An old friend of mine (and a superb analyst/probabilist/mathematical biologist & geneticist) e-mailed me last January. “I am sitting here in the meeting of the nominating committee at the American Mathematical Society (AMS). The committee hopes that you will consider being one of two candidates to stand for election of the board of trustees of the AMS. This is a very important body for charting the future course of the society. It is a five year term but the trustees meet only twice a year for 1-2 days. And hey, there is always the chance that you will have the honor of being nominated and not have to serve if you are not elected.”
He continued: “But seriously, I and several other people on the committee think you would do a great job. They won’t let us leave the nominating meeting and go home so it would be nice to have your reply by the end of the day. If you need more information about the job or have specific questions, I’d be happy to find out more.”
I answered: “I thought you were writing to wish me a happy new year, Rick. Ok, you can put my name up. But how much will “the campaign” cost me?“
His immediate reply was: “Only your time, which of course is an unlimited resource, and it will give you millions of adoring fans guaranteeing success of any institute you are participating in. But seriously thanks.”
There is always something “disarming” whenever a scientist that you admire calls you up “for duty”. But this is not the only reason I accepted to be nominated for that position. The truth is that I happen to be a fan of the American Mathematical Society.
You can think what you want about the real or perceived hegemonial temptations/aspirations/tendencies of the United States, albeit in the political, economic or military arena. But the AMS is as close as can be to my ideals in terms of what kind of inspiring intellectual leadership the US can and should exert in the world.
The AMS is a huge organization, which counts about 32,000 professional mathematicians among its members. Besides advocating for mathematics, the society organizes a large number of regional, national and international meetings and conferences, supports a number of fellowships for junior mathematcians, publishes a number of first class journals, awards several prestigious prizes, and leads a serious lobbying effort on Capitol Hill on behalf of the mathematical sciences.
What is remarkable about the AMS is its inclusiveness. With members hailing from almost every country on the planet, the AMS may as well be called the “International Mathematical Society”. One can see its hugely popular “Notices” highlighting, besides the careers and accomplishments of the greats of American mathematics, those of French mathematical icon Henri Poincaré, of the internationalist/pacifist Alexandre Grothendieck, of the “pan-europeanist” Henri Cartan, or of the German immigrant Hermann Weyl.
The AMS organizes joint meetings with almost any other mathematical association in the world, from South Africa to Spain, to Brazil. It counts among its former presidents, our own U. Toronto’s mathematician Jim Arthur.
In a certain sense, the AMS reflects the true make-up of the American mathematical community, which keeps exhibiting much respect and gratitude for the early mathematical pioneers who came to the US from Europe in the first half of the last century to help jumpstart various strong mathematical schools and traditions on this continent (Chicago, Harvard, Princeton, John Hopkins, …). The American mathematical community is still being re-enforced on a continuous basis by a large contingent of new “mathematical immigrants”.
This diversity in excellence may be what’s behind the quiet confidence and the sober leadership that the American mathematical community and the AMS, have been projecting within the various international associations, including the International Mathematical Union. Undoubtedly, there will always be the occasional pushy staffer, obnoxious mathematician, or overly zealot representative. However, none of this compares to the overbearing desire for influence and control that has been displayed over the years by other –good but unequal– mathematical powerhouses.
Moreover, Canada’s mathematical scientists cannot and should not forget the huge support they receive from their US colleagues, especially with regards to participation in, and (NSF’s) support of, the Banff International Research Station.
Last but not least, I personally believe that the struggle to support and sustain advanced research in the mathematical sciences is global. Together, we can accomplish much more for our chosen discipline.
If you are a member of the AMS and wish to vote, here is the link:
The AMS election is open through November 4, 2011, 11:59 PM Eastern Daylight Time, USA.
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