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ASA Response

A Review of and Response to Guidelines for Programs and Departments in Undergraduate Mathematical Sciences ASA/MAA Joint Committee on Undergraduate Statistics

Unanimously endorsed by the ASA Board of Directors at its December, 1996 meeting with the following resolution:

The ASA Board of Directors endorses the "Review and Response to Guidelines for Programs and Departments in Undergraduate Mathematical Sciences" and urges the MAA to seriously consider these comments in revising and implementing the Guidelines.

I Introduction

At its January meeting in 1993, the Board of Governors of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) approved the document, Guidelines for Programs and Departments in Undergraduate Mathematical Sciences (Guidelines)[1], which was produced by the MAA ad hoc Committee on Guidelines formed in May of 1990. This document was then sent to various professional associations, including the American Statistical Association (ASA), for a vote of endorsement in principle in the hope of being able "... to submit to the community a document that reflects a consensus statement of the professional leadership." [3] In response to this request, the ASA Board of Directors asked a group of statistics educators from four-year colleges to review the document, and make recommendation to the Board.

In October of 1993 the ASA notified the MAA that it was "... not ready to endorse the Guidelines for Programs and Departments in Undergraduate Mathematical Sciences. We endorse the general spirit ... " 14] but point out the importance that they reflect the concerns and needs of all the mathematical sciences. ASA expressed a willingness to work with the MAA to improve the Guidelines so as to reflect the thinking of statisticians and the ASA. In response, the Executive Director of the MAA stated "The MAA considers the Guidelines to be a 'living document' and one that should reflect current thinking and policies of the profession. In order to do so, a monitoring mechanism needs to be in place. The Board of Governors is in the process of establishing such a mechanism for addressing future revisions of the document."[51

In October of 1991, the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics (JPBM), representing the American Mathematical Society, the Mathematical Association of America, and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, formed a Committee on Professional Recognition and Rewards. The report of this committee (Recognition and Rewards)[2]was released in 1994. While the Guidelines document is intended to focus on the mathematical sciences programs at four-year institutions, as opposed to Recognition and Rewards which includes post baccalaureate programs as well, there is considerable overlap and support between these two documents. The Concluding Remarks of Recognition and Rewards (pg. 38) states, "We also urge the professional societies to move forward on studies of some of the specific issues raised in this report. Above all, we urge the mathematical sciences community to continue, and indeed expand, the dialogue that has already begun on these important issues." It is in this spirit that the joint ASA-MAA Committee on Undergraduate Education submits the following response to the Guidelines.

2 Preliminary Remarks

One of the many implied areas of agreement between the Guidelines and Recognition and Rewards is the recognition of guidelines established by other professional organizations. The Introduction of the Guidelines recognizes those guidelines being established by the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges (AMATYC) to address "... more specifically concerns of two-year institutions", and later recognizes standards published by professional associations, in particular the Computer Sciences Accrediting Commission. This statement emphasizes that each of the specific areas within the mathematical sciences has issues and concerns unique to that discipline.

In support of this concept, we emphasize that the discipline of statistics is distinct from mathematics, and in particular that branch of analysis known as probability. As such, the teaching of statistics courses requires knowledge distinct from that typically encountered in graduate mathematics programs. The ASA, MAA, and NSF have jointly confirmed this fact through two series of ongoing NSF funded STATS (Statistical Thinking And Teaching Statistics, Statistical Thinking with Active Teaching Strategies) workshops which are designed to provide mathematics faculty who have limited training in statistics, yet who are responsible for teaching introductory statistics courses, an opportunity to become exposed to current topics in statistics teaching and methodology. The Guidelines should be written to account for the differences between mathematics and statistics. In particular, where specific elements of the Guidelines allow different interpretations, clarification should be given as to the specific interpretation for each discipline. Where additional guidelines are appropriate for a specific discipline, these should also be included.

