Of Mathematics, Congressional Briefings, and President Trump’s National Security Strategy

On December 6, Shafi Goldwasser — RSA Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT — spoke at the U.S. Capitol on “Cryptography: How to Enable Privacy in a Data-Driven World.”  Dr. Goldwasser will take up a new post on January 1, 2018 as director of the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing at the University of California, Berkeley; the Simons Institute made a film of Dr. Goldwasser’s experience visiting “the Hill” and with members of Congress. Her talk was the latest in our biennial Congressional Briefings series run jointly with the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI).

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA 12) and Representatives Jerry McNerney (CA 9) and Daniel Lipinski (IL 3) were on hand to give remarks and provide their support for the mathematical sciences and federal funding of basic scientific research.

Our next briefing will take place in April or May; stay tuned!

Dr. Goldwasser’s pioneering work in the field of cryptography examines how we share and receive information. The enormous amount of data currently collected offers great opportunities to achieve medical breakthroughs, smart infrastructure, economic growth through consumer targeting, and surveillance for national security. This data collection, however, seems to stand in contradiction to patients’ rights, consumers’ privacy, unfair pricing, and the “Basic Right to be Left Alone.” Dr. Goldwasser’s presentation addressed how modern encryption methods, zero-knowledge proofs, and multi-party secure computation make progress on sharing information while simultaneously maintaining privacy. Zero-knowledge proofs are powerful tools in the design of cryptographic protocols. The notion was developed in the 1980s by Dr. Goldwasser, and MIT colleagues Silvio Micali and Charles Rackoff. In 2013, Goldwasser and Micali were awarded the Turing Award for their work on cryptography.

Her talk was timely. National security is a top priority for the Trump administration. But what, exactly, is meant by “national security”? The opening Wikipedia line asserts that it “refers to the security of a nation state, including its citizenseconomy, and institutions, and is regarded as a duty of government.” Later on, we read – on this same Wikipedia page – that the “concept of national security remains ambiguous, having evolved from simpler definitions which emphasised freedom from military threat and from political coercion.” Part of it certainly includes ensuring safety from military attacks. It is now construed more broadly and protecting our national security includes a wide range of efforts aimed at everything from protecting citizens from insecurities due to climate change (e.g., food insecurity) to protecting against cyber-attacks.

The National Security Act of 1947 and its amendments mark the federal government’s firm commitment to protecting its citizens from military threat. The 1947 version of the law created the agency which later became the Department of Defense, and established the National Security Council as well as the Central Intelligence Agency. In 1949, the Council became part of the Executive Office of the President and our first National Security Advisor Robert Cutler began in that role in 1953. The current advisor is Herbert Raymond “H.R.” McMaster. His view on cybersecurity is that cyber-terrorism is a serious threat to the U.S. Professor Goldwasser’s talk focused on cybersecurity, and keeping us safe in in “cyberspace”.

Less than two weeks after her talk, President Trump unveiled his National Security Strategy (NSS) – a political document drafted with oversight from McMaster. These annual reports to Congress are required by the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Department Reorganization Act of 1986. However, only seven have been produced since 2000.

This one has received much commentary in the press, and I won’t write about that at all. You can google and quickly find opinions – both positive and negative – from within the U.S. and from news sources around the world.

What does it mean for mathematicians and other scientists?

The Trump Administration’s NSS indicates their understanding that cyberspace is a critical part to practically every aspect of national security. It has been noted that the document has entirely dismissed climate change. Interestingly, the statement refers a few times to universities, asserting that the U.S. “must continue to attract the innovative and the inventive, the brilliant and the bold. We will encourage scientists in government, academia, and the private sector to achieve advancements across the full spectrum of discovery, from incremental improvements to game-changing breakthroughs.” This would be done, in part, by improving STEM education and is done in an effort to “Promote American Prosperity.” Those of us in the mathematical sciences might want to take note that data science and encryption are specifically pointed out as areas that will be pursued and promoted. Or not; Newsweek explains “why it is pure fantasy to believe that the National Security Strategy will drive policy in the Trump administration.”



