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A History of the Mathematics Department at
Virginia Tech: 1872 - 1995

Chapter 4
The Newman Years Following World War II

With the end of World War II in 1945, the GI Bill of Rights provided tuition, books, and living expenses for veterans. This caused increases in enrollments at most colleges throughout the country, including Virginia Tech. The enrollment at Tech increased from 738 in 1944-45 to 5,689 in 1948-49, most of these being veterans. Thereafter the enrollment decreased and would not reach the 1948 numbers again until 1960.

Most of the veterans lived as civilian students rather than cadets, and many were married. Trailer camps were established on campus for the married veterans, and ''Solitude" was turned into a club house for trailer occupants. About 500 students were housed in three dormitories at the Radford Ordinance Works. Some faculty commuted to teach classes there at what was dubbed "Rad-Tech." This lasted until the end of 1949 when three new dormitories were completed on the Blacksburg campus.

Some of the Mathematics faculty returned from military service. These included Addington, Harr, Horne and Rollins. However, Ahalt and Tyler chose to become career Army officers. Also White affiliated with the Virginia Department of Taxation, and Barnwell entered Medical School. Undergraduates were used to teach some mathematics classes during the 1946-47 session, and for the next 15 to 20 years temporary instructors were employed on a quarter-by-quarter basis, depending on the needs for each quarter. Some of the temporary instructors were wives of faculty members. This was also the first time that a secretary was used in the department.

The Board of Visitors named Newman as president of VPI in 1947. During his 15 years as president, Tech strengthened its academic programs and constructed approximately 30 new buildings. The first Ph.D. degree at Tech had been awarded five years earlier to a chemistry student. In 1947 there were still not many graduate degrees awarded: 18 MS and one Ph.D. However during Newman's last year as president in 1962 there were 211 graduate degrees awarded, 25 of which were Ph.D.'s.

The Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics was one of many new degrees offered during Newman's presidency. It was initiated in 1951 as part of the School of Applied Science and Business Administration. The first two BS degrees in mathematics were awarded in 1953 to E. L. Bombara and Evalyn V. Howard. The MS and Ph.D. degree programs in mathematics were also begun in 1956 and 1959, respectively. These degree programs in mathematics were all started during Hatcher's tenure as Head of the Department.

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, there were a number of changes in the mathematics curriculum. One course added in 1949 was what students called "bonehead algebra." This was for those students failing to make a satisfactory grade on the math placement exam. Solid geometry was added for those engineers who had not taken it in high school. On the other hand, algebra, trigonometry and analytic geometry were reduced to single five-hour courses, and calculus was increased to 12 hours and was taught on a 5-5-2 basis to engineering students and on a 4-4-4 basis for science majors. The engineers usually supplemented the two-hour course with a three-hour differential equations course.

By the late 1940s three departments, Statistics, Applied Mechanics and Physics, needed mathematics service courses because of their substantial graduate programs. These service courses were primarily developed and taught by McFadden. The revised senior advanced mathematics course included in the first quarter: determinants, matrices, algebra of complex numbers, hyperbolic functions, and solutions of algebraic equations. In the second quarter it contained curve fitting and least squares nomography, and in the third quarter there were Fourier series, Bessel's functions and partial differential equations. The Department also made available graduate level course in Fourier series, partial differential equations, complex variables and introduction to modern algebra (actually, matrix theory).

The graduate students who took these service courses usually had a representative from the Mathematics Department on their graduate committee. Throughout the 1950s there were four or five faculty from the Department who performed nearly all of this duty.

A two quarter junior level course in advanced calculus was added in 1949 which was "designed for students interested in the theoretical aspects of mathematics." When the BS degree in mathematics was begun in 1951, a two quarter course in theory of equations and a one quarter course in solid analytical geometry were added, both at the junior level. These were primarily courses for mathematics majors.

The requirements for mathematics majors at this time included a minimum of 27 quarter credit hours in mathematics courses beyond calculus. The mathematics students usually took differential equations, theory of equations, solid analytical geometry, advanced calculus and advanced mathematics. Also included in the requirements were two years in foreign languages, a year of physics and two quarters of statistics.

Soon after the Bachelor's degree was begun in mathematics, a Mathematics Club was formed with McFadden as first advisor. The club sponsored talks by faculty, undergraduate mathematics majors or people from off-campus. For a number of years the club also sponsored an annual spring picnic attended by most faculty members and their spouses. By the 1970s the club seldom met except for an occasional social event.

The decade between the 1948-49 and the 1958-59 sessions was marked by a drop in enrollments to a minimum of 3215 students in 1952-53 and then a gradual increase to 5318 in 1958-59. The reason for the drop was twofold: most veterans had left by then and the low birth rate during the 1930s contributed to low enrollments. To help increase enrollments in 1953, a Basic Division was instituted in the College which allowed students who did not meet the normal entrance requirements to be admitted. As a result the Mathematics Department offered a two quarter non-credit course in plane geometry. Although the Basic Division was dropped in 1955, the plane geometry course was kept in the catalog until 1962. Solid Geometry was dropped from the catalog by 1965, and non-credit algebra was dropped by 1968.

