|University Archives of Virginia Tech|
A History of the Mathematics Department at
Virginia Tech: 1872 - 1995
The Hahn Years and Beyond:
Part 1 - Under President Hahn
T. Marshall Hahn, who was Tech's youngest president at 35 years of age, energetically directed the growth of Tech from a technically oriented college of around 5800 students in 1962 to a comprehensive university of more than 18,000 students in 1975, Hahn's last year as president of Tech. From the first, he referred to the institution as a University rather than a College. This caught on with the faculty and students, and by 1964 the Board of Visitors had made the commitment that VPI grow to become a quality university. By 1970, the Virginia legislature approved the name change of the institution to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
Leon W. Rutland
In 1963 Hatcher stepped down as Head of the Mathematics Department, and was replaced by McFadden as Acting Head during 1963-64. Despite the feeling by most of the mathematics faculty that McFadden should be named Head, Hahn went outside the Department to hire Leon W. Rutland from the University of Colorado as Head of the Department, starting the Fall of 1964.
That same year, in 1964, Hatcher retired. After his retirement, Hatcher contributed funds anonymously toward undergraduate scholarships in mathematics. When he died in 1979, this program was named the Hatcher Scholarship Fund, and over the years many mathematics majors were recipients of Hatcher Scholarships.
With the growth of the Department, it was necessary for the Head to have administrative assistance. Rutland assigned to McFadden certain administrative duties such as scheduling of classes, registration and undergraduate course advisor.
The Virginia Tech Library at this time was in the Carol M. Newman building, built in 1955. Prior to this, since 1915, the Library was housed in an auditorium and chapel on the same site. Up to this time the Library lagged behind most other campus facilities and was poorly funded. This was illustrated by an event around 1950. When the Department submitted a once-a-year list of approximately 20 senior and graduate level books to be purchased, the director of the library called the chairman of the Mathematics library committee and wanted to know who would ever be using those books! With the advent of the doctoral program in mathematics, the Department made an effort to increase the limited number of subscribed journals and to purchase some back issues. Lists of books had to be submitted to the acquisitions section of the library, but around 1970 the library went to a mass purchasing system with titles pre-selected by an agency.
Actually the Mathematics Department had a small library of its own which was started sometime in the 1930s. When the move was made to Williams Hall, the library was moved next to the main office. However, in the mid 1960s, this small library was removed and combined with the holdings in the Newman Library.
The first attempt to increase the small number of subscriptions to mathematical journals and to purchase back issues was made in 1960 using a small National Science Foundation grant. Eugene Posey was chairman of the Library Committee at that time. Since that time, the library holdings in mathematics has been built to an adequate collection for a research institution, thanks to the chairmen of the Library Committee, including Charles Oehring, Charles Aull, Ezra (Bud) Brown, and Werner Kohler.
The separation of VPI from Radford in 1964 set the stage for a huge increase in women students at Tech. Starting that fall, all courses on the Tech campus were open to women. Another change at that time was that participation in military programs became optional for the male students, which caused an increase in the number of men students as well.
Among the many changes that occurred in 1964 was the reorganization of the University, as it was now being called, into academic colleges. This marked the beginning of the College of Arts and Sciences, in which the Mathematics Department belonged. The first Dean of the College was G. Burke Johnston.
Morris retired in 1965 after many years of administrative work in admissions, registration and summer school. He was offered the post of Director of Admissions, and a high administration official in attempting to persuade him to accept it, said, "You know that all the important decisions on campus are made in Burruss Hall." Morris' reply was, "When you go in a classroom, that's one time that you can't pass the buck." He declined the position, but was later named Director of Registration and Director of the Summer Session. He retained his professorship in the Mathematics Department, teaching one class each quarter. His influence in the administration was helpful to the Department.
The first doctorates awarded in the Mathematics Department were in 1965 to John R. Hanson, Vyron M. Klassen, and Carl A. Persinger. All three were students of Patrick H. Doyle, a topologist who returned to Michigan State the following year.
During the 1965-66 year, the basic freshman-sophomore sequence for the mathematics, science, and engineering majors was revised to a two-year sequence called introduction to mathematical analysis including a 5-5-5 sequence the first year covering algebra, trigonometry (these two were soon dropped), analytic geometry, and calculus. The second-year 3-3-3 sequence covered vectors, matrices, partial differentiation, multiple integrals, infinite series, and differential equations. This evolved by the mid 1970s into a course consisting of 18 hours of calculus and analytic geometry, 3 hours of linear algebra, and 3 hours of differential equations.
