TALK FOR SENIOR SCHOLARS’ SERIES: THE PASSIONS THAT DRIVE ACADEMIC LIFE
This is the text of a talk given by George Bluman, Professor of Mathematics, to the Association of Professors Emeriti at Green College on October 13, 2015. The talk was titled, “50 Years of UBC Fun: As a Student, as a Math Researcher and Working with Schools.”
My time at UBC has spanned over 50 years, including four years as an undergraduate student from 1960-64 and 46 years as a regular faculty member (1968-2014).
I was born in Vancouver in 1943, first residing in Kitsilano, followed by five years on Seymour Street (across from the infamous Penthouse). I first went to school at Dawson Annex on Burrard Street. The rest of my schooling was in North Burnaby, graduating from Burnaby North High School in 1960. Apparently, my school had two characteristics: the smallest percentage of students from metro Vancouver attending university and the largest number per capita of future criminals.
When I arrived at UBC in 1960, the Arts building had just been renamed the Math Building. In the following year, the Agriculture Building became the Math Annex—oddly enough it was my father’s home building as a UBC Agriculture student after the war.
In my first year as an Arts student, my favourite courses were with Basil Dunnell in Chemistry, Jacob Zilber in English,
and my instructor in German (who wore an academic gown to each class). I was thinking of following in my father’s footsteps to study Chemistry. Basil Dunnell persuaded me to pursue an honours degree in Physics and Mathematics. My intention was to pursue a career in meteorology which had been a passion of mine since elementary school.
During the summer after 3rd year, I got a position with the chief meteorologist for BC at the Vancouver airport along with fellow UBC Math and Physics student Dan McLeod—the founder, editor and sole owner of the Georgia Straight.
After a month at the airport, I received a grant from the Canadian Mathematics Congress to work under the supervision of the wise UBC algebraist David Murdoch.
The chief meteorologist, a very kind man, recommended my accepting this award and so I did. I studied various books on my own (e.g., Jacobson) and audited a graduate course in Algebra given by Thompson. I fell in love with a subject called Galois theory—I was amazed how symmetry could be described mathematically and be useful for solving longstanding problems: e.g, the impossibility of trisecting an angle by ruler and compass, the impossibility to have a formula to solve any polynomial equation of degree greater than five.
In 1964 I was a member of the first Faculty of Science graduating class. Initially. I accepted a position with the Canadian Meteorological Service with full pay while going to grad school in meteorology at McGill or Toronto.
I had also applied for grad school in applied math at Caltech, MIT and Stanford—I refused to pay application fees but was still accepted by all three schools.
Then, to my surprise. I won a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. So I changed my mind and chose to go to Caltech since it was the only school offering courses on symmetries in its applied math program.
It was an amazing time to be in California and especially at Caltech. While there I got involved with many outside activities. I was VP for the international students’ association. It was the height of student protest about the Viet Nam war. I got involved in the McCarthy vs Kennedy democratic presidential primary in California in June 1968—leading a group of grad students, postdocs and faculty to canvass in the ghetto area of Pasadena for McCarthy, including the street where Sirhan Sirhan lived (the assassin of Robert Kennedy). I even had a mathematical experience. At one household, when I came to the door I was asked to add up the numbers from 1 to 100. When I gave an immediate answer, the householder said that I defeated his purpose about how politicians think. He then invited me in to have a game of chess.
After spending one year as a postdoc at Caltech, I joined the UBC Math Department in 1968 (apparently thanks to the Physics Head George Volkoff convincing Ralph James to hire me—in those days Heads of Department did the hiring).
I was temporarily assigned an office, Math Annex 1112, but it became my permanent office due to Canada’s marijuana laws at the time—the permanent faculty occupant, who was an American, was deported for marijuana possession when searched at Vancouver airport while on sabbatical leave.
Because of the Viet Nam war, UBC Math attracted better than usual grad students. In 1968, two brilliant grad students arrived from Chicago and Caltech. The Caltech student, Freddy Ferdman, was an avowed Marxist-Leninist. From 1968-70 the Marxists-Leninists would regularly shout down speakers. Freddy would pass out his literature during the supper hour at Place Vanier. The students complained about this and asked him to stop but Freddy refused. The local RCMP came over to encourage him to cease with this activity but apparently there was a scuffle and Freddy was arrested. His lawyer was succeeding to get him acquitted as his trial took place, but Freddy wanted to be a martyr so fired his lawyer and shouted out in court against the Canadian justice system. He was then found guilty for contempt of court. This led to grounds for deportation.
