Posted by: Alexandre Borovik | 25/10/2012

Christopher Mulvey: Moving Forwards

Clearing my desk to write this, I shuffled some papers on which I had been working into a battered Ryman file folder, many times recycled. By some strange synchronicity, I noticed that the folder carried an address sticker of Susan Oakes, the Society’s Administrator when it was based at Burlington House, somewhat towards the heavens in the graceful premises of the Royal Astronomical Society. On the cover of the folder is written: Income & Expenditure 1971-75, the records of four financial years, long before I became a member of the Society, all at some time fitting into that slender wallet folder, marked underneath Stuff for Audit. It was a few years later before the financial accounts were computerised for the first time, but even then they could have been listed on a few sheets of paper.

By the time that I became Council and General Secretary, the Society had rather more members than it now has, a single administrator efficiently administering them, and an expenditure on grants rather similar to that now paid out. The question of whether the Society should approach the Privy Council with a request to be granted the title of the Royal Mathematical Society was not pursued after it became evident that it was opposed by certain influential members of the mathematical community. Nevertheless, the influence of the Society politically was significant. With its then President, Christopher Zeeman, I attended a meeting with the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Education asking for our help in what was considered a crisis in the provision of mathematically qualified teachers.

Zeeman also founded the Committee of Heads of Departments of Mathematics, of which I became the first Secretary, and initiated grants to assist women mathematicians through career breaks. The political and policy agendas which have marked the years since then began to be set, with the Society still administered by one woman, on a budget for salaries and premises on which I would not like to cast any particular light. Partly, this was possible because a lot of people gave a lot of their time, possibly to the detriment of their research careers. But much the same can be said nowadays: the Society is served by Officers that give beyond what could even be called freely of their time and efforts. Nevertheless, we now support an administration that provides professional backup in increasing amounts each year for the efforts of the Society’s officers.

This has been made possible, on the one hand, by the increasing income that the Society receives from its publications, and has been necessitated, on the other hand, by the increasing demands in terms of compliance placed upon the Society. But it has to be said that, while expending a comparable figure on grants and the mathematical activities of the Society, albeit with a slightly smaller number of members, the administrative costs incurred by the Society have increased considerably, although so far matched by its increases in income despite an overall decreasing membership. At which point, one begins to look to the future with some concern.

Despite the attempt to widen the membership, in this area we are strictly on catchup. The realities are that we have had a decreasing membership over time, and that we have an ageing demographic. Whether that ageing demographic feels so bonded with the Society that it may make good its demise with endowment may be the case, but should not be relied upon. The more likely scenario is that we may have a membership that is younger but more stretched, both financially and in terms of the amount of time that they can contribute to the Society, just at the time when our administrative costs continue to increase and our income from investments and publications continue to fall.

Our position in terms of investment, despite all efforts of Treasurers to the contrary, is, by the Treasurer’s admission, one that is less than ideal. In real terms, we are less well off than we were, say, ten years ago. We show a surplus of somewhat below £0.5m on our annual accounts, but only that necessary to maintain, but not advance, our position with respect to inflation. This, at least, is progress from the realities of the past few years. That we are in this position, rather than one that is adverse, is due to the increasing profit that we make on publications, a position that is seriously likely to change with the move to open access publication. At a turn, this could destroy much of our income from publications.

The importance of this income to the Society, particularly in the face of increasingly poorly performing investments, is highlighted by a pair of financial figures. The Society’s income from publications is presently around £1.25m, while its expenditure on salaries, and I mean salaries, not the total costs of employment, is around £0.75m. The difference of £0.5m between these figures is roughly what we need to be receiving annually in order to offset losses due to inflation. The outcome is a serious one: unless there is a dramatic increase in investment income, which presently funds the Society’s remaining expenditure on non-salary running costs, which are considerable, and its charitable activities, in terms of grants and political work, the continuing stability of the Society relies on administrative costs falling in line with decreasing income from publications.

In the years ahead, Council has therefore a difficult course to pursue. What is vital is the continuation of the work of the Society in supporting mathematics. It is not just vital, it is what we will do, whatever the circumstances, it is what the Society is there to achieve. Alongside this, we have to work to make our investments more profitable to the Society, a situation which in various ways is already in hand. We also need to take bold and innovative decisions in a changing market, politically and financially, for publications, which we are well placed to do, provided that we are aware of the challenges ahead. But the reality is that we have to examine carefully the ways in which we expend income in pursuing these aims. There has to be an inexorable link between the Society’s income and its expenditure on administration, in particular on administrative salaries.

