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Thursday, Apr 18, 2024

Faculty set to vote on proposal of new statistics major in April

Several professors in the Mathematics and Statistics Department — formerly the Mathematics Department — are spearheading a proposal to add a new statistics major. The Educational Affairs Committee (EAC), made up of six faculty members, is currently writing their formal recommendation, which will be distributed to faculty ahead of the all-faculty vote that will ultimately decide the fate of the proposal on April 7.

Mathematics and Statistics Professor Alex Lyford is one of the faculty members leading the proposal to create the new major. According to Lyford’s estimation, around 10 students per semester graduate having taken enough statistics classes to constitute a major.

“They take all of the courses in our proposed major, we’re already offering these courses, but their degree says mathematics — it says something they’re not. So one reason we’re proposing this major is to call these students what they are: statisticians,” Lyford said.

Summarizing the arguments in favor of the new major, Psychology Professor and member of the EAC Mike Dash noted that there is significant student interest in the creation of the major and that many of Middlebury’s peer institutions have already instituted a statistics major.

“We want to be able to bring in expertise, and in the absence of a major it is much harder to recruit faculty that teach statistics,” Dash said.

But Dash also noted reasons for opposing or delaying the creation of a statistics major.

“This is not unique to statistics, but there is often concern about pulling resources from other places on campus. We have a fixed number of faculty resources and positions, and any new major locks the college into supporting that discipline,” Dash said. “It is difficult to remove a major, it’s a pretty enduring commitment to staffing and giving support to that discipline.”

One possibility discussed by the EAC is to delay the creation of the major until the Math Department successfully hires another statistician, allowing the department to better support future statistics majors. The department has been approved to hire a new tenure-track statistician, but they were unsuccessful in getting someone to fill the position this year.

“So in two years we would have a fifth statistician, so the timing might look more opportune,” Dash explained.

The role of the EAC is to give the proposal an impartial assessment, considering the college curriculum as a whole, Dash explained. The EAC has also been working with students on the Student Government Association (SGA) Academic Affairs Committee to make student voices part of the deliberation.

The proposed statistics major would, like the math major, require the calculus and linear algebra sequence, but, unlike the math major, it would require Introduction to Statistical Science, Introduction to Data Science and a regression course. The current math major senior seminars that are statistics courses would be required for the statistics major.

Jiayi Chen ’23, a math major who is planning to pursue a graduate degree and career in data science, would have considered being a statistics major had it been an option. “Statistics has become more and more important in today’s industries and would benefit students’ future career paths,” Chen said. “There are many students who don’t realize the potential of a statistics major, and this would give them a clear pathway.”

Nicholas Sliter ’23, a math and computer science double major, supports the proposed change. “I would likely have been a stats major if it had been offered,” Sliter said. He has taken approximately six statistics classes across the Math and Computer Science Departments.

“There is a ton of interest in intro data science and statistics learning, those classes have huge enrollment, so I think that's an argument for the major… everyone wants to be taking those courses,” Sliter said.

The faculty vote, which was supposed to take place in February, has been delayed until April to allow the EAC to write up a formal recommendation and so the Math Department can revise their proposal based on feedback they receive from the EAC.

Lyford looks forward to the vote in April and notes that he is open to hearing feedback from faculty and students with thoughts on the proposal.

“The Math Department has spent a long time thinking very carefully about what would constitute a successful major at Middlebury, and I believe that this proposal has a ton of merit, and I hope that the faculty see it the same way,” Lyford said.

If passed, students would be able to declare a statistics major as soon as next fall.

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Editor’s Note: Copy Editor Evan Weiss’25 contributed reporting.

Lily Jones

Lily Jones ’23 is an online editor and senior writer.

She previously served as a Senior News Writer and SGA Correspondent.

Jones is double majoring in Philosophy and Political Science. She  also is an intern for the Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs and on the  ultimate frisbee team.