In the preface of Recognition and Rewards is the letter from the chair of the committee which drafted the report to the chair of JPBM. It states "We are acutely conscious of the fact that statements extracted from our report could be taken out of context and misused in ways that would run exactly counter to the intent of the Committee." Similarly, the Guidelines could be subjected to misinterpretation. The section below contains interpretations of various points from the Guidelines with the hope that this will eliminate ambiguity in their application to statistics programs. That section is followed by a section which includes proposed additions to the Guidelines as well as changes felt necessary to make the document more inclusive for the whole mathematical sciences community.

3 Comments on Guidelines

Following are remarks directed at individual statements within the Guidelines. Each remark is preceded by the appropriate section reference in the Guidelines.

B. If statistics is a facet of a program being reviewed, a statistician should be included on the review team regardless of whether there is a statistics educator on the department faculty. Professional statistics organizations, such as the ASA, can serve as resources to help advise in the selection of external reviewers.

B.3 Care must be used in the choice of national competitions and examinations used for comparison of "curricular quality and effectiveness." For example, the actuarial exams in statistics may not be measuring performance related to the goals of the department.

C.l.a Those who teach statistics courses in two and four year colleges should have the equivalent experience of a master's degree in statistics which includes at least one year of full time study in statistics and recent experience in the analysis of data.

C.I.c Graduate students assigned as instructors in statistics courses should have completed at least one year of full time study in statistics with recent experience in the analysis of data.

C.2.a Different abilities might be required for different course formats. Teaching style and level should be matched with the target population(s).

C.2.b In addition, clear understanding of the duties expected of the new staff should be confirmed. For example, consulting expectations both within and external to the college and the rewards associated with each should be clearly delineated in writing for each new staff member.

C.2.c In those situations where there are not senior faculty within the department with current knowledge about and experience in statistics education, the department should seek support externally from a senior statistics educator who can assist in supervision and evaluation.

C.2.d There are many instances in which statistics offerings are a single section, and therefore this guideline would not apply. Further, supervision of content and instructional methods should be provided by a senior mentor with knowledge of and experience in current trends in statistics education.

When a newly hired faculty member with a graduate degree in statistics is assigned to teach a mathematics course, such as calculus, special consideration should be given for preparation time. Such persons will rarely have had the experience of participating in the teaching of the material during their graduate career (as opposed to those whose graduate degrees are in mathematics.) Extra preparation time will be required in order for them to become familiar with the current teaching trends in these subjects.

C.2.f Mathematics departments offering courses in statistics ideally will include a faculty member who satisfies the conditions above for C.l.a. When this condition is not met might well be a situation where the use of adjunct faculty are warranted as suggested in the last sentence of this paragraph of the Guidelines.

C.2.h Leadership and mentoring by senior faculty should be restricted to the areas of their expertise. Only those faculty currently active in statistics education should be assuming such a leadership role in the mentoring of junior faculty regarding their responsibilities in statistics, or the teaching and course development of the statistics curriculum.

C.3.a-c These sections are strongly supported, but with the obvious added condition that the professional development activities for those teaching statistics courses should include the area of statistics education.

C.3.d Guiding Principle IV of Recognition and Rewards states, "Our purpose in presenting this definition of scholarship is to start dialogue, not to dictate a definition for all institutions." 12] Such dialogue should include discussion of the differences in definition of scholarship between areas of the mathematical sciences as well as between institutions. Further, expectations of each institution should be clearly defined in writing for each faculty member at the time of the initial contract.

The Guidelines define scholarship to include the discovery of new knowledge, the integration of knowledge, the application of knowledge, and scholarship related to teaching." With proper interpretation, this definition is appropriate to scholarship in statistics. Recognition and Rewards specifically addresses this issue in their appendix on Defining Mathematical Scholarship as follows. "Scholarship in the mathematical sciences includes: ... research that leads to the development of new mathematical techniques, or new applications of known techniques, for addressing problems in other fields including the sciences, social sciences, medicine, and engineering." For the applied statistician, statistical consulting with scholars in other disciplines constitutes an extremely important area of research since these experiences are a primary way in which the statistician keeps abreast of the latest in statistical methodology as well as keeping active in the skills of data analysis and statistical reasoning. The activity of consulting fits well within the definition provided in the Guidelines in that statistical consulting includes the discovery in and application of knowledge to those fields to which the statistical reasoning is applied, as well as the integration of knowledge from both that field and the field of statistics.

