I am a UC

This week, the New York Times Magazine has a conversation with University of California President Yudof. He explains that what we really have are salary cuts, and that he is calling them furloughs just to humor the faculty, who thinks that furloughs “sounds more temporary.” (Meaning, evidently, that they are not.)

Also, surely I am not the first one to notice the resemblance to John Hodgman.




Replacing madness by mere disappointment

Tim Gowers is going to write about his idea for circuit lower bounds in the form of a seven-part dialog between three characters.

The first installment is out, and it already features a gentle and beautiful introduction to the models of boolean circuits and boolean formulas, and to the natural proof impossibility result. He also brings up the very interesting meta-question (which sounds rather new to me) of whether a “random easy function is pseudorandom.”

(The title of the post is how a character in the dialog refers to impossibility results such as natural proofs.)

Save UC

With the latest cuts, the state of California spending per student enrolled at the University of California is half what it was twenty years ago, even after adjusting for inflation. This year my full professor salary at U.C. Berkeley is about 5% less than my assistant professor salary in 2000 when I joined (after accounting for furloughs and adjusting for inflation). Meanwhile, student tuition keeps going up, and substantial further increases are expected in the next couple of years.

The distinction of UC Berkeley is to be a public and affordable university of quality comparable to any top private research university in the country. Neither the quality nor the affordability can survive indefinitely if the next twenty years are anything like the past twenty — or even if the next ten are like the past ten. The point is that every university is having a bad year this year, but, in the past ten years nearly every year has been, financially, what would be considered a disastrous year nearly everywhere else. This means that, when the economy recovers, we shall be back to having a merely disastrous financial situation, and we shall never be able to climb back from whatever hole we are digging ourselves into right now.

An organization of U.C. Berkeley faculty has been making these points and I completely agree.

Notably, the mission statement mentions the larger point of the California budget system and Proposition 13. In part, the University of California underfunding is a matter of priority; the legislators are not as interested in spending on higher education as they are in spending to incarcerate people after three petty offenses. But, in part, it is a reflection of the larger budget crisis of the state, and of the inconsistent mandates coming from popular initiatives.

Make your voice heard

You may remember the polymath1 project, in which Tim Gowers envisioned, and realized, a “massively collaborative” approach to solving an open question in mathematics. The project succeeded, and in fact exceeded its goal. Various subsequent polymath projects are under way, suggested by Gil Kalai and Terry Tao. Notably, Terry Tao has launched a project to find an efficient deterministic algorithm to construct large primes.

Meanwhile, Gowers has been thinking about his next polymath proposal, and he has recently written about the possible projects that he has in mind. One of the projects involves a new approach to proving circuit lower bounds. No detail of this approach is given; nor it will, unless it becomes a polymath project. Gowers would like people to comment on his post indicating which projects they are most interested in.