UB community upset with proposal to move Math Place
Students, faculty, tutors concerned with College of Arts and Sciences’ decision to create ‘Math Hub’
Students, faculty and tutors say they feel “heartbroken,” “betrayed” and “displeased” with the College of Arts and Sciences’ proposal to move the Math Place tutoring center from Baldy Hall to the Mathematics Building.
CAS submitted the proposal asking for grant funding from “various funding sources” to create a new “Math Hub,” integrating the Math Help Center, which caters to upper-level math courses, and the Math Place, which caters to lower-level math courses. The Math Place, which the Undergraduate Learning Center paid to renovate over the summer, is currently located in 211 Baldy Hall. CAS did not respond to The Spectrum’s question regarding what will go in its place. The Math Help Center is already located in the Mathematics Building. Some students are worried combining the two will reduce the number of students who use the tutoring services.
The Math Place has seen an average of 54 students per day since the beginning of the semester and has 15 tutors. Last year, 4,485 students visited the center (roughly 52 per day), 97% of whom were not math majors.
Justin Read, associate dean for undergraduate education and experiential learning, wrote in an email that combining the centers would create a “state-of-the-art,” “comprehensive” and “more effectively integrated” tutoring center. CAS decided to move the centers after conducting a “space analysis” in the Mathematics Building, which determined it has “too much excess space,” according to Gino Biondini, Math Department chair. CAS did not tell The Spectrum what the “space analysis” entailed when asked in an email.
Biondini said CAS told him about the proposal on Oct. 25, five days before submitting it. He replied on Oct. 28, saying the Math Department “didn’t want to move forward.”
After his objection, CAS sent him a copy of the proposal and said it can be submitted “with or without” the Math Department’s approval, according to Biondini.
The proposal stated CAS, the Math Department and ULC all supported the move, Biondini said.
Biondini replied to CAS’ proposal, saying it can’t use the Math Department’s name. Biondini said CAS did not respond, but on Tuesday CAS told him they submitted the proposal.
“I don’t know if they submitted it in our name, but if they did submit it in [the Math Department]’s name I would find it highly objectionable,” Biondini said.
Read wrote that at UB and nationally there is an “increasing number” of undergraduate students failing 100-level math courses, which he called “unacceptable.”
“A new Math Hub would provide tutoring, cutting-edge [teaching], instructor training and the development of online tools that will help more undergraduate students succeed,” Read wrote. “We will continue to seek resources to provide the best center for math education and student support at UB.”
Some worry the Math Hub will replace the Mathematics Building common room, which functions like a lab, but Read said its location has not been decided.
Michael Montoro, a Ph.D. math student and UB Council student representative, wrote in an email the decision is “insulting to the important academic work that is done every day in the Math Place and in the Math Department’s common room.”
CAS wants to incorporate new technology into the Math Hub, but tutors say it isn’t necessary. Ph.D. math student Cece Engelhardt, who is a tutor for the Math Place, CAS didn’t ask for tutor input.
Faculty and tutors worry fewer students will utilize the Math Place because of its proposed location.
Angela Samul, ULC coordinator of developmental mathematics, said “students won’t come” if the center is moved to the Mathematics Building.
“It’s a mistake, because [Baldy] is a central location and the math building is way over [on the edge of campus],” Samul said. “The majority of our students are not only math students, but we also get ULC students, and their classes are all right around here.”
Biondini said the Math Department teaches over 4,000 students each semester from various disciplines, and “the small classrooms in the Mathematics Building are for upper-division graduate classes.” He said 99% of students who take math courses are taught in large classrooms like in the Natural Sciences Complex or Alumni Arena.
“It doesn’t make sense for students to come over here. The Math Place is centrally located and doing a great job, we want to strengthen that place,” Biondini said. “A student who has class in Alumni Arena might not come all the way [to the Mathematics Building] since it takes 15 minutes to get there.”
Over the summer, ULC renovated the Math Place using a “large portion of its operating budget,” according to Samul. She said she “isn’t happy” to hear CAS wants to move the Math Place after spending a “fair chunk of change” on it.
Mazia Alfisyah, a junior economics student who uses the Math Place tutors, wrote that she “loves” the Baldy Hall location and the “spacious” classroom. She said if the Math Place is moved to the Mathematics Building, she would likely still go, but it would affect her learning.
“My studying experience is definitely going to lessen in quality because of the layout of the classrooms and the complicated structure of the building,” Alfisyah wrote in an email.
Katie Fiorella, a sophomore management student, wrote in an email that the Math Place is currently “conveniently located” and “easy” for students and tutors to access, so she is “confused” as to why CAS wants to move it.
“The Math Place seemed to be one of the most effective resources available here at UB, so why change it?” Fiorella wrote. “I believe that moving it would change the whole dynamic of the Math Place and make it difficult for both me and the tutors to get to.”
Carolyn Engelhardt, a Ph.D. math student and ULC math coordinator, said she thinks the move would be “intimidating” for some students in lower-level math courses. They might walk into the combined center feeling “overwhelmed,” seeing upper-level math while they are trying to make sense of algebra, Engelhardt said.
“[The Math Place and the Math Help Center] are different things, and that’s a good thing,” Carolyn Engelhardt said. “[In the Math Place], we try to create a space that feels safe for students who are struggling with and have a difficult relationship with math.”
Brittany Gorny is the senior news editor and can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @BrittanyGorny.