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Pure Maths External Examiner resignation

Published: 17th May, 2021

Dr Alison Parker, associate professor in the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Leeds, resigns as University of Leicester’s external examiner in pure mathematics, saying she no longer wishes to be associated with such a “university”. She has also donated her examiner fees from last year to the maths legal fund. Her full letter of resignation is below.

Dear Prof. Canagarajah, Mr Dixon and Prof. Garrett,

I am writing to formally resign from my position as external examiner in pure mathematics at the University of Leicester.

This is in protest at the news that you are making all the research active pure mathematicians at Leicester University redundant and effectively removing pure mathematics from the university and all its degree programmes.

You are destroying what could be an excellent mathematics department and you are trashing the reputation of your university in the process. An institutional reputation that took years to build is destroyed in moments. This angers not only existing staff and students, but alumni as well, as you trash their “brand” and the perceived value of their degrees are diminished. This action of gutting the pure mathematics department is not only brutal, it is completely unnecessary and self-sabotaging.

You will be aware of the statement made by the London Mathematical Society, the professional society of mathematicians in the UK.

There are many excellent points made there. In particular I wish to highlight this quote:

We are not aware of a research intensive university where core teaching in fundamental mathematics is done solely by staff on teaching-only contracts.

Thus it is very clear to everyone, including your potential students where you are placing the University of Leicester. As a non-research intensive university.

Removing active research staff will have a detrimental effect on the quality of the degree programme. The pure mathematics on offer is already significantly poorer than Russell group universities, removing more pure mathematics modules will make it non-existent. No student will be able to do third year or fourth year level projects in pure mathematics. Any graduate of your university will not be equipped to teach mathematics properly at A-level. Your students are being short-changed. It is my firm belief that pure mathematics should be part of every comprehensive undergraduate degree. Not including it is short sighted and puts your students at a severe disadvantage.

The mathematics department of Leicester has lost many great people already. If only the university had saw fit to invest in its department rather than run it down. You have lost several pure mathematics professors over the years. At least two of whom had leadership fellowships from EPSRC. Exactly the kind of research money and research active staff most universities would be trying to keep.

Mathematics teaching is usually a profitable activity. Any financial strife is the result of mismanagement at the University level, yet you are making your highly dedicated staff pay for it. Degrading your offering and trashing the University’s reputation is highly counter-productive. MSc programmes live and die by the reputation of the University. It is already clear just how little value research has to the management of the University.

How is it a good look to be firing almost all the permanent female members of staff? What does this say to your students? Females make up approximately half of the undergraduate mathematics students in UK universities but are severely underrepresented at the permanent level. You will be left with a department with almost no permanent female academic staff.

Why would students want to study at a university that clearly has so little regard for scholarship, research excellence or indeed women?

I am also appalled in my professional capacity as Pure Postgraduate Tutor at Leeds, that you think it appropriate that the ten current pure PhD students will be able to complete their PhD’s without their supervisors. This shows profound ignorance of exactly what pure mathematics is about. There is absolutely no way teaching-only staff will have the time or the expertise to supervise these diverse PhD projects.

Your staff have been working so hard during the last year with the pandemic and with the pivot to online teaching and the many extra challenges this brings. To be made redundant now just shows how little you value your staff and their expertise. It takes years to train to be an academic. Most of the staff have over 20 years experience. They publish regularly and are excellent teachers. They are an asset to the university. You should be proud of what they have achieved, instead you place such little value on research and excellence in scholarship, the primary goal of a university, that you are firing them.

I no longer wish to be associated with such a “university” and I will be fully supporting the UCU boycott of the University of Leicester.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Alison Parker

Associate Professor of Pure Mathematics, University of Leeds
Director of Postgraduate Research Studies (Pure Mathematics)