Williams Hall
Williams Hall

In 1953 the Mathematics Department moved from the First Academic Building into the newly built Williams Hall, which it shared with the English Department and the office of the Dean of Applied Science and Business Administration (Dean G. Burke Johnston and a secretary). Mathematics had the wing next to Burruss Hall, and each faculty member had a private office the first year; but in a few years most of the offices had two people. Because there was only one telephone furnished for the approximately 18 faculty spread over three floors, each person was assigned a Morse code signal so that a buzzer could summon him to the phone.

There were two father/son combinations in the department, although with one, their tenures did not overlap. H. Earl Spencer spent 21 years in the Department between 1947 and 1968, retiring as a full professor. His son, Robert E. Spencer, was in the Department for 33 years starting in 1955. The other pair, John C. Layman and John W. Layman, between them spanned the years from 1946 to 1995, with John W. serving the Department for the last 37 years.

Another member of the Math Department, William Buchanan, gave many years of service working with the athletes, first as tutor and advisor and later for many years as a coach. Although he was a full time teacher in the Math Department, teaching his 5 courses per quarter, he also coached the tennis team between 1952 and 1965, and then coached the golf team for a few years. Also for many years he was the public announcer at athletic events.

The first experience of Mathematics faculty with computers came in the summer of 1955 when Leonard McFadden and Robert Spencer worked at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. They learned to write programs for the NAREC, which was a first generation digital computer that used vacuum tubes.

There were several changes made in 1956 when the MS degree was approved for Mathematics. The advanced math course was replaced with a two quarter sequence in Fourier series and partial differential equations and a one quarter course in operational methods. Courses begun at the graduate level were the one quarter courses in special functions, calculus of variations, introduction to modern algebra (separate from matrix theory), synthetic projective geometry, non-euclidean geometry, and infinite processes. Also the two quarter course in theory of functions of a real variable was added at this time. The first MS degree was awarded to Eugene Anguil who wrote a thesis directed by McFadden.

The Ph.D. degree was authorized and began in the fall quarter of 1959 when five students were awarded National Science Foundation scholarships, through funding which became available after the Russians launched their space satellite Sputnik. With the addition of this degree, graduate courses were added, including complex variables (three quarters), real variables (expanded to three quarters), and introductory topology (two quarters). Most of the graduate courses were taught at that time by McFadden, Posey, Gormsen, Pace, Layman, and Horne.

The period between the mid 1950s and the mid 1960s was marked by a tremendous push by colleges and universities across the country to upgrade and expand their graduate programs in mathematics. This resulted in a severe shortage of mathematicians during these years. Because the Mathematics Department at Virginia Tech was only beginning to offer graduate degrees at this time, it was at a disadvantage in attracting research faculty to upgrade its program. In addition, salaries at Tech were not competitive with salaries at similar land-grant institutions. The Department made an effort to improve the quality of the faculty during these years, but it was not until there was an overproduction of Ph.D.'s in mathematics beginning in the last half of the 1960s that the Department could really start hiring many faculty with research responsibility.

By 1961 there were a number of additional changes to the mathematics curriculum. Advanced calculus became a full year sequence, and foundations of modern mathematics replaced theory of equations and solid analytical geometry as a requirement for the Mathematics majors. This latter course was really an introduction to abstract algebra and used the text by Neil McCoy that was continued to be used for more than a decade.

First year graduate level sequences were introduced in mathematical logic and integral equations. In addition there was a mathematics seminar required for first year graduate students, but that was dropped after a few years. Second year graduate level sequences appearing in the catalog at this time were: functional analysis, theory of groups, principles and techniques of applied mathematics, measure theory, algebraic geometry, algebraic topology, and topics in algebra. Some of these courses were never taught, and were later dropped from the catalog.

The William E. Wine Faculty Achievement Awards were established in 1957. These were presented to three outstanding teachers each year. McFadden won the Wine Award in 1960. The other winners of the Wine Award from the Mathematics Department were Monte Boisen in 1989 and Bruce Reed in 1995.

A chapter of Pi Mu Epsilon, the national mathematics honor society, was begun at Tech in 1961. This was started by Svend Gormsen who continued as faculty advisor until his retirement in 1969. Paul Clemens, Bruce Reed, and Charles Parry have been the faculty advisors since then. Pi Mu Epsilon included junior, senior and graduate students in mathematics and statistics who were eligible if they met certain grade and course requirements. They met three times a year including an initiation banquet.

At about this time, changes were also made to the freshman-sophomore sequences. One change came in 1961 when the Department of Business Administration became a college. The faculty in this new college requested a change in the content of the freshman sequence which for decades had been a two year sequence (later known as college math I and II) covering algebra, trigonometry, analytic geometry and some calculus and was intended for students of agriculture and non-science majors. This was a less intense course than that given to the engineering and science majors. A new three quarter general mathematics course was introduced offering topics in algebra, trigonometry, analytic geometry and mathematics of finance, and which was intended for the business students. Four years later this was extended to four quarters and included an introduction to differential and integral calculus.

The next year in 1962 changes were made in the freshman-sophomore sequence taken by the engineering and science majors. Analytic geometry was integrated into the calculus sequence which was increased to 18 credits, and the differential equations course was made four credits.

President Newman suffered a heart attack in the spring of 1961, which forced him to retire. In December of that year the Board of Visitors appointed Thomas Marshall Hahn as president of Tech. Hahn had been Head of the Physics Department at Tech between 1954 and 1959, and was Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Kansas State University until his appointment to the Tech presidency.

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Last Modified on: Tuesday, 25-Sep-2001 08:16:03 EDT