Major changes coming to the National Science Foundation(?)

 

There is a lot going on in Washington vis-à-vis the National Science Foundation. Several at-first-separate congressional efforts are converging with increased support from the White House and renewed public enthusiasm for, and confidence and interest in science, providing a real opportunity for change. For me, this is potentially a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grow and modernize the agency that supports more mathematics research than any other federal funding source. Indeed, over 60% of federally-funded research in mathematics done at colleges and universities is funded by the NSF.[1]

What will we see? I expect to see a new directorate at the NSF that—in some way yet to be determined—focuses on bringing fundamental research to address grand societal challenges more directly and to market more seamlessly. There will also be a significant boost in the size of NSF’s budget that will fund the new directorate. We may well see additional increased money for the NSF to address past low funding, the urgent need to broaden the STEM workforce and include all Americans who want to be involved, and to enable us to stay a strong global partner to other countries that have been investing much more than we have over recent history. This last point is often referred to as “staying competitive with China,” but can also be thought of as “giving the U.S. the opportunity to be our best selves.”[2]

Every year, Congress decides how much money the NSF will get for the next year; this occurs through the annual appropriations process. In addition, and every so often, Congress passes a law that modifies what the NSF can do, and what it must do, with its appropriated funds.[3] “Reauthorizations” for the NSF take place regularly; the most recent comprehensive one took place in 2010.[4]

Right now, there is a flurry of activity related to reauthorization of the NSF. As you know, for a bill to become law, the House and Senate must each pass the identical bill. At this stage, there are competing bills:

  • The Endless Frontier Act
  • The NSF for the Future Act

The Endless Frontier Act has been introduced (identical versions) in both Senate and House, while the latter only in the House. They have bill numbers S 1260, HR 2731, and HR 2225, respectively, if you are wonky and want to have a look at the full bill texts, the bill summaries, or the list of cosponsors. In recent weeks, there have been at least three congressional hearings on these bills. For a gentler read, see their press releases, here and here. Nice coverage of the NSF for the Future Act, written by House Science Committee Chair Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, appears here.

The main point of this post is to tell you a little bit about the bills, including some key differences. I have been working with science society and university government relations colleagues in DC to give feedback and help shape these bills. The AMS Committee on Science Policy has also weighed in. Our communities have been listened to, and some of the provisions in the original Endless Frontier bill (introduced last year) that concerned us are now gone. These bills bring significant increases in funding to the NSF, and modernize the agency.

Both bills expand the NSF by adding a new directorate, increasing the number of directorates from seven to eight. The NSF for the Future Act authorizes programs across the NSF to address societal and national problems, including the establishment of the new directorate, which they name the “Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions.” The Endless Frontier Act establishes the new “Directorate for Technology and Innovation,” and would additionally legislate how the money is spent—35% must go to university technology centers, 15% to scholarships and fellowships, and so on. The NSF for the Future Act does not dictate in this way.

The Endless Frontier’s new directorate is to advance innovation in ten key technology areas:

(1) artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other software advances

(2) high performance computing, semiconductors, and advanced computer hardware

(3) quantum computing and information systems

(4) robotics, automation, and advanced manufacturing

(5) natural and anthropogenic disaster prevention or mitigation

(6) advanced communications technology

(7) biotechnology, medical technology, genomics, and synthetic biology

(8) cybersecurity, data storage, and data management technologies

(9) advanced energy, batteries, and industrial efficiency

(10) advanced materials science, engineering, and exploration relevant to the other focus areas

The focus areas for the NSF for the Future’s new directorate are to be determined by the NSF Director but should address these challenges:

(1) Climate change and environmental sustainability

(2) Global competitiveness in critical technologies

(3) Cybersecurity

(4) National security

(5) STEM education and workforce

(6) Social and economic inequality

Both bills require regular review and updating of these topics.

The bills have lots of provisions. Examples that appear in one or both and may be of interest to the math community include:

  • Protects congressional funding to the other directorates so that this directorate cannot grow without the rest of NSF growing as well;
  • Provides guidelines for how the new directorate can partner with the existing directorates;
  • Creates new programs to facilitate and accelerate the transfer of technologies from the lab to the marketplace and authorizes coordination with state and local economic development stakeholders to build regional innovation ecosystems in communities across the country;
  • Defines “Emerging Research Institution” (ERI) as a university with an established undergraduate student program that receives < \$35M in federal research funding and establishes a pilot program connecting R1 and ERI “partners” to advance research and education;
  • Requires consortia awards to include (as lead or partner) at least one Historically Black college or university (HBCU), Minority Serving Institution (MSI), institution participating in EPSCoR, ERI, or Community College;
  • Creates a Chief Diversity Officer at NSF;
  • Adds several items to improve graduate education:
    • Supports activities to facilitate career exploration for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers;
    • Increases the number of graduate student fellowships (through GRFP) and research traineeships for graduate students (through NRT) in all fields;
  • Provides significant increases to the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program and requires outreach to HBCUs, MSIs, higher education programs that serve veterans and rural communities, and ERIs;

In President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, he included \$50 billion for NSF, in part for a new directorate. Additionally, the President’s preliminary fiscal year 2022 budget requests \$10.2 billion for the NSF. These proposals from the President indicate to me that—even if we don’t see the huge amounts of new funding for the NSF as proposed in the current legislative proposals—we will see a very healthy increase to NSF appropriations for fiscal year 2022.

As mentioned, there have been hearings in Congress about these efforts. NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan—who began this lead position in June 2020—has presented his vision for the new directorate as well as his other priorities for the agency and has been questioned by House and Senate appropriators. The Endless Frontier Act was to have its mark-up in the Senate on April 28, but this was postponed (so, it may have happened by the time you read this).

What are the remaining concerns and details to sort out? Concerns, of course, come from all sides, and are focused on a variety of the bills’ provisions. While expanding the NSF has bipartisan support, appropriators on both sides have not directly endorsed the administration’s request for a 20% increase in NSF’s \$8.5 billion annual budget (to \$10.2 billion) or the \$50 billion in the American Jobs Plan. The creation of a new NSF directorate is in the hands of authorizers—not appropriators—but, nonetheless, they have expressed a variety of views on what any expansion of the NSF should prioritize. One view, held especially by Republicans, is that more states and institutions that have historically received a lower share of research funding from the NSF should be prioritized. Many lawmakers are generally concerned that the country maintain its ability to compete with China, and with making sure strong research security is in place. Indeed, the Endless Frontier Act addresses research funded by the federal government through the lens of national security and global competitiveness. (I might add that there is at least one other bill in the NSF reauthorization mix–the Securing American Leadership in Science and Technology Act (SALSTA). This bill does not promote a new directorate at NSF, authorizes a number of agencies, and is focused on securing our research enterprise from challenges presented by China.) Congressional members from both sides who have national labs—which are funded by the Department of Energy—in their states question why these labs are not getting similar boosts. The most recent version of the Endless Frontier Act was expanded to include programs administered by agencies other than the NSF, including by the Department of Commerce and the Department of Energy. In contrast, the NSF for the Future Act is solely focused on the NSF.

