nursing department actually hired their own math professors so they wouldn't have to deal with the bigots from the math department anymore. And like I stated before, when I was a sophomore they had an average failure rate of about 70%. This can't possibly be right, can it?

I think this applies for most cases. When I went to Michigan Tech I had some really great math professors. Yes, one of them so good I would let be my wing man. I believe the problem is just the school I am in now, which is said to have one of the, if not the most difficult math program in the state.

Also, this wasn't just a rant. I really want to know if there is something that I can do keep this not full-tenured professor still teaching. I was hoping to have him on my committee for my PhD.

8. Nov 13, 2008

### Staff: Mentor

Re: Are all math professors conseited biggots?

If he's applied for tenure this year, you need to find out about the tenure-review process at your university. There should be some route for people to submit comments about candidates for tenure. For example, there might be a faculty committee that reviews candidates (here we call it the Faculty Status Committee), and you can send them a letter or petition. Or you might have to write directly to the Provost or Dean or whatever the chief academic officer is called.

If he hasn't gotten to the point of applying for tenure yet, and is on a year-to-year contract, generally the university can simply not renew his contract, on recommendation from the department and the Provost. If something like this is about to happen, you'll probably have to appeal to the department chair and the Provost.

9. Nov 13, 2008

### DavidWhitbeck

Re: Are all math professors conseited biggots?

Would you mind posting the article then so that we are not hearing it second hand?

10. Nov 13, 2008

### Hurkyl

Staff Emeritus
Re: Are all math professors conseited biggots?

I just noticed this, and I wanted to correct your misconception. Providing "examples and applications" is simply good teaching style; it has nothing to do with an "engineer's standpoint".

11. Nov 14, 2008

Staff Emeritus
Re: Are all math professors conseited biggots?

Topher, whether or not the professors in question are good teachers or not, you have provided no evidence that they are either conceited nor bigots (a charge you have leveled more than once). I think you owe them a public apology.

12. Nov 14, 2008

### Math Is Hard

Staff Emeritus
Re: Are all math professors conseited biggots?

"conseited biggots?"

at the prof who taught you spelling!

:tongue2:

13. Nov 14, 2008

### kodiakghost

Re: Are all math professors conseited biggots?

In his defense, he didn't say they were conceited or biggots. He *asked* if they were conceited or biggots. Therefore, he actually made no claim at all and thus had no reason to provide evidence. In fact, as far as evidence goes, his question can be viewed as an open ended request for evidence in either direction.

14. Nov 14, 2008

### Defennder

Re: Are all math professors conseited biggots?

I think from the viewpoint of a non-math major, it might seem as though the professional mathematicians (the math profs) focus too much on proof and rigor. I'll relate a similar experience I had, though I don't think it bears too much relevance to yours here.

I'm taking an intermediate level linear algebra course this semester and there were times when I requested office consultation hours with my professor. Somehow because I had read a little ahead of what he would later cover (ie. some stuff about inner product spaces, adjoints of linear operators), he had the impression I was a math major (I did not know then he was unaware I was not a math major). So it seems whenever I asked him some question regarding some concepts he had covered he always seemed rather impatient and at times he sounded even incredulous that I did not understand mathematical notation.

Now of course not understanding certain maths notation isn't a big deal to me, since it's just like not understanding an otherwise comprehensible manual in an alien language. But in particular he seemed rather harsh when I couldn't follow the proof he had written on the lecture notes since I couldn't comprehend the notation used. But of course it wasn't just the notation he used but at other times he took issue with what he saw as sloppy notation on my part such as using $$\in$$ when I meant $$\subseteq$$ and vice versa, a column vector denoting the coordinate vector with respect to the standard basis vectors of P(R) with the polynomial expression itself. It seemed odd to me that he found fault with careless notation rather than flaws in my mathematical reasoning (though I did of course make several mistakes in my mathematical reasoning) Basically this went on for some time.

So I remember when I had clarified most or all of my doubts and was preparing to leave his office when he happened to notice some circuit diagrams on one of my tutorial sheets from another class. He then asked, "So what other modules are you doing this semester?" That's when I realised he thought I was a math major and I explained that I was instead an EE major and then he nodded his head and then he said "No wonder you didn't understand the maths notation I used. And you probably didn't do MAXXXX." to which I said yes. (MAXXXX refers to a lower level maths class where all the basic concepts of mathematics such as set notation and elementary mathematical reasoning is covered and is a compulsory class for math majors).

So anyway, from that point on, I realised he no longer seemed that impatient with me when I asked him questions. Clearly there is a certain level of expectation a maths prof would have of a math major which they usually would not think would hold for a non-math major. I can imagine that for your maths dept, the expectation of a math prof would by a fellow academic colleague would be much higher.

15. Nov 14, 2008

### cristo

Staff Emeritus
Re: Are all math professors conseited biggots?

I hate to break it to you, but engineering maths classes are completely different to "real" maths classes. Since you're an engineer, you of course prefer the application style teaching, but that will get you nowhere if you were studying for a mathematics degree.

It seems a bit strange that someone that you say is an engineer is in the mathematics department simply because he teaches the maths for engineers classes: there must be something more to it than that!

