Emeritus Faculty Association #112 December 2005

Next Meeting:
Friday, December 2, Javits Seminar Room, Melville Library E2340, 10.30 am.
After our customary informal half-hour over coffee, fruit, and pastries, courtesy of the Provost's Office, Irwin Kra will discuss his retirement project as Executive Director of Math for America, a new enterprise dedicated to improving mathematics instruction in the schools. Entitled "The Silent Crisis: Math Education in our Country's Public High Schools", his talk will address the steady decline of  U.S. students' math competency as they proceed from grades four to eight to twelve. In addition to considering the consequences of this debility for college instruction and its economic impact on U.S. businesses struggling to compete with other nations in high tech industries, Irwin will examine its causes and describe the concrete remedies being pursued by his new organization. Bring your brown bag lunch to continue discussion after the talk.

Irwin Kra recently retired after a distinguished career at Stony Brook. Born in Poland, he received his B.S. degree from Brooklyn Polytechnic institute, and his M.S. and PhD from Columbia University. Before he came to SBU in 1968, he taught at MIT. At SBU, he twice served as Chair of the Mathematics Department, before becoming Dean of  Physical Sciences and Mathematics. He is now Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus. Irwin has been a visiting professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the University of Perugia in Italy, the University of Santiago de Chile, and Tohoku University in Japan. He has been a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellow, an Advisory Professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, and a member of the Advisory Committee of the Center for Advanced Studies in Mathematics at Ben-Gurion University. He has also served on the Council and Executive Committee of the American Mathematical Society, and Managing Editor of its Proceedings. He currently serves on the New York City Department of Education's Math Advisory Panel. His research interests include non-Euclidian geometry, used in relativity studies and string theory. For more Bio: click here
And/or here Click for even more Irwin bio

BTW: The man who suggested this project to Irwin was Jim Simons, former chair of the math department. An article on the "Math for America" project appears in the current (Thanksgiving) issue of the Village Times. An article on Jim's hedge fund operations appears on the front page of the business section in the NY Times issue of Sat. 19 Nov, entitled "$100 Billion In the Hands Of a Computer".

Last Meeting:
Nancy Tasi announced that flu shots will be available at Mather Hospital, 2-6pm, Monday 7th, Tue 15, and Wed 30, of November. The cost is $35 and is covered by Medicare. Note that the Nov 10 issue of the Village Times-Herald contains two accounts of the long lines, including one from our members Karl and Sue Bottigheimer. (Ed note: it took me three trips to get a shot).

Joe Auner, Professor of music and Associate Provost then introduced our speaker Gil Kalish. In doing so Joe said that Gil was the best thing that had happened to him at Stony Brook, that he was one of the best piano teachers in the world, a performer able to bring very different kinds of music to life, and a man dedicated to the department and the university.

Gil started his off-the cuff reminiscences with a rumination on the place of performance art within a university - not always a natural or happy fit elsewhere. Yet at Stony Brook the theoretical, compositional and historical arms of the department had worked together harmoniously with the performance arm, and the collegiality was remarkable. The department always had people who lived the life and did not fail to be there for the students. Originally within the state university it had been envisioned that Stony Brook would be the principal center for the sciences and Purchase would be the center for the arts. Yet in utilizing too heavily musicians based in New York City who had little commitment to the university, Purchase was surpassed by Stony Brook. Gil gave the main credit for this early development to Bentley Glass and Sidney Gelber who had the vision to appoint such performer-teachers as Samuel Baron, Bernard Greenhouse, Adele Addison and Martin Canin. This in turn made it possible to attract the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble and the New York Woodwind Ensemble, with such figures as Arthur Weissberg, Ronald Roseman, and Paul Zukofsky. With an emphasis on new music, the department garnered a reputation as visionary. This contrasted with the conservatories which at the time were more reactionary. More recently, when the department hit a low spot caused by the death of Samuel Baron, the illness of Julius Levine, and the departure of Timothy Eddy, another provost, Bob McGrath, saw the importance of the musical tradition here and stepped in to make possible the hiring of the Emerson Quartet. This in turn has made it possible to attract other sterling performer-teachers such as Ani Kafavian, Colin Carr, and Pamela Frank.

Interspersed within Gill's reminscences were details of his personal development which are pieced together in the following "informal bio". At a very early age, as he corrected his elder piano-playing brother, it was realized that Gil had perfect pitch. His Russian immigrant parents sought private teachers who advised pulling him out of school to concentrate on practice. Gil credits his mother with rejecting this advice and sending him to PS215 in Brooklyn. Later Gill even told his mother he was giving up practice and went off to Columbia university. His mother got the sage advice to leave him alone, and that, if it was his calling, he would come back to it. And this is of course what happened. His first attempt to land a job at Stony Brook and his later attempts to move from a 1/3 time, to 2/3 , and to a full apointment did not initially meet with success. Yet a combination of circumstances transpired each time to bring all these to fruition and his concentration on chamber works and new music fit perfectly with the profile of the department. Initially he taught Martin Canin's cast-off students in the garage of the house across Nicholls Road at Point-of-Woods, then occupied by the music department. Nowadays he accepts only 10 per cent from top student applicants from all over the world.

Although the term "world class" is much overused these days, this was one occasion that merited that description. Furthermore, since one of Gil's laments was that world class students are giving their DMA recitals throughout the year which are attended by only a handful of people, we are hereby adding a new pointer to our website. Click on the last bullet on the left hand side to see the current listing of these free performances, open to all.

Winter heating costs:
Apparently in prospect is another large jump in fuel costs this winter. Particularly affected is natural gas, which is used for heating 50% of homes and 20% of electricity generation, not to mention all the heating of the university (see NY Times article 15 Nov: Natural Gas: Big worry this Winter). If your heating equipment is old, installation of a new high efficiency furnace and water heater could save up to 30%. According to Consumers Union, a $500 tax credit will be available for heating and insulation improvements done after Jan 1, 2006. But then it turned out that this was only a concession offered to Maine Senator Olympia Snow in return for her vote for the administration's tax package now wending its way through the House and Senate (NY Times editorial 8 Nov). If it survives conference after Thanksgiving, you will then be able to get all of about $100 and change off of your improvements bill. Enjoy!