version 3 October, 2009


Subject: memories!
Date: September 18, 2002 10:15:26 AM GMT-04:00


The year was 1959. I flew from London to Idlewild (=JFK), took the train to A^2
arrived here early in the morning, put my stuff in the locker at the RR station
and walked over to AH(=Angell Hall). Life here started as an Instructor,
sharing an office with the inimitable George Piranian. George would bail me
out when a student over stayed in my office or was irate; he would go to the
math office (there was only one at that time in Angell) and ask Donna Darrow
to call me , rush back to the offiec, answer the phone and tell me that it
was my wife (I wasn't married then) and the voice at the other end would say:
"Honey did you forget our appointment?".

My teaching assignment for Fall 1959 (usually three courses) were the
equivalents of 115, 216 and 450. In my second or third lecture in 450 I saw
someone who didn't quite look a student and it proved to be correct when
at the end of the lecture that person walked over to me and said: I am Bob
Bartels; you did a good job. Even then I did not quite know that Bob was
indeed a colleague and was commmissioned as a senior faculty spy! Bob was
always charming as he still is.

An interesting episode. In my math 450 (actually called math 150) I had a few
foreign students. Two of them used to socialize with me at the International
Center and regularly play table tennis (=ping pong) with me; when the first
hourly exam rolled in and they got poor grades they went to the Chairman
George Hay's office seeking transfer to another section because their
instructor could not speak English. So the Chairman's secretary called me and
acquainted me of the complaint. Arrogant as it may sound, I had no doubt
that my skill with the language was not really the question and so called
the two students to my office, typed out a letter recommending that the two
attend Englsih courses offered at the ELI. You can guess the rest!

Another disturbing event was again in Math 450 that I taught in Winter 60,
my second term here. A grad student in engg., from a South Asian country,
did not pass the course and did not come close to passing it. When he failed
the course an Associate Dean from the Engin school called me and spoke with
me kindly and disgustingly patronizingly too. He appealed to my being a
foreigner myself and how it would affect the student's stay in this country
if he failed that course, and whether I could give some kind of extra
reading assignments and pull his grade up to that of a passing level.
I declined and he lost his friedliness toward me! I also told him that
I could not understand how the performance in one course would so seriously
affect the student's visa situation and how as a Dean he would justify an
action clearly favoring one student. Then I went and told Geroge Hay about
this and he was happy that I had forewarned him; the Dean called him later
but George was ready ( and I was saved?).

Then and actually for a long time later the Department used to have the
annual Christmas or Holiday party. It was big and great fun too. (The first
year I was here it was in the VFW hall then on Liberty, where Seva is located
now and I thought it was owned by our Chairman's secretary Virginia F.
Weiss!) Social events also were plenty. Add to those the Math Club meetings
followed by you know what. These have disappeared in recent years and
replaced by other events equally interesting. However I personally carry
the impressiion that our faculty was more closely knit at that time. Perhaps
Vietnam, and a rather large number of transient faculty positions
have contibuted to a change.

Sometimes, in my early life here, I used to sleep in my office at night,
even though I lived only a block away from Angell Hall. Jimmy Savage also
used long hours in the evening in his office across from mine and he asked me
one day: Tell me that you are not married or you have too many children at
home. What is it?
Also, I was told by the security people that since I was not of the
professorial rank (I was only an instructor!), I was not allowed to have
female students in my office after 10 or 11 PM!


M. S. Ramanujan | Phone: 734-647-4468
Department of Mathematics | 734-769-0803(home)
East Hall, 525 East University | e-address:
University of Michigan |
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1109 |