It is this link that is the main weakness in the Society’s organisation. In theory, and in terms of legal responsibility, the Society’s Council is the body which ensures that this link between income and expenditure is maintained. In practice, while Council may briefly see the papers which approve operational decisions made, it is its executive committee, the Finance and General Purposes Committee, that discusses and actions the progress of Society business, presenting its proposals to Council for approval. Even this is subject to diversion through various delegated powers awarded to officers and committees that were sanctioned at some distant point in the past by decisions of Council now effectively lost and replaced by the touchstone of established practice, leading to a Society administered by practice rather than prudence. Council has to regain effective operational control of the Society, and this will require changes to the way we go about its business.

Now is the time that we have to decide between a Society administered and guided forward by professionals from outside of mathematics, or a Society whose moves and intentions are directed by those from within the community that it serves, aided by an administration that is focused on meeting those directions. We have an administration that can serve us well, and we have officers that can direct that administration in a manner that achieves that. We need a Council that can ensure that we move forward within those guidelines, and perhaps can pause for a moment to think of Income and Expenditure, 1971-75 as having at that time been able to be detailed within a small, battered file folder, brought together with adequate but significantly fewer administrative forces. In that way, the Society will continue to do its good work and to prosper in doing so.

[Reposted from LMS Elections 2012]

 

Posted by: Alexandre Borovik | 10/10/2012

Alexandre Borovik: Report on my work in Council

My third term as a Trustee and Member-at-Large of the LMS Council comes to the end, and I do not stand for re-election. I have been serving as a Trustee and  Member-at-Large since my election at the AGM in 2006. I served on the Programme Committee and Research Meetings Committee and had a chance to witness the scope and quality of British mathematicians’ research as well as the remarkable efficiency of the LMS grant schemes. Since 2010 I was serving on the Education Committee. In my electoral statement in 2010 I wrote:

I seek re-election for my third — and final — term because [...] I want to make sure that the voice of the LMS on education issues is more assertive.

I think now I am in position to say that this aim has been achieved — not so much perhaps because of my modest contribution but mainly because of tremendous work of Tony Gardiner (the Education Secretary) and all members of the Education Committee. You may wish to check the LMS policy statements on education:  in my opinion, this voice has not sounded before with the same clarity.

This brings me to another big project that I am involved in: I am a member of the project team working on the development of the new LMS website. As I said in my electoral statement in 2010,

 I would like to ensure that the new Website will include tools for policy consultations like blogs, discussion groups and wikis for collective online editing of documents.

This aim has been only partially achieved yet, but I have done everything that I can: this blog has been set up with my help; today I pass on my responsibility as an editor. I have also set up and manage The De Morgan Journal blog on behalf of the Education Committee; the blog now receives around 1000 visits a day (and has had 110,000 visits since its launch a year ago).

Posted by: Alexandre Borovik | 05/08/2012

The De Morgan Journal

The De Morgan Journal is online forum and blog for round table discussions, exchange of news, views, analyses and observations of mathematics education – hosted by the London Mathematical Society for the benefit of the mathematical community.

Some rubrics: The JournalPapers; Posts;  News; Policy DocumentsMaths in Media; Opinons.

Posted by: Administrator | 15/11/2010

New LMS website goes live (in beta)

In a beta version at http://lmath-website.staging.premierithosting.com/

If you have any comments on the beta site, please post them here or on the New website for the LMS blog http://lmswebsite.wordpress.com/ by 26 November.

Posted by: Administrator | 08/11/2010

Alexandre Borovik: Opinions sought

I stand for election for the third (and final) term as a Member-at-Large mostly because I personally feel, and am very concerned, that in policy discussions on mathematics education, the voice of unversity mathematicians is not heard.

I had a chance to compare the working of the Programme Committee, on which I previously served, and Education Committee, on which I am serving now; in my opinion, Education Committee needs a serious change. Crucially, I feel that Council and Education Committee need a better understanding of education priorities.

Therefore I invite all LMS members to join  a discussion of education policy on this blog; all posts here are open for comment.