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Professional Societies in the Mathematical Sciences: The Landscape

As you are surely aware, there are several professional associations with opportunities (benefits and volunteer) for mathematical researchers, educators, and students. Many members of the AMS are also members of one or more of our sister societies. Do these associations communicate? Work together? Of course! What do they do together and how do they do this? Read on and you will see some basic answers.

Many of us are about to head to San Diego for some nicer weather and, oh, the Joint Mathematics Meetings are there! The Joint Meetings are run annually and jointly by the AMS with the MAA (for society acronyms, see below). Several other associations hold activities at the JMM as well.

The AMS works with various coalitions on a range of issues that impact our community. The Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences (CBMS) is the largest such coalition, and “is an umbrella organization consisting of seventeen professional societies all of which have as one of their primary objectives the increase or diffusion of knowledge in one or more of the mathematical sciences. Its purpose is to promote understanding and cooperation among these national organizations so that they work together and support each other in their efforts to promote research, improve education, and expand the uses of mathematics.” The CBMS member societies are:

And, this is just the professional association landscape in the U.S. There are of course professional societies all over the world, but this post is focusing only on our own national landscape.

The CBMS associations work together to run research conferences, and fora on education. They consider matters of national relevance and occasionally write position statements. Since 1965, and every five years, CBMS sponsors a national survey of undergraduate mathematical and statistical sciences in the nation’s two- and four-year colleges and universities. The informative reports summarizing the survey results are free!

The AMS is also part of the smaller Joint Policy Board for Mathematics, alongside the ASA, MAA, and SIAM. This group promotes Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month (in case you don’t know, that’s April) to increase public understanding of and appreciation for mathematics, and, since 1988, rewards communicators who bring mathematics to a broader audience with the annual JPBM Communications Award. In Washington, JPBM members advocate for increased and sustained federal funding for research and education in the mathematical sciences.

I know it might sound odd to you, but this is me writing – I enjoy CBMS and JPBM biannual meetings. The fact that they both just happened is perhaps why I was inspired to tell you about these groupings of math societies. CBMS had its most recent meeting on December 7, and JPBM’s was October 30. These meetings give a chance to meet and share about the member societies’ activities and to hear from key players at our national agencies (e.g., NSF), the White House, and the National Academies about challenges and opportunities relevant to the mathematical sciences community.

Our community is full of wonderful people looking to move our research agendas forward, to improve education in our fields, to broaden participation in the sciences, to use ideas from mathematics for technological innovation, and to communicate about all these to non-mathematicians. While each society has its own niche, we share many goals and we can complement each other to promote these goals and to make the group voice more effective and more powerful.

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Tuesday Tax Post Update

I’ve added the Senate conferees to the post, in case you want to reach them also!

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Tuesday tax update! Act today

The next step for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is that it will “go to conference” where the differences between the House and Senate versions will be reconciled. The result will then go to the President for his signature into law.

A brief recap of how the tax bill affects the American Mathematical Society’s interests in supporting graduate students:

The House bill would require students to report tuition fee waivers as taxable income. We are concerned about this, as mathematics graduate students would be affected. About 60% of the 145,000 students who receive tuition waivers are in STEM fields. According to Nature, “higher taxes could be one more disincentive to pursuing an advanced degree, given the already bleak prospects in an oversaturated academic job market and the flat budgets at science-funding agencies.” This tax provision is not good policy, at a time when we need to train more — not fewer — Americans with STEM backgrounds.

One news source gives an example of a PhD student at the University of Washington. She is from the Midwest and her out-of-state tuition is \$30,000 a year. The university pays her a yearly stipend of about \$31,000 in exchange for her work in research and as a teaching assistant. In 2016, she paid income taxes on that teaching stipend and ended up owing the government \$2,334. If the House provision becomes law, the grant that covers tuition will be viewed as additional income. If the numbers remain the same, this student’s total income before deductions becomes \$61,398 — nearly double what she filed last year. She would owe \$7,488, about \$5,000 more.

The Senate rejects this tax on tuition waivers that appears in the House bill.

