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Department of Mathematics and Statistics vote to split the department

Gabriela Rożnawska

Separation of the Department of Math and Statistics receives positive feedback from students in the department.

On Oct. 2, faculty in the Department of Math and Statistics officially voted to separate into the Department of Mathematics and the Department of Statistics. Once the trustees approve the change, the two departments will be formally distinct. 

Professor and Department Chair of Mathematics and Statistics Professor Jennifer Paulhus wrote in an email to the S&B that, should the trustees approve the request to split the departments, the change will be in effect by next year.

While this separation is new, Paulhus wrote that the two subjects have elements that have already operated independently, to a degree. For instance, the department has already established separate processes for hiring graders and elects different Student Educational Policy Committees—systems that will remain unchanged by the department splitting. 

Paulhus clarified that the faculty voted to split the departments primarily to ease departmental processes like faculty review. These instances of governance would benefit from faculty in each discipline having autonomous jurisdiction so that faculty members can make decisions tailored to their subjects. 

Additionally, Paulhus wrote that the two subjects differ in essential ways: “Statistical questions revolve around data, inference, and uncertainty while mathematical questions revolve around abstraction and logical reasoning. While both statistical and mathematical thinking and techniques are used to solve real-world problems, the problems they solve and the questions asked in respective fields are fundamentally different.” 

While Paulhus wrote that the processes for separating departments and creating new majors are separate, some students hope that the splitting of the departments might pave the way for a future statistics major, as Grinnell College currently only offers a concentration in the subject. 

Ahmed Cheema `24 said that he became passionate about statistics through exploring its application to his love of sports. When he was a first-year student, Cheema said he intended to major in math but decided to pivot to computer science after discovering that the requirements of the math department were too far removed from his primary interest in statistics. 

Cheema said that he feels statistics deserves to be a major at Grinnell. “I think in the modern age data science is becoming a much more popular field and industry. And I think the core of that is statistics. And I think as it stands right now, the statistics concentration isn’t as fully fledged as it could be,” he said. 

Cheema said that, having spoken to math majors, he thinks there is general support for the split of the departments and a sense that students hope this shift will lead to a statistics major in the future. Bella Villarreal `26, a math major, also said that she has a friend who similarly would have majored in statistics if it were offered as an option. 

Villarreal, who has not taken statistics classes at Grinnell herself, says that she heard about the split from Paulhus, who is her major advisor. She also noted that the split will have a positive impact on her experience in her major. Now that the subjects are separate departments, Villarreal will be able to take more mathematics classes without her statistics transfer credits from high school counting towards the mathematics department credit cap. 

Paulhus likewise expressed a feeling that this change will allow both students and faculty to focus more precisely on their specialties, writing of the split, “It will allow each faculty member to clearly align with the discipline they primarily teach and do research in.”

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About the Contributors
Bea Crist, Staff Writer
Beatrice is a third-year English and theatre double major from Durham, North Carolina. Academically, she enjoys exploring the intersections of history and literature. When she’s not writing, she loves listening to Gillian Welch, discovering new foods to put Cholula on, and impulsively painting her belongings.
Gabriela Rożnawska, Graphic Designer
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