Another change in the curriculum during 1965-66 was the creation by Rutland of the Applied Mathematics for Engineers senior level sequence. Some of the engineering departments began requiring their students to take one or more of these courses. These three quarter courses had large enrollments, and continue to the present as three semester courses taken by many of the engineering students.
Senior level courses that had been added by 1968 included: introduction to abstract algebra, elementary real analysis, intermediate differential equations, and number theory. Elementary complex variables was expanded to three quarters, and the three geometry courses (college, synthetic-projective, and non-eulclidean) were changed from graduate level to senior level. The freshman level course called mathematics as a liberal art was also added in 1968. This was designed for students in the humanities who would not be using mathematics in their major field.
Rutland went on leave during the 1968-69 year, and was replaced by C. Wayne Patty as Acting Head of the Department. Patty had come the previous year from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was one of six people in the Virginia Tech Mathematics Department at that time who were doing research in topology. One of these topologists was Peter Fletcher, who was Patty's doctoral student at North Carolina and had come to Tech the year before. An additional four more topologists would be hired during the following three years, although not all of them stayed for very long.
C. Wayne Patty
After Rutland returned from his leave of absence, he relinquished his position as Head of the Department in order to devote full time to teaching, and soon became one of the students' favorite teachers in the large freshman calculus sections. Wayne Patty became the permanent Head of the Department starting in the fall of 1970. His tenure in this position would last for 24 years and would span a period of time in which the Department made tremendous growth into a nationally prominent research department.
Actually the first research in the department had been done during the decade of the 1960s. During the last half of that decade, the mathematics faculty together were writing about a dozen papers each year. However that output doubled by 1970 and continued to grow. Other faculty, beginning with Hugh Campbell, starting writing textbooks during the 1960s. Eventually there would be numerous textbooks and other research level books written or edited by math faculty. To give some idea of the growth of published work by the Mathematics Department since the 1960s, the 1995 document titled Research Interest of Faculty lists more than 700 papers published by mathematics faculty in the five years prior to 1995, and it lists almost 50 books by current mathematics faculty.
The largest growth in the number of mathematics faculty occurred from 1964 through 1975. During these years, 72 people were hired, mostly as assistant professors. This was an average of six new faculty members hired each year during this period, with the largest number (10) being hired in 1969. Since these people were hired with research responsibility, there also began to be pressure to publish research results and to obtain external funding to support the research. Under the tenure system, adhered to by the University, the continued employment of new faculty and the ultimate granting of tenure to them now depended on their doing research. Of the 72 people hired in this twelve year span, 34 left the University within seven years. Some left to go to other schools, but a number left because they were not granted tenure.
Besides Rutland and Patty, there were a few other people hired as full professors. Chih-Bing Ling was one such person. Ling came in 1964 and stayed for the rest of his life. After teaching and advising many students in applied math, Ling retired in 1979. Although, as Professor Emeritus, he continued to come to his office for many years.
In 1970 the Computer Science Department was begun, although the first computer course was taught several years earlier. Also in 1970 the Virginia General Assembly approved the name change of the University to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. This was in recognition that Virginia Tech had become a comprehensive university. However, with the name change came some confusion. Sometimes when several faculty members attended a conference, they would put different names for their school on the name tags, such as: VPI, VPI&SU, and Virginia Tech. People at the conference often thought these were different schools. After several years of identity problems such as this, the University went to a uniform Virginia Tech logo and the faculty were encouraged to use the name Virginia Tech in their communication with other people.
The 1970-71 year was one marked by disruptive student activities. The students at Tech were following a national trend of student demonstrations that was exacerbated by the Vietnam War. This became a real problem during the spring quarter of that year when there were several demonstrations and much disruptive activity. It all came to a head after the tragic events at Kent State University that spring. There were several bomb threats, and at one point the Virginia state troopers had to be brought in to forcibly evict about 100 students from Williams Hall where they had barricaded themselves. This was where the Mathematics Department was located at the time. A couple days later, a fire destroyed Building 253. Arson was suspected but never proved. Building 253 at that time housed offices of a number of the new mathematics faculty, several of whom had books and other possessions badly damaged. These faculty had to move their offices to Williams Hall and double up with other mathematics faculty for the fall quarter of 1971.