There are two actions you can take today to speak out against the tax that will hurt our graduate students:

Action 1: The House Conferees are set. The Republican Conferees are Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX 8), Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR 2), Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT 1), Devin Nunes (R-CA 22), Peter Roskam (R-IL 6), Budget Chairwoman Diane Black (R-TN 6), Kristi Noem (R-SD at large), Don Young (R-AK at large) and John Shimkus (R-IL 15). The Democratic Conferees are Ways and Means ranking member Richard Neal (D-MA 1.), Sandy Levin (D-MI 9), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX 35), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ 3) and Kathy Castor (D-FL 14).

If you are a constituent of any of these Representatives, you can write to them with your concerns.

Senate-side, the conferees are also set, they are: Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), John Cornyn (R-TX), John Thune (R-SD), Rob Portman (R-OH), Tim Scott (R-SC), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bernard Sanders (D-VT), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Tom Carper (D-DE), and Patty Murray (D-WA).

Action 2: Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX 32) is leading a letter to House and Senate leadership to strongly oppose the repeal of the income exclusion for graduate tuition waivers. Please consider asking representatives from your House delegations to sign-on to the letter, to support our graduate students. You can find your House member via the “Quick Links” at the upper right corner of this Office’s website:


And, if you live in one district and your university is in another, reach out to both Representatives!

You can tell your Representative that they should contact Ron Donado at ron.donado@mail.house.gov  if they would like to sign on to the letter.

The deadline for sign-on is Friday, December 8th at 12:00 p.m. 

While the deadline for Action 2 has passed, it is not too late to do Action 1.

The AMS Government Relations Office in Washington DC is launching a Grass Roots Advocacy Program in 2018. You will be able to opt-in, and receive Action Alerts and other news from us. This will make it very easy to respond to such calls to action such as this one. Stay tuned!


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How does U.S. investment in science compare to that of other countries?

I know you’ve been wondering.

Federal investment in science supports the research of professors and graduate students at American universities, and funds our national laboratories. About half of U.S. basic research is conducted at universities and is funded by the federal government. However, the largest share of U.S. total “research and development” (R&D) is development, and this is mainly performed by the business sector. The business sector also performs the majority of applied research. The R&D performed domestically by U.S. businesses occurs mainly in five business sectors: chemicals manufacturing (particularly the pharmaceuticals industry); computer and electronic products manufacturing; transportation equipment manufacturing (particularly the automobiles and aerospace industries); information (particularly the software publishing industry); and professional, scientific, and technical services (particularly the computer systems design and scientific R&D services industries).

The government-university-industry partnership dates to at least the Morrill Act of 1862, and is ever-changing. As an example of this change, we remember that, in 1925, 4000 scientists and engineers were assigned to a newly created Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc. to explore “fundamental areas of science likely to shape the future of the industry”. At a recent National Academies of Science convocation, Jeannette Wing (Director of the Data Science Institute at Columbia University and Former Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Research) referred to this partnership as “out of whack”. Think of the 3-cycle:

We could hope that government provides funds for universities to build talent and ideas and industries, in turn, take these ideas (and hire our students) and build upon them for the public good, at which point the economy grows and brings money back to the government.

For a number of reasons, the public feels disconnected, even alienated, from this cycle. This is hurting our country. We – the scientific community – need to take responsibility for this alienation, at least in part. More on this in future blog posts. But, now, back to the topic of national investments in science.

American investment in science has been relatively high, but countries that have not spent so much in the past are upping their game, to help secure their future economic stability and growth. According to a 2016 Nature article, the U.S. ranks 11th in terms of its investment in research and development as a percentage of its gross domestic product. They report that the top 30 countries spend roughly 1.7% to 4.3% of GDP in this way.

In case you are interested, the top 12 countries, in decreasing order of investment, are: South Korea, Israel, Japan, Sweden, Finland, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, Jamaica, U.S., and Fiji. Any surprises therein? When looking at the list, it struck me that Nepal and Democratic Republic of the Congo come in at #s 24 and 26, above both Norway (#28) and the United Kingdom (#29); could it be particularly small denominators? In any case (that was a slight digression), Israel and South Korea are the only two countries to invest over 4% and, for the past 3 or 4 years, they have gone back and forth in the #1 and #2 positions in this ranking.