I suggest  ACME’s recent proposal (see http://www.acme-uk.org/downloaddoc.asp?id=228) to extend mathematics provision at schools to all 16-19 old students as a starting point for our discussion. This is a divisive issue: Chris Budd, judging by his statement in this blog, supports this idea, while Tony Gardiner and I assess it as a well-intended but naive and uncosted dream that in the current economic climate will lead to re-distribution of scarce resources away from Mathematics A-levels, thus damaging university level mathematics education. Read More…

Posted by: Administrator | 01/11/2010

Chris Budd: Election Statement

As I am up for re-election as education secretary I would like to give some idea of my visions for the future role of the LMS in education, both in HE and in schools in these very challenging and fast moving times with drastic changes possible on the horizon.

I am passionately committed to promoting both mathematics research, mathematics education and also the broader appreciation and popularisation of mathematics at all levels, from school to HE and beyond. In recent years, through the Education Ctee, I have addressed all of these areas. As an active research mathematician, I also believe strongly that good mathematics research and good mathematics teaching are mutually supporting and intimately connected, and that both are vital for the health of UK mathematics. This certainly means that we must both have a robust attitude towards promoting excellence in education at HE and also to have a strong and vibrant dialogue between schools and HE with close engagement between the two in both delivery and on curriculum design. I have done my best to promote this,both in terms of direct support, and also in lobbying for mathematics, with a much broader focus on education than just HE matters. Read More…

Posted by: Administrator | 14/10/2010

Angus MacIntyre: Election statement

The LMS is a Learned Society, with a distinguished history of nearly 150 years. Its membership surely believes (and has backed this belief by generous use of its considerable intellectual and financial resources) that the mathematical imagination can, and should, flourish in all parts of the world, that it is a source of international harmony(as well as scientific and economic development), and that its future must be protected. As President, I am keenly aware of the intellectual distinction, and the altruism, of our membership, and I believe that one of my main responsibilities is to ensure that the distinctive voices of our Society are heard. There are many issues specific to mathematics where these voices need to be heard. One is of course the issue of Impact ( where there are related general issues, but where mathematics is among the sciences most at risk). Another complex of issues relates to content and structure in mathematical education, informed by detailed knowledge of international practice, an issue which has been curiously neglected . We ourselves have been rather slow to get involved, but I am very encouraged by recent discussions at FGPC and Council (these will , I hope, lead to Discussion Papers to be put to the membership). Read More…

Posted by: Administrator | 13/10/2010

Kirill Mackenzie: Election statement

I am standing for election to LMS Council as a Member-at-Large, out of concern for the general direction of events in UK universities and the effect that this is having on every aspect of university mathematical research and education.

My position can be stated very simply: I want to do what I can to preserve the `traditional academic values’, especially those of greatest importance for mathematics.

Posted by: Administrator | 05/10/2010

Tony Gardiner: Electoral statement

I am standing against the incumbent Education Secretary.  I would not be doing so if the current situation were more-or-less satisfactory.  However, it is not easy to explain in a delicate way why a change is needed.

My own credentials are unusual.  Throughout my career I have struggled to bridge the divide between school mathematics, undergraduate mathematics, and research mathematics – to blend the insights of a mathematician with those of a classroom teacher, a curriculum developer, a textbook author, an examiner, etc.

Over the years I have taken every opportunity to work with children – mostly, but by no means exclusively, at secondary level.  I have also worked closely with teachers on curriculum development projects, in providing for able pupils, and in setting up and running the national pyramid of challenges, olympiads and summer schools.  This has been a humbling, but enriching experience. Read More…

Posted by: Administrator | 03/10/2010

Alexandre Borovik: Election statement

I have been serving as a Trustee and  Member-at-Large of the LMS Council since my election at the AGM in 2006. I served on the Programme Committee and Research Meetings Committee and had a chance to witness the scope and quality of British mathematicians’ research as well as the remarkable efficiency of the LMS grant schemes).

 

Since 2010 I am serving on the Education Committee and involved in preparation of a number of education policy documents. Their aim is to help our colleagues in universities around the country to fight their corner and defend the interests of mathematics, mathematicians, and the mathematical community in an increasingly difficult administrative and financial environment.  (You may have a look at the preprint which is my homework covering backgrounds for one of the potential future statements; it does not reflect yet the position of the LMS; comments are welcome.) Read More…

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