While an earlier version of the Endless Frontier Act authorized \$100 billion (over 5 years) for the NSF with no less than \$2 billion specifically for the new directorate, the latest version suggests that all \$100 billion is for the new directorate; this is a major change, and one that I will keep an eye on.

In terms of keeping competitive with China, we can look to data about investments. In his testimony before the House on April 15, Carnegie Mellon University President Farnam Jahanian said:

“The United States’ R&D investment as a percent of GDP now ranks 10th in the world, behind major global competitors such as Taiwan, Japan, Germany, and South Korea, which rank at the top in this metric. With the nation’s federal spending as a percent of GDP dropping from more than 2 percent at the end of the 1960s to just slightly less than 0.7 percent currently, we have ceded considerable ground in the race to discover, innovate and create the fair, equitable and productive economies of the future.”

At that same hearing, Norm Augustine said:

“In China over half of baccalaureate degrees are awarded in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, whereas the comparable figure in the U.S. is 19 percent. Forty percent of K-12 students in the U.S. are underrepresented minorities that ultimately receive only 7 percent of the doctorates granted in STEM fields. Women receive 58 percent of U.S. undergraduate degrees, yet receive only 17 percent of the doctorates awarded in the U.S. in the natural sciences and engineering. The U.S. could vastly increase its number of contributing scientists and engineers were it simply to attract representative portions of all its domestic groups into the STEM fields.”

Mathematician and Notre Dame Provost Marie Lynn Miranda testified at another hearing on the Endless Frontier Act. Her opening testimony pointed out “that nearly all of the technological innovations that enable our modern society emerge from a deliberately built foundation of federally funded research conducted over many years at universities or federally funded research laboratories.” She focused some of her remarks on “education as a foundation of innovation” and urged the committee to broaden participation by “thinking outside the pipe.” In a later line of questioning, she gave a shout out to the AWM for building and supporting community amongst women in mathematics (this was a highlight moment for me!). She talked about the low percentage (61%) of U.S. high schools that are able to offer physics; students from such schools “will start college facing a much tougher path for pursuing STEMM degrees.”

We need aggressive strategies to make sure that all children in this country have the opportunity to become scientists and engineers, and we must invest more in our excellent and complex higher educational system including to support scientific research done at universities. The proposed legislations discussed here provide support for doing just this.

 

 

[1] https://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/fedfunds/2018/html/ffs18-dt-tab059.html

[2] This phrase was offered to me by a congressional staff member when I asked how we might all think about this if not as “competing with China.”

[3] https://www.appropriations.senate.gov/about/budget-process

[4] For a discussion about the legislative origin of the NSF, and a history of its reauthorizations, see the appendix beginning on page 18 of https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R46753. On page 22, you will find an interesting history of proposed and actual growth rates for the agency.

Posted in Appropriations, NSF, Science Policy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Science Policy at the AMS

 

I feel confident that your first question is “how can I get involved in the policy work and advocacy in support of mathematicians and our students?”

Each spring the AMS Committee on Science Policy holds its annual meeting. This year, it was March 23-24 and was held virtually.

The AMS has six “policy” committees. Five were established in 1993. A sixth launched last year—the Committee on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Each policy committee provides major direction for AMS activities in its area.

The Committee on Science Policy (CSP) is one of the six. From the Committee website:

The Committee on Science Policy serves as a forum for dialogue about matters of science policy involving representatives of the Society, government and other interested parties; interacts with Federal agencies and policymakers; provides advice to the Society on matters of broad science policy; conducts periodic reviews of Society activities in areas of science policy; and selects those elements of AMS meeting programs which bear directly on policy questions that are within the purview of the Committee.

I serve as the staff support for this committee. This means that I work with the committee chair to set the agenda for the annual meeting, and give logistic and content support throughout the year for the committee’s work.

CSP meets for two days each spring, normally in Washington DC, giving us the opportunity to interact with important players in the policy arena (including congressional staff, from agencies that oversee funding in the mathematical sciences, and from other professional societies with missions with overlap to that of the AMS).

The meeting in DC gives us the opportunity to make visits to CSP members’ congressional delegations. This gives congressional members insight into what mathematicians’ research looks like, why their funding of the National Science Foundation (NSF) is so very important to us, and the level to which we are involved training a future STEM workforce and future math teachers. They care very much about what goes on at colleges and universities in their home districts and states, and how we use federal funding to further research and train the next generation of mathematicians (and all scientists). They love personal stories, and need to collect them for their work in Congress.

This year we could not do the Hill visits, but were able to meet with other decision-makers in DC. The following joined us; each gave a terrific presentation and then we engaged in meaningful conversations:

Sara Barber has been with the staff of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology since 2016. Her portfolio includes National Science Foundation oversight, STEM education, diversity/equity/inclusion in STEM, interagency R&D programs, and research policy issues such as academic security and access to data and publications. Sara came to the Hill in 2015 as an American Institute of Physics Congressional Science Fellow after graduating from the University of Oklahoma with a PhD in Physics. She gave an overview of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, including its jurisdiction, membership, recent achievements and priorities in 2021.

Mark Green & Michelle Schwalbe spoke with us about their work with the Board of the Mathematical Sciences at the National Academies. The BMSA organizes studies, workshops, and other activities that provide top-quality mathematical science advice to policy makers, helps strengthen connections between mathematical sciences communities and diverse application areas, supports the health of the mathematical sciences ecosystem, and increases public awareness of the expanding role of the mathematical sciences. BMSA Chair Mark Green and BMSA Director Michelle Schwalbe discussed recent projects from the board as well as emerging opportunities for the mathematical sciences in policy discussions.

Sean Jones is the Assistant Director (AD) for the Directorate of Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) at the NSF, comprising of the Divisions of Astronomy, Chemistry, Mathematical Sciences (DMS), Materials Research, and Physics. He spoke with us about the new NSF Director’s visions, and opportunities for mathematicians within DMS and also outside of DMS.

