By Kareem Carr
“It was such a shock to me to see that a committee of men could present a whole lot of ideas, each one thinking of a new facet, while remembering what the other fella said, so that, at the end, the decision is made as to which idea was the best—summing it all up—without having to say it three times. These were very great men indeed.” – R. Feynman
Prompted by Frank Morgan for quotes, Sylvain Cappell had warned me cheerily that the American Mathematical Society was one of the best run organizations of which he had ever been a part. I sat in the back with Nicholas, one of our newest Editors, expecting a highly efficient meeting. And so it began: People made points. People listened. Votes moved like clockwork. One might almost be forgiven for wondering if anyone was really paying attention at all.
And then the issue of Fellowships was breached.
Suddenly there was tumult.
Most of you have probably not heard of the Fellows Program before, so let me give you a bit of background. You can also read more in the here and here.
The general idea is to set up a system of AMS Fellows, similar to those in place in many scientific associations, which would recognize AMS members for excellence in research, teaching, community service, committee work, or leadership. Many people believe that a Fellows Program would make mathematics more accessible, and more prestigious, in society and in academic environments, and would help make mathematicians more competitive for awards or grants. The Fellows Program would aim to elect approximately 1500 Fellows over the next 10 years, with new fellowship candidates nominated by AMS members and then elected by current Fellows.
At the meeting, one of the main concerns against the Fellows Program was that it is elitist; that elitism was a major disadvantage. It’s at moments like these I am proud to be part of Mathematics. It is not always the case that organizations place so much importance on equality. You get a real sense of the appreciation for knowledge and genuine achievement, over and above prizes and accolades.
The Council expressed interest in receiving feedback from graduate students about the Fellows program. To that end, I invite you all to post your comments, suggestions or questions in the comments below.