This ranking, though, hides interesting information about such comparisons. For example, 75% of the South Korean investments are from industry. In the U.S., the majority had – for a long time – come from the federal government. In 2013 the federal government funds accounted for less than half of our funding for basic research for the first time since World War II. In the 1960s and 1970s, the federal contribution to this commitment was greater than 70%.

Some questions are:

  • What are the sources for scientific research and development funding? Possible answers: Government; Industry; Philanthropy
  • Where are research and development done? Possible answers: Business enterprise; Government; Higher education; Private non-profit
  • What is meant by scientific research and development? Possible answers: Applied research; Basic research; Development/Experimental developmental

And, importantly, why should countries invest in research and development at all? One answer: these investments have proved to be good for our economy. Scientifically driven innovations have fueled as much as half of all U.S. economic growth since World War II.

President Trump would like to reinvigorate the U.S. economy. In order to do so, we need improved access to high-quality STEM education and increased and sustained investments in science and innovation. We must be ever-watchful of policies introduced that would hinder access (e.g., the current tax bill moving through Congress) or undermine science and innovation in some other way (e.g., the President’s budget request for the National Science Foundation). I am watching, and use this blog and also the AMS Policy and Advocacy News page to keep you informed.




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Update: Taxes and Education

On November 6, I wrote about the GOP tax bill introduced in the House of Representatives. That bill is due to be voted on this week.

Meanwhile, the Senate has introduced their own bill and it differs significantly from the House’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The Senate Finance Committee is considering this bill this week.

Again, let’s focus on the impacts on students and colleges and universities. As described in my last post, the House bill would require students to report tuition fee waivers as taxable income. Many of you are concerned about this, and rightfully so, as mathematics graduate students would be affected. About 60% of the 145,000 students who receive tuition waivers are in STEM fields. According to Nature, “higher taxes could be one more disincentive to pursuing an advanced degree, given the already bleak prospects in an oversaturated academic job market and the flat budgets at science-funding agencies.”

The Senate rejects this tax on tuition waivers that appears in the House bill. The Senate version also preserves the American Opportunity Tax Credit, Lifetime Learning Credit and Hope Scholarship Credit, as well as the credit for student-loan interest. All of these are discussed in my last post.

The Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) has put out a piece describing several examples of the potential impact of taxing tuition waivers on master’s and doctoral students.

The Senate agrees with the House, though, in the creation of a new excise tax of 1.4% on endowments at some private colleges and universities. Endowments are often used to support students demonstrating financial need and to broaden the pool of students who can attend. This excise tax will impact these students, our most vulnerable. The House bill originally would have placed this tax burden on schools with at least 500 students and with assets of \$100,000 per student; this amount is now \$250,000 per student.

These are not the only provisions in the Senate bill that would impact AMS members. Media postings are now coming out at a rate, and the Chronicle of Higher Education is just one place you can learn more. The American Council on Education is another good resource. They end their piece on this with:

“Higher education leadership, staff, faculty, and students should actively engage in advocacy activities to remind Congress of our community’s priorities.​ Also, please make use of our Contact Congress pages to help reach your congressional delegation about the specific higher education provisions most important to you.”

You can find how to contact your members of Congress at the AMS Washington Office web page (link in upper right corner), and I encourage you to follow ACE’s advice and reach out about the provisions important to you! The CGS examples above could be useful making your case.

The House and Senate versions of the tax bills differ in many ways, not only on the education provisions. The differences need reconciled before being signed into law by the President, and so it is still timely to weigh in with your Congressional members on the points you care about.

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The Tax Bill and Potential Impacts on Graduate Education and our Universities

The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” was introduced last week in the House and is moving quickly through Congress. It contains several provisions that, if signed into law, would affect the AMS community. I will add something to this post when the Senate version comes out.

Speaker Paul Ryan has stated that he is confident the House will pass the bill by Thanksgiving. Let me give you a quick overview of what this bill means for students and institutes of higher education. At the end of this post there is more information about what you can do to take action, by contacting your Congressional delegation about the provisions affecting graduate students in mathematics.