Rachel Levy is the 2020-21 AMS Congressional Fellow and is serving in the office of Senator Maggie Hassan. Each year the AMS sponsors one Congressional Fellow who spends a year working on the staff in a personal office or for a committee. The Fellow is a standing presenter at our annual committee meeting, telling us about their experience as a mathematician in the program, and about their day-to-day work in Congress.

The AMS CSP includes several at-large members, and also some who serve on the committee by virtue of some other position they hold within the AMS. The current at-large members of the Committee are:

  • Jeffrey Brock is Professor of Mathematics and Dean of Science at Yale University. His research focuses on low dimensional geometry and topology.
  • Duane Cooper is an Associate Professor and Academic Program Director of Mathematics at Morehouse College.
  • Moon Duchin is an Associate Professor of Mathematics and Senior Fellow of Tisch College of Civic Life, Tufts University. She also serves as the director of Tufts’ interdisciplinary Science, Technology, and Society Her mathematical research is in geometric group theory, low-dimensional topology, and dynamics. She is one of the leaders of the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group, a Tisch College-supported project that focuses mathematical attention on issues of electoral redistricting.
  • Fern Hunt works at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Her research interests focus on ergodic theory, probability, information theory and bioinformatics.
  • Deborah Lockhart, retired, served in a variety of positions at the National Science Foundation—including as Deputy Assistant Director for the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate—beginning in 1988.
  • Rosa Orellana is a professor at Dartmouth College. Her research is in algebraic combinatorics. She’s received the John M. Manley Huntington Memorial Award for newly tenured faculty for outstanding research, teaching, and mentoring. She co-founded a chapter of the Association for Women in Mathematics, in an effort to increase the number of women taking and majoring in mathematics at Dartmouth.
  • Natalie Shiels is an applied mathematician and works as Senior Principal Research Scientist at the UnitedHealth Group in the Twin Cities area.
  • Suzanne Weekes is the Executive Director of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). Her research is in numerical methods for differential equations including applications to spatio-temporal composites and cancer growth. She is the recipient of the 2019 Humphreys Award for Mentoring from the Association for Women in Mathematics, co-directs the national PIC Math (Preparation for Industrial Careers in Mathematical Sciences) Program, and she is a founding co-director of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute Undergraduate Program (MSRI-UP).

Additional members are:

  • Ruth Charney, Brandeis University, is the AMS President and thus sits on the committee.
  • Ralph Cohen, Stanford University, is a member of the AMS Board of Trustees and represents the Board on the committee.
  • Boris Hasselblatt, Tufts University, is the is the AMS Secretary and thus sits on the committee.
  • Kasso Okoudjou, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a member of the AMS Council and represents the Council on the committee.
  • Jill Pipher,Brown University, is the AMS Past President and thus sits on the committee.
  • Catherine Roberts, American Mathematical Society, is the is the AMS Executive Director and thus sits on the committee.
  • Katherine Stevenson, California State University, is the Chair of the AMS Committee on Education and thus sits on the committee.

 

 

Posted in Professional Societies, Science Policy | Tagged | Leave a comment

Washington Update on the first months of the Biden presidency and new Congress

 

We are now a few months into the Biden/Harris administration, and the 117th Congress. Here is a quick overview of some highlights for the math community.

Legislation

President Joe Biden signed a \$1.9 trillion pandemic response package into law on March 11. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 focuses on public health and economic stimulus measures. It also contains some funding for research, including \$600 million for the NSF to “fund or extend new and existing research grants, cooperative agreements, scholarships, fellowships, and apprenticeships, and related administrative expenses to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.” The NSF provision appears on page 108 of the 242-page bill.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 also provides \$40 billion in general relief for higher education institutions. This is far less than is needed, as determined by a group of university associations in a recent letter to Congressional leaders.

The amount in that bill was not nearly what is required for the academic research community, and does not address research disruptions not directly related to coronavirus research. We continue to push Congress to provide additional research recovery funding, as proposed in the Research Investment to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act and the Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act. These are bipartisan efforts, and are important for the math community. You can “Take Action” now by asking your Congressional delegation to support these bills.

The RISE Act, should it become law, provides the NSF with an additional \$3 billion to support non-COVID-related research impacted by the pandemic.

The Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act is very targeted and would give funds to the NSF to support over 3000 new postdoctoral fellows over the next few years, to help bridge the gap for new PhDs during this terrible job market. During a hearing on this bill last week, Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (OK 3) stated that faculty openings in the sciences have decreased by more than 70% since 2019. As you may know, the pandemic is particularly affecting the work of women in the STEM fields; the Senate version of the bill specifically requires this funding help those most adversely affected, including women, faculty of color, and faculty at minority serving institutions. The AMS has endorsed the Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act—both the House version and the Senate version.

If you haven’t used the AMS Take Action tool before, it only takes a minute or so. After you have done one, returning is even easier. These two appear first and second on that page, and are not math-specific, so please feel free to share with other scientists at your university.

New congressional leaders charged with NSF oversight

Also in Congress, the House and Senate have both now finalized their committees’ structures and membership. This task was more complicated in the Senate, because for the first time in six years, the Democrats have control. Some of what follows is an update to my post at the start of the 116th Congress, and that post gives more information about committee structure in Congress.

For the NSF—and in each of the House and Senate—there is an “appropriations” committee and an “authorization” committee. The determined authorization committee provides guidance about how the NSF spends and manages the amount given the NSF by the determined “appropriations” committee. The House and Senate appropriators responsible for determining how much the NSF gets each year are members of the respective (House or Senate) Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies.

While the Appropriations Committees in each of the House and Senate are the same in their names and subcommittee structure, this is not the case for the authorizing committees. The NSF authorizing committees are the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (SST) and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (CST). In the House, the SST’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology holds jurisdiction over the NSF, as well as university research policy and all matters relating to STEM education. In the Senate it is the CST’s Space and Science Subcommittee; this is a new subcommittee and it has jurisdiction over the NSF and also NASA and NIST. Committee and subcommittee membership can be found at each link above.

I am always looking for mathematicians who have benefitted from NSF grants to collect stories. Stories about students are especially important to gather. If you live in the district or state of NSF appropriators and are interested in meeting with their staff to tell your story about why NSF is important to you, your students, or your department more broadly, please contact me.

Making visits to congressional staff is fun (at least I think so), important for the math community (other sciences are much more visible on the Hill), and now easier to do (because they are virtual).

Posted in Advocacy, Congress, Federal support for science | Tagged | 2 Comments

Update on the Census, Reapportionment, and Redistricting

 

The first official Census took place in 1790 and was conducted under Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson; it was taken by U.S. marshals on horseback and counted approximately 3.6 million inhabitants.

