Below the line is a petition in support of the Combinatorics group at the University of Strathclyde. Below that are instructions for supporting this petition. Time is short, and we have not been able to organise a more sophisticated method of signing.

We the undersigned express our extreme concern at the proposal by the Computer and Information Sciences department at the University of Strathclyde to close the highly successful Combinatorics group in the department.

The group, though small (three members of staff), has a very strong track record. They produced 35% of the department’s 4* papers in the current REF, earning nearly a million pounds of REF and grant income in the last four years. Members of the group have held important administrative positions in the department. Also, in 2017, the group organised the high-profile and successful British Combinatorial Conference.

The department feels that Discrete Mathematics can be taught by members of staff in other research areas such as Mathematically Structured Programming, Data Analytics and Cybersecurity. We feel that this underestimates the role of Discrete Mathematics in Computer Science, and point out the dangers of having a fundamental subject taught by non-specialists.

Last year, the Bond report on “The Era of Mathematics” pointed to the importance of mathematics underpinning our economy and society, and examples and scope for knowledge exchange in all parts of mathematics, and made a case for significant increases in funding, especially at the PhD and postdoctoral level. We imagine that the Combinatorics group at Strathclyde would be well placed to benefit from this. We believe that it is never a good time for a university to withdraw from such an important area of Computer Science and Mathematics, but the timing here seems particularly bad.

We urge the department to reconsider this recommendation.

If you wish to support this petition, please email Peter Cameron (pjc20@st-andrews.ac.uk), simply giving your name and University affiliation (if you have one) and the statement “I support this petition”. I will do the rest.

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About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.

Please forgive me if I don’t acknowledge your emails individually — and thank you to all who have already responded.

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I support this pétition. JLB

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I support the petition!

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I support this petition!

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Thank you everyone who has signed already. I have 240 signatures already, and there are more waiting in the queue for me to process; I can scarcely keep up with things. The signatures range from Fields medallists to PhD students, directors of institutes to postdocs. Keep them coming!

Thank you too for the comments that some of you have included; these will get passed on with the petition. Let me just quote one in full, from Aylin Cakiroglu:

As of September, I will join a very successful company in London called BenevolentAI that exploits data for drug discovery. Of course, much of the work in computational biology I have done in the past 5 years made me a great candidate, but I know that they were particularly interested in me because of my research experience in graph theory – in fact much of their work is based on a knowledge graph. In addition, much of the data has variables that are in relation to each other (for example drugs and side effects) and a new direction of deep learning is exploiting these as so-called graph neural networks.

Many of the skills I will need to understand current approaches and build on them to develop new methods in a mathematically robust way I have learned during my undergraduate and PhD. This is not to say that my new colleagues will have specialised in a plethora of research fields, but companies like BenevolentAI recognise the need for a diverse workforce and research – including combinatorics. It would be a shame if Strathclyde university shuts itself and it’s undergraduates off from developing in this field which will generate impactful research in the next decade with applications particularly in deep learning.

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I strongly support this petition as Discrete Mathematics (in particular combinatorics) constitutes a fundamental part of Mathematics. Combinatorics is the first opportunity for many school and college students to encounter beautiful formulaes related to counting, summations, and calculating possibilites in many games (Cards, Chess, Ludo, Dices etc.) etc. Further, its application leads to various current research topics in the field of Pure Mathematics, Computer Science, Neuroscience, Artificial Intelligence, Criminology, Chemistry etc. Hence the subject has a great richness and deapth of conceptual understanding and it must be taught by a person who have an excellent exposoure and practical experience of the subject.

Thanks and regards,

Shubham Namdeo

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i support the petition

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I fully consent to this petition.

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Pingback: Strathclyde CS department plans to close small but successful combinatorics research group, thoughts? - Nevin Manimala's Blog

I support this petition.

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I support this petition.

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I support the petition in the favour of the continuing the work of this valuable group.

Dr. Ing. Bohdan Hejna, ICT Prague

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I support this petition.

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Please note that, for operational reasons, this petition will be closed on Monday, 1 July. If you would like to sign, please do so before 5pm (BST) on Monday.

Many thanks to the more than 500 who have signed already. Permit me to quote another comment I have received, from Rachel Traylor:

I’d like to express my formal and professional support for the combinatorics

research group at the University of Strathclyde. I’m aware that departments

are always facing budgetary issues and sometimes have to make tough decisions.

However, I believe the closing of this research group to be a long-term

mistake in general. The value of mathematicians doesn’t evaporate with the

progression of technology and technologists. If anything, those fundamental

experts become more valuable.

The value of mathematics research is many-fold. Firstly, the financial

long-term value is one of the greatest of all disciplines. Pick any

technology today, and its current form would not exist without the

mathematics that formed its foundation, even if those foundations were

laid decades prior. Mathematics may not be the sexy landscaping people

see from the curb, but it’s the reason the houses stand. Don’t sacrifice

the foundation.

Secondly, as in all pure sciences, the discipline has intangible value as

well. A strong set of pure mathematics adds to the prestige of the university

(which does have secondary financial benefits), as well as provides good

support to the rest of the departments and the university itself. Students

taking mathematics courses from mathematics professors will benefit from our

unique perspective in the long run.

Finally, the value of mathematics has a human element. Just like the world

would be more stale without art, literature, and music, we would lose some

of our humanity without pure mathematics. Mathematics departments will never

be as large a profit margin as a business or law school; that’s a fact. But

more beyond that, pure mathematics lets us explore and create, just as art

and music do. It’s part of who we are as a species, and the inspiration pure

mathematics provides as well as its inherent beauty helps to bind humanity

together in a good way. It inspires artists, engineers, technologists,

teachers, and many others.

The department may be forced into a terrible choice from administrative

pressure. If that is the case, please let my testimony be considered to help

argue what may be an administrative ultimatum.

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I support this petition!

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I strongly support the petition!

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I support the petition.

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Is there any further news as to what is happening to the Combinatorics group?

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I learned yesterday that the members of the combinatorics group in the Computer and Information Sciences department will be moved to the Mathematics department. Probably the best outcome in the circumstances. I had no official response to the petition, not even an acknowledgement, so I don’t know whether it had any effect.

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