Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Mathematics

How university Board of Directors oversee university Administrations?

It is very refreshing that many of my acquaintances have opened blogs. Running a blog acquires a life of its own:

First, you need to post a first “piece of your mind”, followed by a few other pieces, on the ground of circumventing traditional media who want to control your opinions…

Second, you start publishing excerpts of your diary, beginning with the inconsequential secrets and a few little psychological aches

Third, if you have written short stories, this is the time to get them out to the public…

Fourth, sureptitiously venting out a few deeper psychological pains find their way out…

Fifth, you post chapters of a novel…

Six, in developed countries, you have the opportunity to publish your novel or collections of your essays and “pieces of mind” that you have posted, and you are officially recognized an “author”

The big jump comes when you realized that many of others’ pieces of mind are worth disseminating and commenting upon…You are connecting and feeling that sharing is not a one-way endeavor, and you post other people’s blog pieces…Now you are a professional blogger…

A cousin of mine visited Lebanon lately, and I asked me to send me a link of one of his posts. He replied: “Search Googles”  Great idea! I barely search Google because I don’t surf the net, not yet.

Yesterday, I DECIDED to have a peek.

Professor Nassif Ghoussoub posted on Nov. 18, 2010 under “Do you want to be a governor?

“I am completing a 3-year term as a faculty representative on UBC’s Board of Governors. Here are a few selected personal notes from my experience on that Board. My 33 years of academic service at UBC were surely helpful in dealing with the steep learning slope, but nothing could have prepared me for the challenges of this experience.

First, the good news: I found the appointed governors, and most of the students representatives, to be bright and engaged. The President is truly exceptional, both in his personal approach to the job, and for his core values, academic priorities, and intellect. The Administration consists of hard working and reasonable people who are committed to the well-being of the university. But every Administration has its own set of values, skills, convictions, and methods, hence the need for independent oversight. This is in principle the role of the Board.

In practice, however, this oversight is not as obvious as it sounds, since essentially all the information that forms the basis of Board decisions is provided by the Administration. Compatibility and trust become the main currencies in this relationship. That’s why we often see two contrasting types of Boards: the hostile ones (a dozen Canadian university presidents were sacked by their Boards in the last couple of years), or the completely docile ones.

How does our Boards look lately? Well, the current assumption is that everything the Administration presents to the Board will, in fact, be approved, and that any serious probing by a governor of any submission is seen as an outlier. I often saw myself walking a very tight rope trying to support the Administration without conceding a “carte blanche”, to trust its competence without relinquishing oversight, to suggest ideas without micromanaging, and to question it without doubting it.

Back to good news: After an initial period of adjustment to my own -somewhat direct – style, I sensed a less defensive and more receptive Administration. The preservation of academic freedoms, privacy, and the formal implementation of ethical practices in the management of the UBC endowment were easy commitments to defend, considering that the current President himself is a champion of human rights, and international law.  With other keen governors, I advocated for, and contributed to, a more pro-active role for the Board through a series of working sessions in which Governors could provide substantial input towards long-term strategic planning. I have witnessed a serious evolution towards more accountability and transparency.

What were the main challenges? The approval process for capital projects funding has to be one of the most prominent.  It is the case that most projects come with various levels of funding from external sources (private, federal or provincial). But the funds are never sufficient, and decisions need to be made quickly, sometimes in a hastily arranged conference call, and often on the basis of optimistic assumptions and rosy scenarios. The decision process is incremental (Board 1 to 4) but it is a fact that once you have embarked on a project, it is difficult to turn back, even when financial commitments do not materialize, which happens more often than not.

The missing funds eventually have to come from the university’s general operating funds (GPOF), either directly or via the borrowing costs on external loans. Whether the university’s GPOF should be used as such is a subject of a continuing debate (and not just at UBC). The question of how far a particular Administration can borrow, commit, even mortgage the future of the university has no simple answer.

Recent developments have, however, taken these responsibilities and challenges to a whole new level. The passage of Bill 20 and its implications for the university’s land use practices, and the re-evaluation of UBC’s current status as a “Government Reporting Entity” (GRE) represent major milestones in our university’s history. I do support a plan to develop further the University’s community, and I have participated in the formulation of the basic principles on which the process is now based. But the devil is in the details, most of which I do not yet know. This Land Use Plan (LUP) is significant in scope, and is irreversible.