The Mathematics Department was scheduled to move into McBryde Hall, which was just being completed during the fall quarter of 1971. So the cramped quarters after the fire only lasted one quarter, as the Department made the move over the Christmas break. The other departments which shared McBryde with Mathematics were Computer Science, History, Political Science, and Sociology. Eventually McBryde was to become a Mathematical Sciences building, with History, Political Science, and (later) Sociology moving to other buildings (a move taking place as this is being written in 1995).
The College of Education was formed in 1971. From that time, two or three faculty each year have held joint appointments in Mathematics and Education. One of the responsibilities of these people was the supervision of the degrees in Education in Mathematics. There were two such degrees. The Mathematics Education (Math Ed) degree, which was a degree in the College of Arts and Sciences, was originally approved in 1968, and the first degrees were awarded in 1970. The Education Mathematics (Ed Math) degree was a degree in the College of Education, and was first awarded to students in 1972. The Ed Math degree was similar to the Math Ed degree, but had fewer mathematics requirements.
During the 1970s the five mathematics sequences for freshmen were: the "five hour calculus" for engineering, physical science and math majors; the calculus and matrices sequence for business students; the mathematics as a liberal art sequence for humanities students; the concepts in mathematics sequence for elementary education majors; and the college mathematics sequence that various other departments required.
The mathematics majors always took the same calculus courses that were given to the engineers and other physical science majors. Because of this, many mathematics majors had some difficulty in making the transition from the freshman-sophomore courses emphasizing techniques to the junior-senior courses that were more theoretically based and that required some theorem proving. To help bridge this gap, the course titled "the real number system" was introduced in the 1972-73 year. This course could be taken by the mathematics majors as they were finishing their calculus sequence. After taking this course they had enough of an introduction to proof writing to be able to take the required junior level courses of modern algebra, advanced calculus, calculus of several variables, and linear algebra.
For the senior level mathematics courses, the mathematics majors had a large choice; some of the courses being more theoretical and others being more applied. The mathematics majors who were neither ahead nor behind in their schedule had to take two senior level mathematics courses per quarter during their senior year. In addition, mathematics majors were required to take 24 quarter hours elected from mathematics related subjects, as well as taking courses to satisfy the core curriculum of the College of Arts and Sciences.
In 1973, McFadden gave up his administrative duties of class scheduling, registration and undergraduate advising. Patty appointed Bruce Reed as Assistant Head for Faculty Concerns and George Crofts as Assistant Head for Student Concerns. Later in 1979, when Crofts became Assistant Dean for Research in the College of Arts and Sciences, Dean Riess replaced him in the Assistant Head position. Another Mathematics faculty member who moved to the Dean's office about this time was Forrest Rollins, who was an Assistant Dean of the College between 1972 and 1979.
Two people hired as full professors in the Mathematics Department in the early to mid 1970s had some influence in the direction of the Department. One was James Cochran, who came in 1972 to help build up the applied mathematics component of the Department. During his six years at Tech, a number of other researchers in applied analysis were hired, including: John Burns, Terry Herdman, Harlan Stech, and Michael Williams. Burns and Herdman, along with Eugene Cliff from the Aerospace and Ocean Engineering Department, would later be responsible for obtaining a grant creating the Interdisciplinary Center for Applied Mathematics at Tech. Also Williams would later become the Director of the Computing Center. Others in applied analysis who came to Tech during this period include Kenneth Shaw, Kenneth Hannsgen, Werner Kohler and, a few years later, Robert Wheeler.
Another person who was hired as professor in 1976 was David Roselle. Roselle helped to give the Department some national exposure since he was secretary of the Mathematical Association of America. Later Roselle would become Dean of the Graduate School and Research at Tech, followed by an appointment as Provost of the University. He went on to become President of the University of Kentucky and later became President of the University of Delaware.
The mid 1970s was in many ways a transitional period for the Department. Besides the building up of the applied component of the Department, there was also strength added in the areas of algebra and analysis with the hiring of Robert Snider, Daniel Farkas, Daniel Anderson, and Edward Green in ring theory and the hiring of Joseph Ball, James Thomson, and Robert Olin in operator theory. All but Anderson continued as mainstays of the Department, making these areas two of the areas of strength in the Department.