Under current law, there are 15 different tax benefits relating to education that often overlap with one another. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would eliminate or consolidate a number of tax deductions meant to offset the costs of higher education.

Most of these provisions (described below) are found in the bill’s Title I, Subsection C , though Title V, subtitle B contains the 1.4% tax on certain schools. If you want a very good explanation of the bill, I suggest the section-by-section summary from the House Ways and Means Committee.

For starters, the three higher-education tax credits — the American Opportunity Tax Credit, Lifetime Learning Credit and Hope Scholarship Credit — would be folded into one credit. The bill

  • eliminates the Lifetime Learning Credit, which provides a tax deduction of up to \$2,000 for tuition, and
  • eliminates the Hope Scholarship Credit.

In place of those two cuts, the bill extends the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) for one extra year, making it a tax break that students can take for up to five years. For the first four years, the AOTC lets you get up to \$2,500 back if you spend up to \$4,000 on tuition and fees—no change there—but for the fifth year, under the new tax plan, the size of the tax break would be halved, so it would be worth only \$1,250.

The bill also:

  • Eliminates a credit for student-loan interest. Currently, people with incomes below certain thresholds can deduct up to \$2,500 of student loan interest each year. The tax bill would do away with this as of 2018.
  • Eliminates a \$5,250 corporate deduction for education-assistance plans. At the moment, when employers pay your tuition for continuing education, the amount they pay is not taxable income for you as long as it meets certain conditions and amounts to no more than \$5,250 per year. If the tax bill passes as written, these tuition payments will count as taxable income starting in 2018.
  • Eliminates new contributions to the tax-free Coverdell Savings Accounts; existing Coverdells would be rolled over into 529 plans.

The bill proposes new taxes on some private-college endowments and on compensation for the highest-paid employees at nonprofit organizations, including colleges and nonprofit academic hospitals. One example: private universities with at least 500 students and assets of more than \$100,000 per student would face a new 1.4% excise tax on investment returns. Many universities are putting out statements about this.

The plan would also tax the tuition waivers that many graduate students receive when they work as teaching or research assistants. The Washington Post asserts that “streamlining the jumble of tax credits could increase revenue for the government by $17.3 billion over 10 years, according to the plan. That is likely because the new credit would squeeze graduate students, especially PhD candidates who spent far longer than five years in college.”

The AAU released a statement opposing the proposed excise tax on university endowment income; the APLU also issued a statement addressing the overall bill’s effects on higher education and stating their concern in particular about the “provisions in the legislation that would tax students on tuition reductions that colleges and universities provide, especially to graduate students who are teaching or performing pathbreaking research.”

What can you do?

You can talk to your university government relations office about this bill and how it will impact your university, and see what action — if any — your university is taking.

If you are concerned about the effect on graduate students, I suggest you take a look at “Graduate Students & The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”: What You Need to Know,” a resource guide put out on November 3 by the Student Advocates for Graduate Education (SAGE) Coalition. This guide explains the bill’s impacts for grad students and postdocs; it explains who, when and how to contact legislators; it gives a timeline for Congress votes on this bill; and it gives a script.


Posted in Advocacy, Congress, Grassroots Leaders, Higher Education, Mathematicians, Uncategorized | Tagged | 8 Comments

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” — Wayne Gretzky (former professional ice hockey player and coach)

Once upon a time there was a Senator from Wisconsin who thought it a good idea to publish a monthly bulletin highlighting what he viewed as the most frivolous and wasteful uses of taxpayers’ dollars. From 1975 until 1988, Senator William Proxmire offered the Golden Fleece Awards. The June 1987 award, as just one example, called out the Executive Office of the President for spending $611,623 to fit one room with gold trim.

Fairy tales often start funny and sweet, but beware the wolf in sweet grandma’s pajamas. Senator Proxmire’s intentions may have gone awry. Many of the awards have gone to scientists, and these researchers’ intentions have been presented unfairly, making them appear frivolous. Golden Fleece Awards have raised suspicion and hostility towards the notion of government spending on science and, indeed, toward science itself.