What do you intend to do your PhD in? If engineering, why do you want a maths professor on your committee? He surely can't be undertaking any research in engineering, since he is a professor of mathematics. (Or, perhaps he is, which would explain why the maths professors think he should not be in the maths department!)

I'd say that you shouldn't bother getting involved in this, since there is clearly a lot of information that you are not privy to.

16. Nov 14, 2008

Staff Emeritus
Re: Are all math professors conseited biggots?

Take a look.

As I said, I think he owes them an apology.

They may well be poor teachers, but making other unsupported accusations - conceit and bigotry - weakens Topher's case.

17. Nov 14, 2008

### Nick M

Re: Are all math professors conseited biggots?

This is something I discovered going from a University to a Community College. Most of the people in the Mathematics department at my CC have a Bachelors Degree in Mathematics, and a Masters or Doctorate in Education. It's unbelievable how much more effective someone can be when they have spent some time on learning how to teach, rather than just what they teach.

I sure will miss my local CC when I transfer back to the University next fall.

18. Nov 14, 2008

### kodiakghost

Re: Are all math professors conseited biggots?

OK, you may have claim on bigotry. I see no support for conceit, though.

19. Nov 14, 2008

### cristo

Staff Emeritus
Re: Are all math professors conseited biggots?

Look at the title.

20. Nov 14, 2008

### kodiakghost

Re: Are all math professors conseited biggots?

As I stated previously, the title was only a question - not an accusation. Nor were any accusations made in the initial post.

I really do not like the way people have treated the author of the thread for discussing his situation.

21. Nov 14, 2008

### George Jones

Staff Emeritus
Re: Are all math professors conseited biggots?

Even though the title ends with a question mark, in my opinion, the title is meant as an accusation.

22. Nov 14, 2008

### Topher925

Re: Are all math professors conseited bigots?

Interpret it as you like, but the question still stands. Keep in mind that I have made sure not to mention the university I attend or anyone involved in this situation. You may even consider everything in this thread hypothetical if you wish. I don't really see why an apology is in order when every character in this tale of mine is anonymous.

And why is it that I should apologies for my comments and mathwonk should not?

23. Nov 14, 2008

### cristo

Staff Emeritus
Re: Are all math professors conseited bigots?

If all you are interested in is the answer to the "question" of "Are all math professors [conceited] [bigots]?" then you should have said so. Since I know several professors of mathematics who are not, then the answer to your question is no.

Given that your question has now been answered, I see no reason for this thread to remain open. If you can't come up with such a reason, I will close the thread imminently.

As an aside, you might want to think twice next time you blanket-insult members of the community of which you are asking for advice.

24. Nov 14, 2008

### Moonbear

Staff Emeritus
Re: Are all math professors conseited biggots?

I see no evidence in the rant on conceit nor bigotry, and certainly no evidence that ALL math professors should fall into that category. Indeed, I believe the whole basis of the rant is that at least one of them seems to stand out as fairly different from the rest.

Certainly, I'd question a department with a 70% failure rate in their courses. However, if they are just insisting upon maintaining a high standard and are having students funneled into their courses who cannot meet those standards, then perhaps they are fully justified in their failure rates and it is the other programs that should reconsider the quality of students they are accepting and whether they are prepared for courses the students are being required to take.

I also teach nursing students, so I'm fully aware of their math abilities (or lack thereof). They are not strong in math...they are not strong in basic arithmetic even. So, it is reasonable that a separate course would need to be taught to that group of students to address their specific needs. They do not need to learn proofs, they need to learn to calculate volumes based on prescribed dosages and concentrations of the drug they are going to inject. And, it may very well be that the math department is already teaching too many courses and was unwilling to create a new one just for nursing students. That also happens here. The nursing school would like us to teach a combined anatomy and physiology course for the nursing students, but aren't willing to pay for any of the faculty time that would be required to teach that new course. The physiology department won't do it, because they teach more than just nursing students in their current course, so would need to add another course, and just don't have enough faculty to cover yet another course. The anatomy department CAN'T do it, because the change would require a 2-semester combined course instead of 1-semester separate courses, and when we teach the med students in the spring semester, our lab space is completely maxed out to capacity. So, unless the nursing school would like to pay for us to renovate and add on a new teaching lab, we physically cannot add the course they want us to add. We also don't have enough faculty to cover a two-semester course either. So, before jumping to conclusions that they are somehow bigoted and conceited, maybe they are simply holding their ground to uphold the standards their department strives for.

Perhaps if the courses you were taking were only offered to engineering students, and were adequate for engineers, there might not be a problem, but if math majors are also taking the same course and not getting the same rigor in that course as if they were taught by other faculty, then that's a bad thing for the math majors.

25. Nov 14, 2008

### JasonRox

Re: Are all math professors conseited biggots?

Some profs. have the arrogance I noticed. The chair in my department is the worse. I stand up to him all the time. I don't tolerate that kind of behaviour from no anyone.

Sometimes I don't because I don't want to be a jackass. But then again, I can tell he's more careful at what he says now.