I am advocating for specific policies that will help keep it aligned with the academic mission long after this substantially expanded UBC town develops its own demographic identity.

Final thoughts: The Board needs to be more sensitized to the value and the contributions of faculty members to UBC the institution. On the books, our salaries appear as a major liability on the operating budget, but the faculty are what make and break the university’s reputation.

Faculties bring research funding, which is becoming a substantial portion of the University’s budget, and they are the most permanent of the university’s stakeholders. The presence of strong, credible, and knowledgeable faculty representatives on the BoG is extremely important.

The review of UBC’ status as a GRE opens the possibility for restructuring the BoG. I am therefore advocating for a larger number of faculty representatives on the Board, coupled with a staggering of their period of service.

This restructuring would ensure a more adequate representation, and will guarantee continuity, both in terms of experience and historical perspective. We also need faculty representation on the IMANT Board (the one that manages the endowment, and the faculty pension plan) and more importantly, on UBC Property Trust (which manages the development of UBC land).

Finally, I cannot stress enough the need to have faculty representatives on the BoG that are independent thinkers, and have the courage to speak up when they diverge from the Administration line.  This is good for the Board, good for the University and good for the Administration.” End of post

Note: Part of Professor Ghoussoub CV dated 2005 read as follows:

Born in Western Africa (currently rep. of Mali), Nassif Ghoussoub obtained a License en Mathématiques at the Lebanese University of Beirut in 1973, a Doctorat 3ième cycle in 1975 and later a Doctorat d’état in 1979 from the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, France. He held a postdoctoral position at the Ohio State University in 1976-1977.

He has been at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, since 1978 and is currently a Professor of Mathematics and a Distinguished University Scholar. He has also held several long and short-term visiting positions at various universities in Austria, Canada, France, Italy, and the USA. 

His first research interests were in functional analysis and ergodic theory and supervised by the two advisors Gustave Choquet and Antoine Brunel. He focused in the 80’s on the geometry of infinite dimensional Banach spaces working with such distinguished mathematicians as W. J. Johnson (Texas), J. Lindenstrauss (Jerusalem), B. Maurey (Paris) and W. Schachermayer (Vienna).

In the 90’s, Ghoussoub switched his interests to non-linear analysis, and partial differential equations, under the influence of I. Ekeland (Paris) and L. Nirenberg (NY). Nirenberg, in particular has been a great inspiration to him, both on the personal and on the academic level.

He has published over 90 research papers, including two memoirs of the AMS, and one monograph entitled Duality and Perturbation Methods in Critical Point Theory.

He has, so far, supervised ten PhD and MSc students and about a dozen postdoctoral fellows. He served as co-editor-in-chief of the Canadian Journal of Mathematics from 1993 to 2002 and has been on the editorial board of a number of various Canadian and international journals. He has also given over 150 invited lectures all over the world. These talks included the following invited plenary addresses: Mons-Belgium 97, Strobl-Austria 99, AMS western regional meeting 93, Beijing Centennial Math. Conference 98, Santiago’s Pan-American Summer Institute 03, Paris A-HYKE2 04, Erice-Sicily 05.

He was the recipient of the Coxeter-James prize in 1990, of a Killam senior fellowship in 1992 and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1993. In 2004, he was awarded a Doctorat Honoris Causa by the Université Paris-Dauphine. 

He was elected vice-president of the Canadian Mathematical Society for the period 1994-1996. He also served in 1995-1996 as chair of the Grant Selection Committee for Mathematics at the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Idiosyncrasy in “conjectures”; (Dec. 21, 2009)

Idiosyncrasy or cultural bias relates to “common sense” behavior (for example, preferential priorities in choices of values, belief systems, and daily habits…) is not restricted among different societies: it can be found within one society, even within what can be defined as “homogeneous restricted communities” ethnically, religiously, common language, gender groups, or professional disciplines.

Most disciplines have mushroomed into cults.

A cult is any organization that creates its own nomenclature and definition of terms to be distinguished from the other cults in order to acquiring recognition as a “professional entity” or independent disciplines that should benefit from laws of special minorities (when mainly it is a matter of generating profit or doing business as usual).