Maybe you’ve heard of the shrimp on the treadmill? Or smiling bowlers?

Then, along came Representative Jim Cooper (TN 5), who suggested attempting to temper growing animosity toward federal funds going to science and indeed to science itself brought on by some of these awards. He aimed to show that not only is the return on investment in scientific research 100% (well, ok, 150%) worth it, but also that successes in science are often unpredictable. The Golden Goose Award was first awarded in 2012 and aims “to celebrate scientists whose federally funded research seemed odd or obscure but turned out to have a significant, positive impact on society.”

The AMS is a contributing sponsor of the Golden Goose award and gets excellent visibility within the broader Washington D.C. science community as a result of our investment(with science advocates, federal agency employees, allies in Congress). If you have ideas for nominations, feel free to contact me.

Mathematicians have been recognized. In 2013, Lloyd Shapley and David Gale (together with economist Al Roth) were recognized for their work on an algorithm which could be used to match spouses, in order to maximize marriage stability. Their original research was funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research and may sound silly. But, as many of us know, this work has saved many lives because it’s now been used to improve our national kidney exchange program. The work has also been employed by urban school systems for school choice programs, and has been honored with a Nobel Prize. Maybe not so silly after all?

On September 27, I was fortunate to represent the AMS at the annual awards ceremony. The audience of several hundred was very enthusiastic. Indeed, the woman sitting next to me (a food systems policy expert who served in President Obama’s OSTP) told me that it was the best audience she had ever been a part of, at any sort of event (and I think she was including concerts, plays, everything …. I know her, and she does not mince words!).

This year, another mathematical theory was recognized. Lotfi Zadeh was honored, posthumously, for giving birth in the 1960s to fuzzy sets and fuzzy logic. Fuzzy logic replaces the 0/1 Boolean choice by a number between 0 and 1. One might think it is like probability theory. Consider the proposition that “It was cold in Nuuk on October 2, 2017”. There is no uncertainty about the high temperature that day (36F), but more there is a question of whether this can be categorized as ‘cold’. Fuzzy logic might give that proposition a degree of correctness of 0.8.

This idea has met commercial success in the operation of electronic devices: “In 1986, the first commercial application of fuzzy logic hit the shelves in Japan: a fuzzy shower head. Using fuzzy concepts of hot, cold, high pressure, low pressure, and others, the shower head could use fuzzy logic to control showers across the country. Within a few years, the market was overflowing with fuzzy consumer products. Vacuum cleaners, rice cookers, air conditioning systems, microwaves, everything was moving to fuzzy control. Even the entire subway system of Sendai in Japan was built with fuzzy logic controlling the motion of the trains.”

Dr. Zadeh earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Columbia University, after migrating first to Iran from his native Azerbaijan, and then to the U.S. The September 27 ceremonies included remarks from Senators Cory Gardner (CO), Chris Coons (CT), and Representatives Suzanne Bonomici (OR 1), Randy Hultgren (IL 14), Paul Tonko (NY 20), Bill Foster (IL 11), and Golden Goose “father” Jim Cooper. Their remarks focused on the tremendous importance of funding promising research projects and that we don’t always know what we will discover is often exactly the point of pursuing a scientific question. Oh, right, this is Wayne Gretzky’s famous assertion that “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

The congressional members (from both parties mind you!) greeting the welcoming crowd also addressed the global scientific strength achieved through open immigration and travel policies, as Dr. Zadeh’s example shows. In fact, several of the recipients are immigrants. And, another of the award-winners’ trajectory told a differently compelling story: frog researcher Joyce Longcore did her Ph.D. in her 50s and talked emotionally about her journey from stay-at-home-mom to world-class chytrid researcher.

Good science supported by courageous federal investment is in our nation’s interest and needs bipartisan support.

We must all get out there, and tell our stories to celebrate mathematics (and all science) and convince all lawmakers of the importance of a robust and sustained investment in scientific research. The federal government can take risks – big and small – to further science; the private sector will not invest in basic research in the same way.

