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    Andre, at my suggestion, started a question on the named topic.

    I think this is a question which is important for mathematicians, is something mathematicians are likely to know, and is hard to find by Google. So I think it is a good question. (Those aren't my only tests -- I don't think I have a complete mental list of tests for an MO question -- but it is most of them.)

    A lot of people's negative feeling towards this question is due to people disliking Andre's plan to use this as a "name and shame" list.
    My own feeling is that this is not an immoral idea, but I don't think it will work very well, and I hope Andre looks at what organizations like the AAUP are already doing before he sets this up.
    I am somewhat divided between trying to figure out how to ask this question well, and expressing some concerns about this plan, all in a short comment system.
    So here I'll write more at length.

    Subjective issues: At first sight, it appears that this is a purely objective question. But, in two ways, this may not be true.

    (1) At least in some cases, we are dealing with universities which were forced into their actions by financial collapse. Inside Higher Ed, , uses "Financial Exigency" as the objective standard for whether a university was forced into this state. I don't know whether this standard is the best one or not.

    (2) I can imagine that a university would rather claim they are fiscally forced to lay a professor than to enter into the difficult task of actually proving that professor is not maintaining an active research and teaching career. I don't know if this is going on -- it's often an issue in industry, but I don't know if it would be in the academy -- but I could imagine so.

    Any list would have to figure out how to deal with these cases.

    Thinking about whom you are trying to persuade: Is our target departmental chairs, provosts, or legislators/voters? Because, at least in the US, politicians are not likely to care that much their university is not getting to host conferences, not getting the best hires, not getting good colloquium speakers, etc. What concrete actions are we expected to take, and will they punish the right people?

    Is it likely that newly hired faculty will have a good alternative? Andre specifically mentions newly hired faculty, which (I think) means that he wants people to consider this history in making their decisions about what jobs to accept. I have the (perhaps unfair) impression that universities who do this sort of thing are often hiring people who have no other offers. I can't imagine someone turning down a TT position when they have no alternative -- I wouldn't advise anyone to do so.

    The reason that I am not going to wind up a major organizer of this effort: It is not clear to me that the current tenure system is, in fact, the best way to run academia. I think that, since we were all hired under these rules, we are entitled to fight for them. But I am not going to be a leader in this fight, because I don't think it is actually the best system.
    • CommentAuthormarkvs
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2011
    The question has no research math content. I voted to close.
    • CommentAuthorgilkalai
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2011
    This is not an appropriate question for MO. We should avoid "historical" questions of personal/gossip nature.
    I definitely see MO as a place that is for questions about being a professional mathematician, not just about mathematics. Very often such questions would be better served by "ask your advisor" or "ask an older faculty member", but this seems like one where the resources of the internet would be useful.
    But this isn't a gossip question. Or, more precisely, the way that Andre phrased it is not, although I suggest above some ways in which it could turn into one, which would be tricky to handle. The question is purely about public actions.
    David, do you have any ideas on what a more appropriate system would be like? I would be interested in your opinion (please email me if you rather talk about this offline).
    • CommentAuthorgilkalai
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2011 edited
    We can have various questions of this kind: records for giving tenure in math department; departments that treats post docs badly; journals that delay publication; advisors that neglect their graduate students; universities were mathematicians salaries are the lowest; ect ect we do not want to go there, I think.

    I voted to close this question regrdless of the name and shame "plan". But this too is a rather bad idea. It is especially harmful in the context of the University of Amsterdam issue. It is important to mention the obvious fact that this decision will harm greatly the academic reputation of the otherwise successful math department and of the university as a whole. But the hope is toward "resolve and go on" rather than "name and shame".
    Even though, initially, I thought of my question as a weapon, upon further thought, I have decided to make it less aggressive.
    I have thus removed any reference to "newly hired faculty". I have also removed the adjective "shameful" (since those layoff might be genuinely forced by the circumstances).

