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New department proposed

John Tierney | Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The College of Science will propose the creation of a new Department of Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics (DACMS) at Thursday’s Academic Council meeting.

The proposed department was approved by the College of Science Council on Oct. 26 and would be formally established gradually over the course of the next three years, if approved by the Academic Council.

The department’s role, which is outlined in a proposal the College submitted to members of the Academic Council, would be focused on both research and education.

“[Establishing the department] represents the most cost-effective way to bring to Notre Dame the critically important field of statistics, while at the same time creating a platform for expansion of research and education in applied and computational mathematics,” the proposal said.

DACMS would include an undergraduate degree program awarding students with a Bachelor of Science degree in applied and computational mathematics and statistics, according to the proposal. This proposed degree program has been approved by the College’s Undergraduate Studies Committee, and will next be considered by the College Council.

If approved, the department would begin recruiting   students currently enrolled in the First Year of Studies to join the program.

The new department will also sponsor masters and doctoral degrees, according to the proposal. The College is currently working to design a “professional master’s degree” in applied and computational mathematics and statistics.

The department will initially consist of seven faculty members already at the University, Gregory Crawford, dean of the College of Science, said in the proposal.

Research and education in the proposed department will be interdisciplinary in focus and will recruit professors who “engage in both interdisciplinary research and methodological development, which pushes the frontier of knowledge in applied and computational mathematics or statistics,” the proposal said.

DACMS is envisioned as a resource for professors doing research in other disciplines. Statistics is used in research in all four colleges, and DACMS “will create a formal consulting service in both statistics and applied and computational mathematics,” the proposal said.

The department will help researchers with experiment design, data analysis and statistical modeling.

Statistics, applied mathematics and computation “play an increasingly important role in disciplines such as economics, sociology and biology,” Crawford said in the proposal.
“They are used in the analysis of economic indicators, voting patterns and resource distribution, and they have called into question some conclusions in genetics simply by proposing different methods for showing correlation or causal relationships.”

The department will also have a strong ethical focus consistent with the University’s Catholic character, Crawford said. Statistics’ “applications to social justice, community, solidarity, common good and ethical decision-making already indicate the department’s strong engagement in Notre Dame’s Catholic mission,” he said in the proposal.
Concerns about DACMS

The Faculty Senate asked Crawford in a statement released March 2 to delay presenting the DACMS proposal to Academic Council until he received more input from faculty members. The Senate did not question Crawford’s assessment stating Notre Dame needs to heighten its focus on statistics.

“The Faculty Senate agrees with the need to increase the footprint of applied mathematics, computational mathematics, and statistics at Notre Dame,” the statement said.

“I think everyone agrees that increasing the statistical footprint on campus is a good idea,” said Keith Rigby, chair of the Faculty Senate Academic Affairs committee. “The mechanics could’ve been better if we had more time.”

Rigby said he was specifically concerned with the relationship between DACMS and the existing Department of Mathematics.

“I could envision course conflicts, particularly if there were a relatively large number of courses that would serve both programs,” he said. “I also wonder how easily a student could transfer between the two departments.”

Despite the Faculty Senate’s call to delay formally establishing DACMS, Rigby is not opposed to the new department in principle.

“Increasing the statistics capability on campus is a good thing,” he said. “We would hope that in the future, we would be partners rather than [being asked to sanction a decision after the fact].”

Student government did not hear about the proposed department until late last month, chief of staff Ryan Brellenthin said. He said the proposal had been discussed in Academic Council committees since last semester, but students do not serve on those committees.

“It seems like there are a couple holes that we could fill very easily if we let the administration know we want to be involved [in the process of creating a department],” Brellenthin said.

Because student government did not receive the formal proposal from Crawford until Monday evening, Brellenthin said he doesn’t have enough information to make an educated decision for the student body about DACMS. Student government does not object in principle to the creation of the new department, he said.

Brellenthin said he expects Crawford to welcome student involvement in implementing DACMS.

“He said he’d like to get general student feedback about what they’d like to see in the department,” Brellenthin said.

Crawford said in an e-mail that he was not available for comment to The Observer this week.