Posted by: Administrator | 09/12/2009

Norman Biggs: An Open Letter to the LMS Council

The LMS annual elections are over, and you have been duly elected. Some of you have written about your views on this website, but some of you have kept quiet. In my previous contribution (17/10/09) I gave my own views from a long-term perspective, and I should now like to focus on the immediate problems.

1. Unification There seems to be a feeling in some quarters that the referendum of March 2009, in which 56% of 1168 members were in favour of unification, was irrelevant. On the other hand, the vote of May 2009, in which 56% of 1049 members were against, is regarded as conclusive. This view is accompanied by suggestions that the Council and the membership had been steamrollered by a few ‘dangerous radicals’ into supporting an ill-considered policy. In fact, until recently the Council had proceeded very cautiously, and there were numerous opportunities for dissenting views to be heard. While the dissenters were in a minority, the Council quite rightly pursued the policy approved by the majority. QUESTION: How do you propose to proceed regarding the ‘route to unification’, agreed by Council in 2006?

2. Voice There have been calls for the LMS to ‘speak with its own voice’. Over the past ten years, much time and energy has been invested in establishing a mechanism that can express a clear and coherent view on behalf of the mathematical community. Initially there were some problems but, in my experience, the LMS and the IMA were rarely at cross-purposes. Indeed, the problems that have arisen recently are not the result of disagreement between the two bodies; instead they are the result of disagreement between members of the LMS. QUESTION : Do you propose to establish a unique ‘voice’ for the LMS, independent of the CMS, IMA, and other organisations; and if so, how?

3. Organisation My support for unification was based upon a desire to see the ethos of the LMS (but not necessarily all its policies) extended to a wider range of mathematicians. Consequently I have been confused by the fact that calls for the LMS to increase its membership have come from those who oppose unification. Even with the current size, it is clearly not possible to run the Society without the use of employees, working alongside the elected officers. Traditionally, the LMS had little experience or expertise as an employer, and staffing matters took up a great deal of time in the early 2000s. As a temporary measure, a set of ‘Five Principles’ was agreed, but they were not intended to be a blueprint for day-to-day operations. Such a blueprint is now clearly needed. QUESTION : How do you propose to clarify the respective roles of the Society’s members, its Council, its elected officers, and its professional employees?

4. Communication It is clear that the LMS needs to communicate more effectively in (at least) two areas: (1) the promotion of mathematics in all its forms, and (2) informing and consulting with its members. The efforts of the staff at De Morgan House have resulted in some improvements, but progress has been slow, and much remains to be done. QUESTION: How do you propose to improve the Society’s lines of communication, and how do you propose to find the resources (human and financial) for this work?


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