A post-note of sorts; more reasons to stand up for science: In 2015, Representative French Hill (AK 2) decided to bring back the Golden Fleece. And, Senator Rand Paul (KY) has just introduced the BASIC Research Act (S. 1973) as part of his effort to convince others that there’s a lot of “silly research” being done that does not deserve federal funding.

The AMS sponsors the Golden Goose Award.

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Spend a year, or two, in Washington D.C.! Applications due soon!

Editor’s note: Guest columnist Catherine Paolucci served as the AMS/AAAS 2016-17 Congressional Fellow and is now serving a second year as a AAAS fellow, this time posted in the Executive Branch.

As a mathematics community, we often look to publication, education, and mentorship as ways to broaden our impact, both within and beyond our specific disciplines. For the past year, I’ve had the exciting opportunity to serve as the 2016-2017 AMS Congressional Fellow. This experience has expanded my vision of the ways in which mathematicians can use their expertise, skills, and specialized training to broaden their impact through government service and policy work.

For those of you who don’t know, each year the AMS sponsors a Congressional Fellowship as part of the broader American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellowship program (more about that later). The AMS Congressional Fellow has the unique opportunity to join the office of a member of Congress, or a Congressional Committee, and serve in that office for the academic year.

Catherine Paolucci staffing Sen Franken during a Senate HELP Committee hearing.

As with two of the last three AMS Congressional Fellows before me (including AMS Washington Office Director Karen Saxe!), I had the privilege of being offered an opportunity to serve as an Education Policy Fellow for Senator Al Franken (MN). While the learning curve was steep, and I often felt completely out of my element, I gained extremely valuable knowledge and experience. I was also able to contribute to many important developments related to education, including higher education, teacher education, and career and technical education (CTE).

This past year was unlike anything that I ever imagined I would do as part of my career. While the opportunities to bring mathematical knowledge to the table were limited, the personal and professional growth far exceeded anything that I could have expected. In addition, I have been able to bring strategies and insight back to the mathematics community for effective advocacy and efforts to ensure continued support for mathematics research and education.

In addition to the Congressional Fellowship, the broader AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship program offers opportunities to make valuable mathematical contributions within Executive Branch Agencies. These fellowships are open to applicants at any stage in their career who have a doctorate in a scientific field. They offer one-to-two-year placements in government agencies, including the National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, National Institute of Health, State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, and others.

In fact, after completing my Congressional Fellowship, I have decided to further expand my impact and learning as an Executive Branch Fellow with a placement in the National Science Foundation (NSF). I am also excited to report that, from last year to this year, the number of fellows who have come from a mathematical field has more than doubled! As a proud member of this group of outstanding fellows, I interviewed for a wide range of interesting opportunities involving work in data analytics, modeling, program evaluation, science diplomacy, outreach, and STEM education. Here’s everything that you need to know to apply:

Congressional Fellowships: In addition to applying for a Congressional Fellowship through the AMS, AAAS also sponsors two Congressional Fellows each year. If you are interested in working in Congress, I recommend that you apply for both opportunities to increase your chances. I also encourage you to stop by the AMS Congressional Fellowship Information Session (Friday January 12, 4:30-6:30 in Room 11B on the upper level of the San Diego Convention Center) at the upcoming Joint Mathematics Meeting…But don’t wait to apply!!

AAAS Congressional Fellowship: Deadline: November 1, 2017 Apply Here

AMS Congressional Fellowship:  Deadline: February 15, 2018 Apply Here

Executive Branch Fellowships: The same application is used for both the AAAS sponsored Congressional Fellowship and Executive Branch Fellowship programs (if you happen to have a J.D. or legal experience, it also offers a Judicial Branch Fellowship). You can apply for up to two programs, so you can apply for both the Congressional Fellowship and the Executive Branch Fellowship or either on its own. The deadline to apply for fellowships that begin in September 2018 is fast approaching, so start your application now!!

Deadline: November 1, 2017 Apply Here

If you have questions about any of these fellowship programs, or you’re interested in applying, please feel free to contact me (Catherine) by e-mail.

