Statistics one step from elimination

By Melissa Prentice

Arizona Daily Wildcat

The Statistics Department faced its third strike yesterday when a faculty committee accepted the closure of the department "as it exists today."

"The committee recognizes that the president of the University of Arizona must respond to the current budgetary crisis and programmatic needs by streamlining and reorganizing programs within the university," the Faculty Senate special committee wrote in a report released last night. "The closure of the Department of Statistics as it exists today, is probably an inevitable decision given the history of defective planning and lack of support for this unit."

The Statistics Department received the first two strikes against it when Provost Paul Sypherd and President Manuel T. Pacheco recommended eliminating the department. The Arizona Board of Regents will have the final decision on the department's future June 1-2. But department head Yashaswini Mittal said she is "not holding (her) breath."

Although Mittal said she was disappointed about the decision, she was not surprised.

"I was not expecting anything one way or another, I have been planning my life which is separate from their decision," she said. "I have done what I can and it is their responsibility now. My responsibility is to my students, which I will follow through until the end."

The "current sorry state" of the department, a result of "the closing of a long and sorry history of lack of support," has made statistics today "not a viable department," the committee wrote. But at the same time, the university "must preserve a sound base for the future of this fundamental field."

Committee chairs were unavailable for comment last night and other committee members were reluctant to give comment.

Instead of eliminating statistics education at the UA, the committee recommended the creation of an interdisciplinary program in statistics, located in the graduate college. The IDP would coordinate courses in statistics, which would "increase overall efficiency by removing some duplicate courses,"

would offer a master's degree in statistics and would combine "statisticians from across the campus" as research consultants.

"Statistics analysis is, obviously, a component of many, many research programs in virtually every discipline represented at the UA. Many granting agencies required qualified statisticians on research projects," the committee report stated.

But Mittal said the new unit would require money and other resources that the university has not been willing to invest before.

"They are talking about a great deal of resources that, if they had been approved, we would not be having this discussion," she said.

During a forum with statistics supporters, committee members suggested the idea of combining statistics with the Mathematics department, an idea which they said duplicates about half of statistics programs in the country. Supporters said this proposal could work as long as statisticians, not mathematicians, were teaching the classes.

Following this suggestion, the committee recommended transferring existing courses and the department's mathematical statisticians to the Department of Mathematics. If the department then needs to hire faculty, they should be statisticians.

Read Next Article