    Please feel free to suggest more improvements.
    Not a big fan of the question; definitely not a big fan of the wording. I think it's interesting to see how overwhelmingly positively the VU Amsterdam question was received (much better than most users expected, obviously), and contrast it with the instant skepticism this new question meets. I doubt it will get off the ground, and I can't quite put my finger on why it's the case, but maybe it's the negativity: a portrait of times when common sense failed, it lacks the positive aspects of Tilman's question, the "what can/should we do to avoid this".
    • CommentAuthormarkvs
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2011
    > Please feel free to suggest more improvements.

    Adding some math would help. For example, you may add a phrase at the end: And, by the way, what is the answer to this ... and your favorite math problem.
    • CommentAuthoran_mo_user
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2011
    I had to leave my computer for a while, and just before leaving saw the announcment of this question and during my absence from the keyboard wondered whether this question would truly see the light of day; I also thought what I would say here if it were so.

    Fortunately, I can keep it short this time, as it was already said:

    What Gil Kalai said (both, but in particular the second one).

    A final request, and then I will stop posting on this, except somebody says something to me (or perhaps on me) specifically:
    Here there is no urgency; maybe, at least some period of reflection after the other question could be a good idea to see how to proceed with things like this on MO.
    • CommentAuthorRyan Budney
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2011 edited
    I don't really see a problem with this question. It's not a gossip thread, if anything it's math history -- history of the profession rather than history of particular research problems.

    I don't have anything to contribute to the thread though. I know of cases where universities laid off all their pre-tenure tenure-track faculty. And universities that had people in tenure-track positions that were not converted to tenured positions. But those are all pretty common experiences. Our department is currently shrinking, but it's via retirements. I suspect this is a common occurance in many places nowadays.

    On a related but different topic: most of the universities in the Tokyo metropolitan area (minus the national universities) removed tenure recently.

    I shamefully supplied the last vote to close.

    I feel that it is important for this meta discussion to continue. I believe there is a right way to ask such questions and I believe that MO could be a place to have such questions. However, I don't feel that André's question was up to par for reasons that were already expressed in this thread. My suggestion is for the community to help André edit the question to make it more appropriate for MO. I would be more than willing to reopen the question once this has been done.

    I find the question in question more balanced than the one that preceded it. It can be seen as being about openness and transparency (even if achieving that would involve dealing with some amount of gossip), while the previous question was deeply personal, and can be seen as being about competition of different research groups for funding (even if one side appears to be obviously unfair to the other), which is sad to see here. The present question asks for data,
    and you cannot deny OP's right to gather and publicize such data. Also, trying to make a university administration concerned about its reputation and accountable for its actions is quite a different thing from pressing the university or the government to spend money on pure math rather than something else (think e.g. of state health care, and more specifically of a surgeon who saves several people a day). It seems I must now add that I'm a pure mathematician, and purposely avoid applied problems (in part because they might as well have military applications). Still I feel (in apparently a very unconventional view here) that it's a bit selfish of us math people to press for more funding towards our unrestrained studies just because we want it.

    Other questions on MO were also concerned with collecting various data such as the number of published papers per each arxiv subject. Other type of questions (such as the one on a free alternative to Mathscinet) were concerned with campaigning for various causes, effectively making MO into a trade union forum. Were they all OK even though having no research math content? And how is this one different?

    @Sergey, I'm afraid that avoiding applied problems does not guarantee (in the brave new world of cyber warfare) avoiding military applications.

    @José, don't worry, I'm writing cryptically enough and giving confused enough talks that it will be so much easier for them to rediscover everything from scratch :)
    @Sergey: You wrote "The present question asks for data, and you cannot deny OP's right to gather and publicize such data."

    I hope everyone can agree with that statement; but what's under discussion is whether MO is the appropriate forum for this. And it's not strictly a "mathematical content" problem either. Clearly, in recent history, certain career questions were deemed appropriate for MO while others were encouraged to move to other forums.