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Federal policies and our work at institutions of higher education

AMS President Ken Ribet has issued a statement about President Trump’s statement on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. He’s joined leaders of other science organizations (e.g., AAAS, APS) in making such a statement, and I am glad he has done so. Most AMS members work in academia and DACA recipients are our students, typically working hard to achieve their goals and dreams of studying and contributing to the scientific enterprise, just like our other students. It is unarguable that American science is as strong as it is due to the nation’s mostly admirable history of welcoming immigrants to work alongside us in our labs, and in our classrooms. This current statement is in line with the AMS history of speaking up for immigrants, and efforts to protect a truly international scientific community.

Along these same lines of concern, Senators Tom Cotton (AR) and David Perdue (GA) have introduced their “RAISE Act” which would reduce legal immigration by half within 10 years. The RAISE Act introduces a “point system”, whereby the government would decide who has “high skills” and would take power away from universities in making hiring decisions. President Trump is supporting this bill, and it fits with another proposal that would affect academia — his promise to scrutinize the H-1B visa program. Additionally, the RAISE Act would eliminate visa preferences for extended family members, and decrease the number of refugees. While the higher education community is largely opposing this bill, it probably has little hope of becoming law.

I think we all know that the federal government has great oversight over K-12 education, but does it really have much influence over higher education? On the ground, at our universities and colleges, one might think that the states have much more influence over higher education. And that is probably true, at least for public institutions.

But, we have the federal government – and Presidents of past in particular – to thank for huge changes to the way higher education works in this country. Here goes, my “proof by example”. Or, maybe you prefer to think of this as “evidence-based” thinking.

First, think of Lincoln’s Morrill Act. Enacted in 1862, this law established the first of our terrific land-grant institutions. It provided each state with 30,000 acres of Federal land for each member of Congress from the state. The land was then sold by the states and the proceeds used to fund public colleges that focused on agriculture and the mechanical arts. The State Agricultural College in Iowa (now Iowa State University) was the first to be designated as a land grant college. Incidentally, it is not easy to get laws passed – the Morrill Act was first introduced in 1857, passed the Congress, but was vetoed by President Buchanan. At this time, Justin Smith Morrill was a Representative from Vermont and was one of the founders of the Republican Party.

Next, think of the GI Bill. Since 1944 it has enabled millions of veterans and their family members to attend college. It can be argued that this law set the precedent for today’s financial aid model and signals to all that lack of finances should not prevent Americans from attending college nor should it narrow the choice of schools that low-income students attend.

And, as a final example of legislation with a big impact on higher education in this country, we have the Truman Commission on Higher Education, which suggested the creation of a network of public colleges to serve local needs. A national network was established in the 1960s with the opening of 457 public community colleges, and the number has grown to over 1000 today. There is at least one community college within commuting distance of most of the U.S. population, and they educate a large proportion of minority, low-income, and first-generation college students. It might make sense that this vital part of our higher education landscape grew out of hopes of our only 20th century U.S. president who did not graduate from college.

Where are we now? There’s DACA; there’s the RAISE Act; there’s the Department of Education current scrutiny of Title IX which prohibits sex discrimination in education; there’s the administration’s reconsideration of “gainful employment” regulations which have been used to reign in predatory for-profit institutions from taking advantage of students; there’s the reinstatement of year-round Pell grants.

“Title IX”, in case you don’t know, refers to a portion of the Higher Education Amendments of 1927, a set of amendments to the original Higher Education Act. Signed into law by President Johnson in 1965, the HEA has been amended many times and Congress may further amend it at any point in time. Its two central purposes are to (1) strengthen the educational resources of our colleges and universities; and (2) provide direct financial assistance for students pursuing higher education.

Senator Lamar Alexander (TN) (chair of the Senate committee that covers education, a past president of the University of Tennessee, and a former U.S. Secretary of Education) has stated that his “top education priority this year is reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.” It was last scheduled for re-authorization in 2013 but that has yet to happen. I am looking forward to congressional work on this important legislation. With almost two-thirds of Republican and Republican-leaning voters saying (in a recent Pew study) that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country (mind you, also about 20% of Democrats agree), it is a very good time to re-affirm and re-articulate the federal commitment to higher education.




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