These cults want to owe the non-initiated into believing that they have serious well-developed methods or excellent comprehension of a restricted area in sciences. The initiated on multidisciplinary knowledge recognize that the methods of any cult are old and even far less precise or developed; that the terms are not new and there are already analogous terms in other disciplines that are more accurate and far better defined.

Countless experiments have demonstrated various kinds of idiosyncrasies.  This article is oriented toward “cult” kinds of orders, organization, and professional discipline.  My first post is targeting the order of mathematicians; the next article will focus on experiments.

Mathematics, meaning “sure study” (wisekunde), has no reliable historical documentation. Most of mathematical concepts were written many decades or centuries after they were “floating around” among mathematicians.

Mathematics is confusing with its array of nomenclature. What are the differences among axiom, proposition, lemma, postulate, or conjecture?  What are the differences among the terms, theorem, questions, problems, hypothesis, corollary, and again conjecture?  For example, personally, I feel that axiom is mostly recurrent in geometry, lemma in probability, hypothesis in analytical procedures, and conjecture in algebraic deductive reasoning.

Hypothesis is in desuetude in mathematics. For example, Newton said “I am not making a hypothesis”.

Socrates made fun of this term by explaining how it was understood “I designate hypothesis what people doing geometry use to treating a question.  For example, when asked for their “expert opinion” they reply: “I still cannot confirm but I think that if I have a viable hypothesis for this problem and if it is the following hypothesis… then I think that we may draw a conclusion. If we have another hypothesis then another conclusion is more valid.”

Plato said: “As long as mathematics start from hypothesis instead of facts then we do not think that they have true comprehension, since they are not going back to fundamentals”

Hypothesis is still the main term used in experimental research. Theoretically, an experiment is not meant to accept a hypothesis as true or valid, but simply “Not to reject it” if the relationships among the manipulated variables are “statistically significant” to a pre-determined level, usually 5% in random errors.

Many pragmatic scientific researchers don’t care about the fine details in theoretical mathematical concepts and tend to adopt a hypothesis that was not rejected as law.  This is one case of idiosyncrasy when the researcher wants badly the “non-rejected” hypothesis to represent his view. Generally, an honest experimenter has to repeat the experiment or encourage someone else to generalize the results by studying more variables.

Conjecture means (throwing in together) and can be translated as conclusion or deduction; basically, it is an opinion or supposition based on insufficient proofs.

In the last century, conjectures were exposed in writing as promptly as possible instead of keeping them floating ideas, concepts, or probable theorems. This new behavior of writing conjectures was given the rationale that “plausible reasoning” is a set of suppositions thrown around as questions mathematicians guess they have answers to them, but are unable to demonstrate temporarily.

The term conjecture has been used so freely in the last decades that Andre Weil warned that “current mathematicians use the term conjecture when they fail after a few attempts to verify a concept, even if the problem is of no importance.”  David Kazhdan ironically warned that this practice of enunciating conjectures might turn out like a 5-year Soviet plan.

At first, a set of conjectures was meant to be the basic structure for a theorem or precise assertions that were temporarily used in the trading of logical discussions. Thus, conjectures permit the construction of rigorous deductions that are accessible to direct testing of their validity. A conjecture was a “research program” that move ahead in order to foresee the explored domain.

Consequently, conjecture is kind of extending a name and an address to a set of suppositions and analogies for a concept, long before tools and methods are created to approach directly the problem.

A “Problem” designates a mental task submitted to the audience or targeted for research or project; usually, the set of problems lead to demonstrating a general theorem. Many problems are in fact conjectures such as the problem of twin primary numbers that consists of proving the existence of an infinity of coupled numbers such that p-q = 2.

One of the explanations for using freely the term conjecture is the modern facility of mathematicians of discriminating aspects of uncertainty at the theoretical level. It is an acquired habit, an idiosyncrasy. Thus, for a mathematician to state a conjecture he must have solved many particular cases and recognize that a research program is needed to developing special tools for demonstrating the conjecture.  This is a tough restriction in this age where time is of essence among millions of mathematicians competing for prizes.




March 2023

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