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The Founding of CUPM 1958-1978: Part I

Supported by NSF, the New CUPM Proposed Numerous Curricular Changes


In 1958 the National Science Foundation awarded MAA a grant to convene a broadly representative group of mathematicians and users of mathematics "to study some of the problems created by the revolution in mathematics and to seek solutions for them." These problems included rapid increases in enrollments, unprecedented demand for mathematics teachers, the need to modernize textbooks, and better means of assimilating mathematical research into "the body of common knowledge." The conference was expected also to consider the role, organization, and operation of the MAA.

MAA President G. Baley Price convened this conference in Washington, DC on May 16-18, 1958. Subsequently, a report entitled The Washington Conference was published in the Monthly (65:8 (Oct. 1958) 575-586]) Among the many issues taken up by this group was a request by CUP that it be discharged as of September 1, 1958 with the expectation that it "be reorganized on a larger scale." In response, the conference passed a resolution in which it urged that the work of CUP "be continued with all possible vigor and on an expanded scale."

Consequently, on Nov. 15-16, 1958, MAA president Price convened another conference in Washington "to assist in formulating plans and policies for future work" of the now-discharged CUP was called "to re-examine the assignment of the Committee" and "to take steps to establish a new Committee with adequate funds, personnel, and program. Subsequently, a report entitled Conference on the Committee on the Undergraduate Program was published in the Monthly (66:3 (Mar. 1959) 213-220).

The first recommendation of this conference was to create a Committee on the Undergraduate Program in Mathematics (CUPM) with "power to delegate its various activities to subcommittees." Among the expanded priorities suggested for the new committee was to publish statements of minimal standard for teachers of mathematics in schools and colleges, as well as recommendations concerning desirable preparation for graduate programs in various fields and career areas. The new CUPM was duly appointed and held its first meeting at the end of 1958, just six weeks after the CUP Conference.

With support from the relatively new National Science Foundation, CUPM set up an office in California to support the work of the several panels and subcommittees that were established to carry out its expanded mandate. It held conferences and published newsletters to stimulate interest in various topics in twentieth century mathematics that were in high demand in the expanding post-war economy. The part of its work that had the most widespread and lasting impact was a series of curriculum guides covering virtually every aspect of undergraduate mathematics. For the most part, these guides were small stapled pamphlets, typed rather than typeset, that were distributed without charge using funds from the NSF grant.

The pressures on undergraduate mathematics to which CUPM was responding in these early post-Sputnik years were part of a broader pattern of crisis in mathematics from primary school through research universities. In 1963 a group of leading mathematicians undertook a serious examination of the school curriculum for the purpose of establishing long-term goals for K-12 mathematics education. Although the report of this "Cambridge Conference" is described by its authors as "tentative and highly provisional," it generated considerable controversy among both mathematicians and school teachers.

Shortly after the Cambridge Conference, the National Academy of Sciences convened a special committee to examine the status and needs of the mathematical community. Because of the distinctive role played by collegiate mathematics, this committee convened a special panel on undergraduate issues, chaired by John Kemeny (one of the first members of CUPM). Reports from the committee and the panel were published in two separate lengthy volumes (one at 256 pages, the other 114 pages). This was the first major national report to begin using the appellation "mathematical sciences" rather than "mathematics." (It was another 15 years before CUPM reports began using this same language.)

  • Goals for School Mathematics: the Report of the Cambridge Conference on School Mathematics Educational Services Incorporated. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1963. Motivated by concern about "grave deficiencies" in the widespread post-war school curriculum reforms, and intended to provoke "general debate and bold experimentation," this report by leading mathematicians "is characterized by a complete impatience with the present capacities of the educational system." Deliberately leaping over practical problems such as teacher knowledge and Piagetian readiness to learn precepts, the report offers a vision of an idealized school curriculum to serve as goals for those working on more immediate programs of reform.
  • The Mathematical Sciences: Vol. I, A Report. Committee on Support of Research in Mathematical Sciences (COSRIMS), Lipman Bers, chairman. National Research Council. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1965. This comprehensive survey, designed to "assess the present status and project future needs of the mathematical sciences," reports on the field (people, core, applications), education (undergraduate, graduate, specialties), and funding (federal, private, industry).
  • The Mathematical Sciences: Vol II, Undergraduate Education. COSRIMS Panel on Undergraduate Education in Mathematics, John G. Kemeny, chairman. National Research Council. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1965. Anchored in eight case histories of diverse departments, this special supplement to the COSRIMS report focuses on the different needs of students with different career interests as well as a variety of problems associated with staffing.

As the economy changed and employment prospects for mathematically trained graduates declined in the early 1970s, the NSF changed priorities and withdrew support for the type of programs that supported CUPM. To complete the funded phase of CUPM's work, MAA published a two-volume Compendium containing many of its more recent reports. Now this Compendium has been scanned to make the reports in it available online in pdf format. (Some other CUPM reports are also online but available only through certain library systems.)

The inventory on the following pages lists the CUPM curriculum guides and recommendations that were published in this NSF-funded phase of CUPM's work. The links to on-line versions of certain reports are generally not to the original versions, but to the slightly updated versions that were subsequently published in the Compendium.

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