The original legal purpose of the Census was to determine the number of seats each state gets in the House of Representatives. Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution mandates that an apportionment of representatives among the states must be carried out every ten years. Over the years, the amount of data collected has increased and we now also do the decennial census to

  • gain a better understanding of where people live and establish patterns of settlement, and
  • help determine the allocation of federal funds for community services, such as school lunch programs, and new construction, such as highways and hospitals.

As a result of the 2020 census, more than \$675 billion per year will be distributed to local, state and tribal governments for many purposes, including those just listed.

The Census is an expensive undertaking—estimates for the cost of administering the 2020 census are roughly \$15.6 billion, or about \$108 per U.S. housing unit.

The Census is also a big employer—the Bureau hired about 500,000 temporary workers across the country to help with the count. Historically, the Census was one of the first big employers for women.

What is (re)apportionment?

It is the process of (re)allocating the 435 House seats to the states.

Any method of apportionment for the House must consider three key variables:

  • the number of House seats;
  • the number of U.S. states;
  • the apportionment population (as reported by the Census Bureau) of each state.

The first congressional apportionment (in 1790) involved 15 states, and 105 House seats. To illustrate how we think about this—the population of Virginia was 630,560 at the time and the U.S. population was 3,615,920. Thus, one could say that the ideal number of seats for Virginia would be (630,560 ÷ 3,615,920) × 105 = 18.310. Of course, this is a problem, as the number of House seats must be an integer. Should we round up? Round down? An apportionment method will tell you how to do this rounding.[1]

The choice of method was not determined in the Constitution and so each decade a method had to be proposed in Congress and work through the legislative process. Following the first census, a bill was passed by both House and Senate and delivered to President George Washington for his signature into law; this bill included the proposal to adopt an apportionment method developed and supported by Alexander Hamilton. President Washington used the veto power to veto this bill, this was the very first presidential veto. Subsequently, a method developed by Jefferson was passed into law. It gave one more seat to Virginia (19) than did Hamilton’s (18). Virginia’s gain, incidentally, came paired with the loss of a seat to Delaware.

Several methods have been used throughout U.S. history, and other methods have been devised and debated by Congress but ultimately never adopted.

The Apportionment Act of 1941 fixed the method to be used—the Hill-Huntington method (also called Method of Equal Proportions)—as well as fixing the House size of 435 (with exceptions), at least until another law replaces this law. The map shows predictions for the change in seats from the 2020 Census, and the final numbers will be in effect for the 2024 and 2028 presidential elections.

Source: https://www.esri.com/arcgis-blog/products/esri-demographics/state-government/reapportionment-projections/

When the reapportioning algorithm is implemented, each state receives one Representative, as required by the Constitution, and the remaining seats are distributed using the Hill-Huntington method. Essentially, a ranked list is created that indicates which states will receive the 51st-435th House seats.

Biographical factets: Joseph Hill was the Chief statistician at the Census Bureau and mathematician Edward Huntington taught at Williams and Harvard and served as MAA president, AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) president, and AMS vice president!

And, on to redistricting…

One could say that the fun only begins AFTER reapportionment, as the redistricting process unfolds. Of course, there is a year’s worth of lectures possible on redistricting. I will limit myself to one short paragraph.

In listening to the January 29 edition of NPR’s “Politics with Amy Walter” conversation with Dave Wasserman, I learned that we are self-sorting geographically—in 1992, 38% of Americans lived in “landslide” districts and in 2020 it was 58%. Consistent with this, and as compared to 2011, there are more Republican trifecta states (now 23 versus 22 in 2011) and also more Democratic trifectas (now 15 versus 11 in 2011). This observation certainly implies we might see more partisan gerrymandering than last time. Many people—including many politicians—push for the redistricting process to be in the hands of commissions (as opposed to state legislatures). In the about-to-begin redistricting round, we have some states (including CO, MI, NY, OH, UT and VA) that have moved to commissions; some of these commissions are structured to be powerful, some less so. The strength in redistricting that a trifecta can bring is intertwined, of course, with who is in charge of redistricting in the state as well as with state laws and guidelines. All I can say is…….tighten your seatbelts.

The promised update on the Census

Oops, that turned into a lecture. I miss teaching.

My original goal when I sat down to write this was to provide an update on the status of the Census.

Census results are not all published at one time. This is what was supposed to happen:

Source: https://www.rpc.senate.gov/policy-papers/the-2020-census

For a variety of reasons—including delays due to the COVID pandemic—the Census numbers for reapportionment that were expected in December of 2020 were not delivered on time. On January 28, 2021, the Census Bureau issued a statement announcing an April 30 delivery date.

In Congress, there are efforts to enforce the timeline. Senator Brian Schatz (HI), together with Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, will very soon (and depending on when you read this, maybe already has) reintroduce(d) the 2020 Census Deadline Extensions Act. This bipartisan bill reinforces the Census Bureau’s April 30 target date for the delivery of reapportionment data. The AMS has endorsed this bill.

Obviously, the March 31 date for redistricting data delivery will also not be met. The Census Bureau announced on February 12 that it will deliver the redistricting data to all states (and to the public) by September 30, 2021. According to that announcement, other support products that states will use during their redistricting process have already been delivered.

During the previous administration, work at the Census Bureau had become increasingly politicized. This eventually resulted in the resignation of its Director, Steven Dillingham, whose departure was applauded in the statistics community. During her confirmation hearing to become commerce secretary, Gina Raimondo stated her intention to depoliticize the Census, stating “The experts and statisticians at the Census Bureau are top notch, so I, once confirmed, intend to rely on them.”

One last thing: President Trump issued an executive order on June 21, 2020 that laid out a plan to violate the U.S. Constitution by excluding undocumented immigrants from the 2020 Census. And, on January 20, 2021, one of President Biden’s first executive orders overturned the Trump order.

And, finally, a very short note on why should mathematicians specifically care about all this?

Each step in the decennial three-step process—census, reapportionment, redistricting—involves mathematics and statistics; ensuring sound methodologies are used is important to the mathematical sciences community.

The Census uses sophisticated statistical methods and—for the first time—differential privacy to protect Census data. The American Statistical Association was founded in 1839 in part to support an accurate and reliable census. Data sets released by the Census Bureau, which is the nation’s largest statistical agency, are used by researchers across many fields and ensuring good quality data are released is also a priority for us.