The Guidelines continue, "Successful scholarship includes the obligation of timely communication of results to peers." Recognition and Rewards (pg. 18) raises a caution which should be heeded in the interpretation of this statement by pointing out the existence of scholarly activity which is "... unusual in traditional mathematics departments, such as interdisciplinary research leading to publications with numerous authors, numerical experimentation that is not documented in traditional journals, and development of large computer codes that take years to complete, It continues, "Interdisciplinary research (such as mathematics in materials sciences, mathematics in biology, mathematics in environment sciences, mathematics in industry, to name a few areas) requires a large investment of time and effort in learning new subjects and in developing a project before any results can be achieved." These remarks are particularly appropriate to consulting statisticians.

One further point needs to be made concerning the obligation for communication of results. Statisticians communicate the results of their scholarly activity to other members of the research team. Not infrequently these results indicate that the data do not support the desired hypotheses or that the experiment was poorly designed and the data cannot be used to evaluate specified hypotheses. In many such instances, the results of the scholarly activity of the statistician cause the experimenter to refrain from improperly submitting research for publication. These instances are of great service to the scholarly community. In these cases, timely communication of results to peers (the experimenter) cannot be measured in number of publications. The fact that the publication did not occur should be recognized as a positive peer evaluation by the experimenter of the statisticians contribution to the project.

In the past there have been many instances where statisticians have made major contributions to research projects, but have not been included in the list of co-authors of the resulting publications. It is the responsibility of the departments and administrations to set policy in order that appropriate recognition be given for such contributions.

C.4.b Statistical consulting should be included in the list of professional activities which warrant appropriate reduction from normal teaching assignments.

D.l.a-b The group responsible for course review, content, and materials should be those faculty qualified to teach the course. In the case of statistics courses, these individuals should meet, as a minimum, the requirements stated above for C.l.a.

4 Recommended Changes and Additions The sections of the Guidelines which establish a mentor for junior faculty is strongly endorsed. However, implementation of such a mentor in a program with no senior statistician becomes problematic. It is recommended that in such institutions a relationship be established between the department and a senior statistics educator who can advise and participate in the department's hiring process, serve as mentor to the successful candidate through the probationary period, and help the department and college in the review process. Names of such individuals willing to serve in such a capacity can be obtained from the appropriate professional organizations.

In the Introduction of the Guidelines, it is stated "Throughout this document, the phrases mathematical sciences' and 'mathematics' are used interchangeably to refer to programs in pure and applied mathematics. Mathematics education, computer science, probability and statistics, and operations research may be facets of such programs. While it is true that probability fits within the framework of pure and applied mathematics, statistics does not. The association between probability and statistics is that probability is a tool in inference, much the same as calculus is a tool in physics. The statement would be more proper if probability were to be combined with analysis rather than statistics.

But of more concern is the use of the term "mathematics" for "mathematical science." The effect of this practice is particularly flagrant in the section on Mathematics and General Education (D.3). If the Guidelines are to be acceptable to those in the mathematical sciences beyond pure and applied mathematics, the language must be inclusive. This will only be accomplished if the term mathematics is restricted for reference to both pure and applied mathematics. When the mathematical sciences community is being referred to, that more inclusive term should be used.


[i] Mathematical Association of America Board of Governors, Guidelines for Programs and Departments in Undergraduate Mathematical Sciences, report prepared by the ad hoc Committee on Guidelines (Washington: Jan. 1993.)

[2] Joint Policy Board for Mathematics, Recognition and Rewards, report prepared by the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics Committee on Professional Recognition and Rewards (Washington: 1994.)

[3] Haimo, Deborah Tepper and Donald L. Kreider. Letter to Barbara Bailar, Executive Director of the American Statistical Association. 22 Apr. 1993.

[4] Bailar, Barbara. Letter to Jane Heckler of the Mathematical Association of America. 5 Oct. 1993.

[5] Sward, Marcia. Letter to Barbara Bailar, Executive Director of the American Statistical Association. 10 Dec. 1993.