With the arrival of William Greenberg in 1973 there was the beginning of the Math-Physics program at Tech. He would be joined later by George Hagedorn and Martin Klaus in the Mathematics Department. In the Physics Department, Paul Zweifel was primarily responsible for the creation of the Center for Transport Theory that sponsored, among other things, a regular seminar attended by members of both departments. One of the participants was a young postdoctoral member of the Physics Department, Mitchell Feigenbaum, who later became famous for the notion of period doubling in the popular theory of chaos.
Beginning in 1970, Wayne Patty organized the Mathematics Department into a committee structure, consisting originally of 11 major committees. Committee chairmen formed the Advisory Committee. The Personnel Committee had 5 members appointed by the Head and 3 members elected by the faculty. By the end of the decade there were 18 major committees, including the Teaching Evaluation Committee. Faculty were encouraged to spend time on service, as well as teaching and research, by serving on these departmental committees, as well as on college and university committees.
Although there was not a large growth in the number of professorial faculty in the Mathematics Department during the 1970s, there was tremendous growth in the research output during those years. The department profile in 1970 was: 5 professors, 12 associate professors, 28 assistant professors, and 15 instructors. By 1980 that had become: 11 professors, 29 associate professors, 10 assistant professors, and 29 instructors. The faculty in 1970-71 had 31 articles published that year, gave 18 invited lectures, and had 2 grants partially supporting their research. For comparison, in 1978-79, the faculty had 57 articles and 2 books published, gave 33 invited lectures, and had 14 grants.
Also by the mid to late 1970s the Mathematics Colloquia had become a weekly event. Practically every Friday at 4:00 there would be a Colloquium talk preceded by a coffee. The speakers would occasionally be Tech faculty members, but would usually be from other institutions. Often these people would be on campus to work with a Tech faculty member. Over the years, a great many of the most highly respected mathematicians in the world gave Colloquium talks at Virginia Tech.
Perhaps because the 1970s was not a very good time for finding a job teaching mathematics, the student enrollment in mathematics did not increase, and even declined toward the end of the decade. During the early 1970s there were usually 40 to 50 senior mathematics majors most years. This declined to as low as 17 senior mathematics majors during 1978-79. The graduate student enrollment remained about 40 students each year. An average of 2 or 3 Ph.D. degrees and 8 or 9 Master's degrees were awarded each year during this decade. In the 1980s, the number of B.S. degrees increased back up to around 50 a year, and the number of graduate degrees also increased considerably.
It became increasingly difficult during the 1970s to bring in and keep 40 qualified graduate assistants in mathematics each year. To help in the recruiting of graduate students, the first departmental Visitor's Day was instituted in November of 1978, just before the Thanksgiving break. A number of prospective graduate students and some faculty from colleges in the area were invited to visit on a Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. Highlights included a dinner and talk by the new Dean of the Graduate School. Unfortunately, this turned in to an embarrassment to the Department when the new Dean, after having too much to drink, gave a talk full of expletives. It might be noted that the next year, David Roselle replaced this man as Dean of the Graduate School and, jointly, Dean of Research. Despite this inauspicious start for Visitor's Day, it has since become an successful annual affair, organized by Charles Parry for a number of years and later by members of the Graduate Admissions Committee. Thanks partly to this recruiting effort, the Department was able to sustain about 70 GTA's a year by 1984.
Another innovation in 1978 was the Virginia Tech Mathematics Contest given in the fall of that year. The first year it was purely a local contest to help mathematics majors prepare for the annual Putnam Mathematics Competition. John Layman was the Putnam Supervisor during the 1970's and the team had just concluded two remarkable years with ranks of 13th and 24th in the nation. By 1990, this annual Virginia Tech Math Contest had expanded to a truly regional contest with 242 students from 43 different schools participating that year. By then, each year, $500 in regional prizes were awarded and $200 in special prizes were given to Virginia Tech mathematics majors. In 1992, Layman resigned from the directorship of this contest and was replaced by Jong Kim, who has continued in this capacity to the present time.
Besides participating in the mathematics contests, some of the best mathematics students were encouraged to participate in the Honors Program and even earn a Bachelor's degree in Honors in Mathematics. Honors students could take some graduate level mathematics courses and were required to write an honors thesis. This is not to be confused with the Honors System, a student run system to uphold the Virginia Tech Honor Code.
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Last Modified on: Tuesday, 25-Sep-2001 08:16:03 EDT