Reapportionment is a fun math problem. You can find lots on the internet about the many apportionment methods. It is an important problem not only in apportionment of our Congress—countries that have legislatures elected via proportional representation use an apportionment method, an apportionment method must be used to calculate win/loss ratios for sports teams, and apportionment methods are used by insurance companies when two or more insurance policies are taken out on a property.

And, as most of you will know, there are mathematicians and statisticians around the country whose research focuses on redistricting and who have served the public by providing expertise to courts and line-drawers.

[1] For additional information, see Michael L. Balinski and H. Peyton Young, Fair Representation: Meeting the Ideal of One Man, One Vote (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1982)

Posted in Census, Redistricting | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The massive omnibus funding bill and what it means for the math community

 

As always, this post reflects only my own views.

This post is a bit late. In the days before Christmas, President Trump signed into law final appropriations of \$1.4 trillion for fiscal year 2021 (FY21). This includes roughly \$900 billion in pandemic-response funding. The House passed the bill with a vote of 359 to 53 and the Senate with a vote of 92 to 6. The 19 non-voting members were all Republican.

A very short overview of the annual appropriations process is found at the Office of Government Relations website (which now needs updating—the basic process and timeline are the same every year, but the numbers need updating).

In the pandemic relief, we were very much hoping to see provisions to address disruptions to research projects, which the Research Investment to Secure the Economy (RISE) Act had called for. Such provisions were not included. I understand that the RISE Act will likely be re-introduced soon.

Because the National Science Foundation provides more federal funding to mathematicians to pursue their research than any other federal agency, I point out that this huge appropriations package increases the NSF’s budget 2.5% to nearly \$8.5 billion. Once again, Congress did not accept President Trump’s proposal to cut the NSF budget (he had proposed a 6% decrease for FY21).

The American Mathematical Society had supported a request of \$9 billion for NSF in FY21,[1] seeking to address the effects of years of high-quality grant proposals that go unfunded due to limited funding. Those unmet needs continue. A 2019 National Science Board report stated that in FY18, “approximately \$3.4 billion was requested for declined proposals that were rated Very Good or higher in the merit review process.” The U.S. is leaving potentially transformative scientific research and efforts to enhance STEM education unfunded, while other countries are making significant investments.

With the final FY21 appropriations, NSF’s Research and Related Activities account—which funds six disciplinary research directorates—is increasing 2.6% to \$6.91 billion. One of these directorates is the Directorate for Physical and Mathematical Sciences (MPS), in which the Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) is housed. The Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR) is funded separately (it is the only research directorate with its own funding line), and its budget is increasing 3% to \$968 million.

Congress does not specify how NSF should distribute funding across the six disciplinary research directorates (excluding EHR), and it remains to be seen how much of this money will go to MPS and then to DMS. However, Congress does provide instruction in an explanatory statement accompanying the bill.

From this statement, here are prioritization highlights of potential interest to you.

  • Included is a sizable increase in funding for quantum information science (QIS) including for National Quantum Information Science Research Centers.
  • There will be continuing increased focus on artificial intelligence (AI) research.
  • There is an increase—though a much smaller increase than to QIS and AI—in funding for NSF’s EPSCoR program, supporting projects in states that receive a low proportion of federal research funds.
  • Inside EHR, a number of programs that aim to boost minority participation at all levels—from high school through the professoriate (including NSF INCLUDES, which is popular in mathematics) are ensured stability.

This new bill comes about eight months after the \$2 trillion CARES Act. That law appropriated roughly \$14 billion to higher education, split evenly between money for students and for institutions. The new bill provides \$23 billion in general relief funds for higher education institutions. This does not come close to the \$120 billion requested by university associations. You are probably well aware that institutions of higher education are hurting. Fall undergraduate enrollments declined nationally 3.6%, from the fall of 2019. The most notable drop was among first-time freshmen, whose enrollment declined 13.1%. At two-year colleges, these numbers are 10.1% and 21%, respectively. While the \$23 billion is highly disappointing, here are some interesting positive pieces of news:

  • There are several changes to the Pell Grant program.
    • There is a new formula for Pell Grant eligibility. Students from families who earn up to 175% of the federal poverty line, or up to 225% for single parents, will automatically qualify for a maximum grant. Those who make up to 275% of the poverty line, or 325% for single parents, are guaranteed at least the minimum award.
    • The maximum size of Pell Grants is increased to \$6,495, reflecting an inflationary \$150 increase.
    • “Second-chance Pell” grants are being reinstituted, reversing a quarter-century ban on Pell grants for incarcerated individuals.
  • FAFSA will be cut from more than 100 to 36 questions (parents of high schoolers take note!).
  • \$1.7 billion of the \$23 billion is reserved for minority-serving institutions (and about \$1 billion for for-profit colleges).

Looking ahead

We continue to push for pandemic relief funding for the NSF (such as via the RISE Act, mentioned above), to fund science immediately useful to addressing challenges raised by the pandemic, and also to mitigate disruptions to science and to STEM students’ and researchers’ personal professional trajectories.

As mentioned, Congress does not dictate how the NSF divides up its FY21 appropriations amongst the various science fields. Pretty soon we should know how much every division is to receive, including DMS.

President Biden will issue his first budget request this spring (March? April?) for FY22. The AMS is working with CNSF to determine our target for NSF appropriations in FY22; this amount should be known within the next few weeks. There are two reasons why I am hopeful for a more significant increase to NSF funding in the next years. First is that Senate Leader Schumer has indicated interest in his Endless Frontier Act (see my June 9 and June 18 posts in this blog). Second, the budget caps put in place by the Budget Control Act of 2011 have now expired.

 

[1] This amount is as determined by the Coalition for National Science Funding, the Steering Committee of which I sit on. CNSF bases its request on a recommendation included in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Restoring the Foundation report: that to secure America’s leadership in science and engineering and to ensure a growing economy, federal science agencies should be funded at an annual increasing rate of 4% real growth – that is, 4% plus inflation.

 

Posted in Appropriations, Congress, NSF | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

It’s a new day in Washington—demographics of the new members of Congress & some early legislation to help science

 

JMM is over, back to politics and policy watching!

The first day of JMM was a horrific one in Washington, DC. It is shocking and disgraceful, but arguably not surprising that events unfolded as they did. The double standard of police treatment of these “protesters” as compared to the treatment of protesting Black Americans is despicable. Our President incited this violence, and I am counting down the days until he is out of the White House. [These views are my own.]

It will not have escaped you that politics in 2021 will be different than in 2020. We already have a new Congress in place—the 117th Congress began work on January 3. We will have a new President on January 20.

