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Queens College of City University of NY University of Michigan University of Michigan Professor of Mathematics |
From childhood to the present, I have always found mathematics to be the most beautiful of subjects: the elegance of the nicest proofs (such as that of the infinitude of the primes) impresses me more than any other art. This is the reason I studied and continue to study mathematics, although I now also have a second career. In 1969 I was a young Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the University of Toronto. The war in Vietnam was raging, and there were frequent protest demonstrations in front of the U.S. Consulate. I was giving a speech at one such when the police told me to stop. I kept speaking. The head of the riot squad told me he would arrest me if I continued. I did, and he did. I was charged with two minor but criminal offences, as were the several people who valiently picked up the bullhorn and tried to continue the rally after I was arrested. Upon reflection I realized that it would be a drag to have a criminal record, so I worked hard preparing my trial with a lawyer. When my lawyer and I disagreed about trial tactics, I fired him and represented myself (with the judge emphasizing that I had a fool for a client). I was acquitted of one charge and convicted of the other at trial; on appeal I was acquitted of the second charge as well. In the course of representing myself I learned a bit about criminal law and procedure. Over the next twenty years I represented many demonstrators for various good (in my definition that means "leftist") causes. I was a paralegal, with no training but lots of enthusiasm. On several occasions I was frustrated by my lack of a degree in law. For example, as a non-lawyer I couldn't appear in appellate courts (representing anyone other than myself), and I also couldn't represent people charged with more serious offences. Therefore in middle age I decided to go to law school. After torturous negotiations, the University administration agreed that I could do so while remaining a math professor if I taught the normal teaching load (but was allowed to have my classes in summers and evenings) and maintained my research and supervision of graduate students. However, I would get sabbatical (82%) pay rather than full pay. (Some people think I got a good deal, some think the administration got the better of me; maybe it was actually quite reasonable.) It was interesting becoming a student again. After I had taken my final oral examination on my Ph.D. thesis I had vowed I'd never take any other test. This vow was quickly forgotten in law school. I have since advocated forcing professors to, say once every five years, take a course outside their area of expertise and get graded on it - this might produce a little more sympathy for students. Anyway, I got through law school(and even enjoyed it a bit) while continuing mathematical teaching and research, and was called to the bar of Ontario in 1992. Now there are no formal restrictions on my legal practice and I take more cases than I really want. Most of the cases are still representing protestors of one kind or another, and most of the cases cost rather than earn money. But I get a lot of satisfaction from contributing in that way to causes I believe in. I still do research (in the theory of operators on Hilbert space) and teach mathematics. My legal and mathematical lives are generally as distinct as Dr. Jeykel's and Mr. Hyde's. When I was in law school, the dean introduced me to a visiting professor by saying to him "You might like to meet Peter Rosenthal, he's a professor of mathematics as well as a student in the Faculty of Law." "That's very interesting," the visiting professor said, "what do you think about the relationship between mathematics and law?" "I don't see much relation," I replied. "Well," he said,"Kant wrote that the only two true sciences are mathematics and law." "He was right about mathematics," I answered. And I still think that that is so. Law sometimes makes a pretense of being logical, but it is only a pretense. There have been a few times when being a mathematician helped me with law. One such time was reported by Ed Barbeau in his "Fallacies, Flaws, and Flimflam" column in the |