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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


News flash: UA’s math department is NOT on probation

Jesus Barrera
Mathematics and Economics Senior Shilu Feng works on her homework on Friday, Dec. 4 in the Mathematics building.

Contrary to an age-old rumor that has been circulating on the UA campus, the UA Mathematics Department is not on probation.

The rumor has been around for the past 15 years according to Robert Indik, the associate headfor instruction of the math department, but both Indik and Scott Clark, lecturer and entry level program coordinator in the department, have confirmed that the rumor is false.

Both Indik and Clark said that they have told numerous people that the rumor is false, yet they still have heard the rumor from students, parents and other employees of the university, including academic advisers.

“It’s frustrating because you’ll get parents or students telling us ‘we know this,’ and we’ll say, ‘where did you hear this,’ and they say ‘an adviser told us,’” Indik said. “[The advisers] know better because we make a point of talking to them [about the rumor]. I don’t know what to do about it.”

While Clark doesn’t know why the rumor continues to spread, he thinks the initial reason behind the rumor could be due to students’ difficulties with math.

“It’s not every student’s case, but I think it’s the vast majority of students [who] find that math has always been a stumbling block for them in school, and I think when there’s a rumor that sounds like an easy out for them,” Clark said. “That maybe that’s a way to place blame on something external rather than maybe a weaker foundation coming into college or not knowing what the expectations would be.”

Ryan Papetti, a freshman studying information science and technology and math — currently taking Math 129 — has a similar idea for why the rumor persists.

“I think a lot of people think math is really hard, and they’re going to try and find every way they can to make it as easy as possible for them. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that maybe if we can find a way to get rid of math altogether then [people will think] I don’t have to take math,” he said. “I think a lot of it has to do with people trying to get rid of math in general.”

Clark said that it would be “an impossibility” to get rid of math completely because some level of the subject is required for nearly every major.

Academic departments cannot really be termed to be “on probation,” according to Indik, but they can be eliminated. This is usually because of low enrollment in the program or difficulty filling faculty positions, and as explained by Indik the math department hasn’t met these criteria so far. In fact, the department has more than doubled its enrollment over the last 10 years, with more than 500 majors in the program now.

Because of this growth, the department is in need of more faculty because it is having “trouble covering the teaching [they] need to do,” according to Indik. He said this issue is one of the things they are focusing on during their current Academic Program Review. Every seven years, the program, like other departments at the UA, undergoes an Academic Program Review that includes an internal and external review process of the department’s teaching, research and service. According to Indik, the program is currently in the self study piece and meeting within the department to address problems.

Clark said that the math department usually receives high accolades from these reviews. This kind of response to the work of the math department isn’t isolated; Clark said the UA math department is consistently ranked in the top 50 math departments nationwide. According to a 2014 ranking of math departments in the U.S. by the U.S. News and World Report university directory, the UA math department’s graduate program ranked No. 41 in the country.

“The fact that we are a sort of an open enrollment public institution speaks highly to the work that we do here, given the diverse population of students that we have here,” Clark said.

Despite these rankings, Clark acknowledges that the math department has a higher failure rate than other departments at the UA. He says the fact that there is usually a more clear-cut right or wrong answer with math makes it different from more subjective subjects with less “black and white” answers.

“Math, more so than other subjects, has fairly objective standards about what you want people to be able to do,” Indik said. “You could lower standards, but it’s particularly obvious when you do it with math.”

These passing and failing rates, however, are “largely in line with what you would see at larger public institutions,” according to Clark. Clark said in some cases, like in the College Algebra class, Math 112, the UA math department’s pass rate is above that of similar institutions, with a rate of 70 to 75 percent of students receiving an A, B or C compared to 60 to 65 percent at other colleges.

“I like to say that we are doing a bit better than some of our other institutions, and that’s what we try to strive to do,” Clark said. “You can artificially inflate any grade you want, but you want to have [students] succeed and get the knowledge that’s required so they actually learn rather than just get an artificially inflated grade.”

Yet this success rate is not what Indik says he would want it to be. He acknowledges that lowering the standards of the class could help with grades, but he believes that this could hinder students’ ability to do the math they need for their next course.

“We work on trying to do a better job of teaching and improve the success and I think mostly we’re getting better, but it’s a big challenge,” he said.

In the meantime, the math department continues teaching students and remains, as it has been during the continuation of this rumor, not on probation.

“I’m having a great first semester as a math student,” Papetti said. “I haven’t heard any other students having major problems with their professor other than just that math is hard, but beyond that I’ve heard everyone’s having a decent time in their math classes this semester.”

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