Several bills that would improve the profession for mathematicians—either very directly or in less direct ways—were introduced during the first week of the new Congress. These include a package from the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson and Ranking Member Frank Lucas:

The Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act addresses the immediate need to help early career scientists bridge the gap that exists due to greatly reduced hiring being done by universities and colleges. It creates a new postdoctoral fellowship program at the National Science Foundation to help support early career researchers whose employment opportunities have been impacted by the COVID-19 health crisis. The goal of this fellowship program would be to prevent the loss of research talent due to job market disruptions caused by any economic decline during and after the pandemic. We hope to garner support for this bill—you can reach out to your representative (10-30 seconds is all it takes) and ask them to support this bill, so important to the math community: https://www.ams.org/government/getinvolved-dc#/

The STEM Opportunities Act will support policy reforms, research, and data collection to identify and lower barriers facing women, minorities, and other groups underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) studies and research careers. This bill, if it were to become law, would help us broaden participation in the scientific workforce (which, of course, includes PhD mathematicians).

The Rural STEM Education Research Act addresses inequities faced by rural students that make it harder to access quality STEM education. These are driven by a wide variety of challenges, including shortages of science and math teachers, high teacher turnover, and difficulty in accessing computer-based learning technology. This would help prepare more rural students for college and thus, again, help broaden participation in the scientific workforce.

Now what about newly elected members of Congress? How are the demographics different than last year? Are there any new members with science backgrounds?

[Note: the numbers below reflect Senator Padilla replacing Senator Harris when she is sworn in as Vice President on January 20, but do not take into account the outcome of the January election for the two Georgia Senate seats. The Georgia election outcome changes the balance of women and Blacks in Congress. As of this writing, Kelly Loeffler is still in the senate and the numbers below reflect this. There may be other changes, too, that come about as a result of President Biden appointments and nominations.]

Women: As of this count, there are now 143 women in Congress, the largest number ever.

In the House, 27 of the 60 incoming new members are women. There are now 118 women in the House; 89 are Democrats and 29 Republicans. Of the freshwomen, 9 are Democrats and 18 are Republican. Republicans more than doubled their ranks; they had 13 last term.

In the Senate, there are a total 25 women—and only one new female senator, Cynthia Lummis who also happens to be the first female senator from Wyoming. With Kamala Harris leaving the Senate, there remain four states with two female senators—MN, NH, NV, WA.

Blacks: There are now 61 Blacks in Congress, the largest number ever.

Eight (6 Democrats, 2 Republicans) of the newly elected House members are Black and, together with the 50 re-elected Black members (50 Democrats, 0 Republicans), we have a total of 58 Blacks serving in the House. In the Senate, there are no newly elected Black members but there is one (a Democrat) who has been re-elected, and two that remain (one from each party, and were not up for re-election).

Latinos: There are now 44 Latinos in Congress, the largest number ever.

Six (2 Democrats, 4 Republicans) of the newly elected House members are Latino and, together with the 33 re-elected Latino members (28 Democrats, 5 Republicans), we have a total of 39 Latinos serving in the House. In the Senate, there is one newly elected Latino member (Democrat), and four that remain (two from each party, and were not up for re-election).

LGBTQ: There are now 11 LGBTQ members in Congress, the largest number ever.

Two (both Democrats) of the newly elected House members are LGBTQ and, together with the 7 re-elected LGBTQ members (all Democrats), we have a total of 9 LGBTQs serving in the House. In the Senate, there will remain 2 LGBTQ senators (both Democrats); neither was up for re-election.

What about science backgrounds? This is always a bit tricky to discern; it is hard to know who to count. Many scientists are very excited to have astronaut Mark Kelly (AZ) join the Senate; he has a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering and a master’s in aeronautical engineering. Other new senators with scientific training include:

  • John Hickenlooper (CO) who has a master’s degree in geology,
  • Alex Padilla (CA) who majored in mechanical engineering at MIT (note that his plan to become an aerospace engineer was derailed by the anti-immigrant politics of the 1990s),
  • Roger Marshall (KS) who studied biochemistry as an undergrad and is an MD, and
  • Cynthia Lummis (WY) who has two bachelor’s degrees–in biology and in animal science.

New House members with undergraduate degrees in science fields include

  • Barry Moore (AL 2) who studied agricultural sciences,
  • Scott Franklin (FL 15) who studied oceanography,
  • Nikema Williams (GA 5), who studied biology, and
  • Burgess Owens (UT 4), who studied biology and chemistry [Note: if you recognize his name for some reason that you cannot quite put your finger on it is perhaps, like me, you are a football fan. He played for both the Jets and the Raiders.]

Additionally, Jay Obernolte (CA 8) has a Master of Science in artificial intelligence.

Happy 2021! Let’s all hope for efficient and complete vaccine rollout, and peace in our streets.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What does the AMS DC Office have planned for JMM 2021?

 

The AMS has physical presence in four locations. Our headquarters are in Providence, RI and the print shop is in nearby Pawtucket. MathSciNet operations are in Ann Arbor, MI. The smallest office is the Washington, DC location. Two AMS departments call DC home—Government Relations and Education. Each year at JMM, the DC-based staff organize and run events. In 2021, we have our “usual” events, plus two special events.

Special (very special!) this year is “Envisioning the Future of NSF: A Guided Discussion with MPS and EHR Heads,” which will take place Friday, January 8, 4:30 pm — 6:00 pm [note that all times are MST]. Please join us in welcoming Dr. Sean Jones and Dr. Karen Marrongelle, the National Science Foundation’s heads of the Directorates for Mathematical & Physical Sciences (MPS) and Education & Human Resources (EHR). Dr. Jones, a materials scientist, began his service at NSF in 2009 as a program officer, and has been serving as Assistant Director of NSF/MPS since September 2020. MPS supports fundamental research in astronomy, chemistry, physics, materials science and mathematics. Dr. Marrongelle holds a PhD in mathematics education and joined NSF/EHR in October 2018. EHR supports STEM education at all levels. I will facilitate the conversation about Dr. Jones’s vision for the Division of Mathematical Sciences, Dr. Marrongelle’s vision for mathematics work in EHR, and their joint views on how the mathematical sciences fit with larger programs at the NSF.

Also special in 2021, we invite you to join AMS leaders for a community update on our equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts on Friday, January 8, 9:00 – 10:00 am. In 2020, the AMS Council established a new policy committee on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. The AMS participated in #ShutDownSTEM, where we paused our daily work in support of the Black community, recognizing that our mathematics community must play a role in nationwide efforts seeking fundamental change. The AMS Council, speaking on behalf of the AMS, issued a Statement of Support for and Solidarity with the Black Community and established a Task Force on Understanding and Documenting the Historic Role of the AMS in Racial Discrimination. This takes place Friday, January 8, 9:00 am – 10:00 am.

The events below run every year:

The AMS Committee on Science Policy will host a panel discussion titled Mathematics and Sciencethe view of a pandemic through a science policy lens” on Friday, January 8, 2:30 pm – 4:00 pm. Suzanne Weekes, SIAM and Worcester Polytechnic Institute will serve as moderator. Panelists are:
Margaret Callahan, U.S. Department of State
Edgar Fuller, Florida International University
Sara Del Valle, Los Alamos National Laboratories
Erin Heath, American Association for the Advancement of Science

The AMS Committee on Education will host a panel discussion titled “What do students need in the time of pandemic?” Thursday, January 7, 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm. Katherine Stevenson, California State University Northridge will serve as moderator. Panelists are:
Viveka Brown, Spelman College
Tasha Inniss, Spelman College
Pamela Harris of Williams College will facilitate a panel of students to reflect on these issues.

We usually also run a session where you can learn about the AMS Congressional Fellowship, as well as our two other DC-based fellowship opportunities (Mass Media and CASE). This year, we are not running this but instead I will hold “office hours” Thursday, January 7, 4:00 – 4:30 pm and Saturday, January 9, 11:00 – 11:30 am. Applications are now being accepted for the Congressional Fellowship, and you can drop by and talk to me about this great opportunity to spend a year working on the staff of a Member of Congress or a congressional committee, as a legislative assistant in legislative and policy areas requiring scientific and technical input. If you cannot drop by during those times, email me and we can set up a time to talk: kxs@ams.org

You can find full information about each event at the 2021 Joint Mathematics Meetings website.

 

 

 

Posted in JMM | Leave a comment

Where will you spend the AY 2021-22?

 

This time of year is a time when many of you will be making plans for the next academic year, or helping your postdocs find their next position. The AMS Congressional Fellowship can be a “postdoctoral” experience, or can be an option for an unpaid leave or sabbatical year for faculty members at any career stage. Retired faculty are also welcome to apply. I wrote about the Fellowship on October 14, and point you to that post again.

Right after I posted that piece, the Trump administration moved to restrict student visas, and make it harder for universities to hire faculty members who are not US citizens. These actions caused me to post two other pieces in quick succession (on Oct 16 and Nov 4). Many responded to the calls to action in those; thank you.

Let’s hope that 2021 brings a successful transition of power between Presidents and a vaccine available and distributed to all.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In order to prevent an exodus of international PhD students, we must stand together

 

Editor’s Note: Andy Hardt and Mahrud Sayrafi–the authors of this post–are PhD students at the University of Minnesota. Andy is in his fifth year of graduate school, and working on his thesis research with Ben Brubaker. Mahrud is in his third year, preparing for his candidacy exam with Christine Berkesch. In response to the “duration of stay” rule discussed in this article, they were part of a group of graduate students who wrote a letter to Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, signed by 61 graduate students, 9 postdocs, 42 faculty, and 9 alumni. I am very grateful for their interest and coordinating efforts to reach out to public decision-makers. This contribution is a great follow-up to my October 16 post.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has recently proposed policy changes that will “remove the duration of status framework that currently allows [non-immigrants] in F, J and I classifications to remain in the United States for as long as they maintain compliance with the terms of admission.” This proposal, by laying a myriad of potential pitfalls for international students hoping to study in the US, creates genuine barriers and also effectively sends the signal that they are not welcome here. We reject this.

For many of us, a personal joy in studying mathematics is the access to human connections that defy distance. Regardless of gender, race, or faith, the knowledge we pursue brings us together across continents, and we endeavor to share this knowledge freely and openly because a language never spoken aloud is eventually forgotten. Even more, it is not uncommon for a work of mathematics to contain ideas that originate across centuries and millennia, reminding us that these ideas have transcended politics and conflict to become a part of the human experience.

Therefore, not only for practical reasons, but also as a matter of principle, we must maintain a unified voice against all attempts to limit who can study in the United States.

As graduate students in mathematics, we will focus this post on the harm inflicted on current and future international PhD students. However, many problems discussed here apply to undergraduates, post-doctoral researchers, and others as well.

The policy change would have clear effects on PhD students. The current duration of status framework is designed to allow students to complete their degrees while designated university officials certify that they are in compliance with visa requirements. Instead, the DHS plans to limit visas to a fixed four-year period, with further nationality-based restrictions that will be discussed later. What this means is that–barring an unspecified, potentially onerous re-application procedure which may be rejected purely at the discretion of the DHS–international graduate students must complete their degrees in four years or less.

Most PhD programs are set up to take either five or six years, and the average mathematics PhD student takes just under six years to graduate. Many students take seven or more years, and quite often come out with a stronger thesis for it. This flexibility allows PhD students to spend time searching for the right field in their early years, broadening their interests outside their main area, and considering their thesis area with the slow depth that is necessary for true problem solving. In other words, the existing timeline is set up for doing mathematics, and is essential to the deep, deliberate thinking that leads to real breakthroughs. During their graduate school years, most students are responsible for teaching–some carrying a high teaching load–and might even be involved in department service. In fact, many mathematics departments depend heavily on their PhD students to teach their lower level undergraduate classes.

If this rule is implemented, it will likely have a chilling effect on the number of PhDs earned in the US by international students, who make up roughly half of the total mathematics PhDs given out by US universities. The additional bureaucratic burden will likely force smaller departments to reduce admission offers to students who they know may not have the chance to graduate in four years or whom they know they can’t treat equitably, while top students will opt for universities in Canada, Australia, Europe, or elsewhere.

For an indicative example, consider Fields Medalists–28 Fields Medalists out of 60 were affiliated with a US university when they received their award. However, only 14 Medalists were US citizens. This discrepancy is not surprising to anyone in the mathematics community, as the US attracts vast numbers of top researchers from other countries. In fact, this trend starts in the graduate schools: 20 of the 60 recipients got their PhDs from American universities, and almost all were still at US institutions when they received the Fields Medal.

Beyond just the top researchers, international students have a large, positive impact on our economy. According to a report by the Association of International Educators (NAFSA), international students contributed over $40 billion and almost half a million jobs during the 2018-19 school year. In addition, according to the 2019 Open Doors report, more than three fifths of international undergraduates receive the majority of their funding from non-US sources. Many universities rely on this funding to fill in gaps left by state and federal funding. For their part, international graduate students contribute to the economy either via international sources of funding or via the teaching and department service they do.

In other words, our educational system benefits from the skills of international researchers and workers. Indeed, even those not sympathetic to the plight of international students should oppose the policy change for its effects on the economy. Higher education is an important area where the US has a strong track record: we must ensure that the best science is done in the US, the best scientists come to the US, and the US economy has direct access to these researchers and their work. Sabotaging this competitive advantage will hurt everyone.

Furthermore, while taking over the responsibility of universities in monitoring and reporting changes of status by the students, the DHS has targeted certain countries for shorter maximum visas, up to only two years. This would virtually eliminate the possibility of pursuing a PhD degree, and potentially even some Master’s degrees, for students from these countries. This restricted list is comprised of countries associated with “high visa overstay rates” and those on “the State Sponsors of Terrorism” list. For reference, this rule would have prevented the first and only female Fields Medalist Maryam Mirzakhani, who was born in Iran, from completing her PhD at Harvard University in 2004.

The DHS claims concern for a “potential for increased risk to national security” posed by international students. International students do not, by virtue of their citizenship or immigration status, pose a national security risk, and we must be clear that such a statement has no basis in reality and should not be normalized.

Regardless of the declared motivations, the restricted countries are almost uniformly developing countries in Africa and Asia with few students currently studying in the US, resulting in a policy that discriminates on the basis of national origin. In reality, overstay rates of students have been decreasing since 2016 and reached 1.52% in 2019, according to annual reports from the DHS. Moreover, by disproportionately affecting international students born in the listed countries regardless of their country of citizenship, this rule sends a message to those already studying in the US that we do not want or value their contribution because of their ethnicity.

In our view, this policy does not serve the interests of the US. For those familiar with the history of mathematics, it might even be reminiscent of the fall of Göttingen. When asked whether mathematics at the University of Göttingen had suffered from the exclusion of Jewish mathematicians, David Hilbert responded: “Suffered? It hasn’t suffered, Mr. Minister. It doesn’t exist anymore!” Indeed, many mathematics departments across the US flourished after welcoming mathematicians fleeing Europe during this time.

Mathematics is done by humans; therefore, we need to tend to our humanity. This policy is needlessly exclusionary, and will harm our departments and communities. We hope you agree with us that it must not stand.

What you can do to help:

  • Call your state attorney general and ask them to file or join a lawsuit against the policy change.
  • Talk to your colleagues, and ask them to do the above as well.
  • Put pressure on your university to come out against the change.
  • Reach out to your international postdocs, graduate students, and math majors, and help them get the resources and support they need.
  • Read this post on Capital Currents.

 

Posted in Graduate students, Immigration | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Urgent Action Needed on New Immigration Rules

 

October 19 update: Thank you all for your interest. I received emails over the weekend from students, voicing concern and asking for further information about your own situation in light of the “duration of stay” proposed changes. First, this “proposed rule” is not in effect yet and it is unclear when and if it will be implemented. Legal action to stop this implementation is in process, and it is possible that the rule will be stopped. If it is implemented, it will certainly harm universities and affect international students. Second, your university will have an “International office” (or some title like that). I suggest you reach out to your own international office for guidance about your particular situation. If you cannot find yours on the university website, ask your Department Chair or Graduate Director.

There are new immigration regulations recently published by the Trump administration that will harm the mathematics community. Here are short overviews of each:

  • The Department of Labor (DOL) has published an Interim Final Rule for High-Skilled Wages, with comments due November 9; this went into effect October 8 prior to considering and responding to public comments. This will affect H1-B visas, and make it more difficult for highly-skilled foreign workers with college degrees to acquire visas. International math post-docs often are employed with H1-B visas, and many international faculty members join their university with an H1-B visa. Salaries will have to be raised significantly, and Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of homeland security, said he expected the changes to cut by one-third the number of petitions filed annually for the coveted visas. The new required minimum wages may not be tenable for institutions of higher education. The rule may also result in US employers being positioned to pay foreign-born professionals more than their similarly employed American colleagues.
  • On September 25, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a Notice of Proposed Rule Making concerning the period of stay for foreign students and scholars in the F and J non-immigrant categories, with comments due October 26.  The rule will go into effect after the agency considers public comments. The new rule will eliminate the longstanding policy that allows students and scholars to remain in the US for “duration of status.” Under the proposed rule, “F or J nonimmigrants would be admitted into the United States for a period … not to exceed four years.” A typical mathematics PhD takes 5-6 years to complete. In addition, the duration of stay will be only two years for those from countries with visa-overstay rates greater than 10% and those non-US citizens either born in or holding citizenship of a country on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. Many of these countries are in Asia and Africa. The American Immigration Council has posted a very nice summary, which includes a list of these countries.

 What can you do?

 

1.      Give official comments, either by yourself, or with a group of fellow students or faculty.

a.      Feedback for DOL about the wage rule should be given here: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/10/08/2020-22132/strengthening-wage-protections-for-the-temporary-and-permanent-employment-of-certain-aliens-in-the. Over 1000 comments have already been submitted.

b.      Feedback for DHS about the “duration of stay” rule should be given here: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/09/25/2020-20845/establishing-a-fixed-time-period-of-admission-and-an-extension-of-stay-procedure-for-nonimmigrant. Over 21,000 comments have already been submitted. But, please, don’t think this means yours is not needed! If you choose to do this, I found these eight pages of instructions, sample text and talking points useful (a tad hard to navigate but, in the end, good language and advice); it was produced by the President’s Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration and NAFSA. You might jump to “Guidance on Creating your Comment Letter” which begins at bottom of page 2. The “Talking Points might also prove useful; they appear pages 4-8.

2.      Tweet or otherwise share about these rules in social media, in whatever ways you are active.

 

3.      Write to DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, using this link. This link was set up by the American Physical Society, and we are welcome to use it. It allows you to customize and document how the rule will be harmful to science, the impact on you or someone you know, and how international students have been an asset to the US. Specifically, the link provides a prompt to enter your information (name and email) and then just three questions about the impacts of this rule and the importance of international students. Once you answer the questions, the software turns your answers into the body of your comment. You’ll then see a complete message, your answers bookended with a stock intro and conclusion, which you can edit before sending. Please note that this link is live, so only press send if you want to submit the comment.

 

Thank you for you interest, and for taking action to support our international students and colleagues.

Posted in Advocacy, Graduate students, Grassroots Leaders, Immigration | Tagged , | 4 Comments