After failing on court appeals, his final appeal was to the Minister of Justice, Jean Chretien in Ottawa. Many UBC faculty and students signed petitions on his behalf. The day before he was to see Chretien, I was watching the CBC National news and the lead story was about Freddy Ferdman. He had done something original in the House of Commons—from the gallery, he had thrown petitions on the floor and started shouting. The next day he was escorted out of the country.
In my first quarter at Caltech, all applied math grad students were immersed in a seminar course on variational methods run by the chair, Gerald Whitham.
I ended up giving 4.5 hours of lectures on the work of Emmy Noether on the use of symmetries to find conservation laws for variational equations. (Emmy Noether was the most significant female mathematician of the 20th century—she was recently featured with Albert Einstein in the Globe and Mail centerfold).
This started me on my research path in symmetries and differential equations. I did not like the restrictions of Noether’s theorem since it involved artificialities—the construction of a Lagrangian and the restriction to differential equations that are variational (0% of all possibilities). I started fooling around and made some progress by trying a more direct approach. This became a 30 year project.
My thesis work involved my own problems that I got two faculty interested in—Julian Cole and Paco Lagerstrom, both well-known applied mathematicians and aeronautical engineers.
My primary work was on how to use symmetry methods to solve boundary value problems for partial differential equations using ideas first developed by the Norwegian mathematician Sophus Lie in the late 19th century as well as dimensional analysis used in modelling as developed by the American engineering scientist Buckingham around 1915.
In my 1967 thesis I developed a now famous method to find solutions for nonlinear partial differential equations which we called the nonclassical method that extended Lie’s classical method. Before I had completed my thesis, I asked visitors to Caltech whether they had seen anything related to what I had done: I was sure that someone must have discovered what I had found.
Well, a visitor appeared from Oregon State, Hoffman, who had this amazing set of filing cards listing literature of potential interest to him; through this I learned of the work of a Soviet mathematician at Novosibirsk, Ovsiannikov, in particular a 1959 paper he had written in Russian in Doklady that was in the Caltech library.
After reading this paper I noticed that he had made no progress beyond what Sophus Lie had done. But I also learned about Ovsiannikov’s 1962 Russian book and a related 1962 paper in German, one of whose authors, Muller, was the director of the Max Planck Institute for Fluid Dynamics in Gottingen. But this excellent paper did not overlap what I had planned for my thesis but did play a role in work I did 20 years later. Soon thereafter Muller visited Caltech.
Early in 1967, my supervisor Julian Cole visited Moscow—he obtained a copy of Ovsiannikov’s book which I translated over a four-week period. It turned out that Ovsiannikov had done minimally what was to be in my thesis. In fact he made remarks in his book which essentially claimed that a major part of what I had done was not possible. So my undergraduate courses in German and Russian turned out to be essential for my research.
My thesis work led to a first paper published in 1969 with Julian Cole called the General Similarity Solution of the Heat Equation—it became well-cited only 20 years later and today ranks as the world’s 24th most cited mathematics paper for 1969.
I have continued to work in the area of symmetries and differential equations ever since.
A system of ordinary differential equations is a compact description of a family of curves whereas a system of partial differential equations is a compact description of a family of surfaces.
The aim is to find solutions, properties of solutions, or more particularly solutions satisfying given data.
This leads one to develop systematic procedures to seek, use and calculate symmetries/conservation laws without knowledge of the solutions of the system.
A symmetry of a differential equation moves each solution of the equation to a solution of the same equation, i.e, it leaves invariant its family of curves (surfaces). One is interested in symmetries in terms of a continuous parameter (e.g., rotation about an axis by an arbitrary angle or an arbitrary scaling) that act as continuous movements of solution curves to solution curves. Solutions that don’t deform to other solutions are called invariant or similarity solutions.
Every differential equation arising in applied problems has an uncountable infinity of continuous symmetries.
In the physical sense, a conservation law of a differential equation is a quantity that, for given data, does not change in time (e.g., energy, momentum, angular momentum).
The main problems in symmetries and differential equations involve the following:
*How to find systematically symmetries/conservation laws
*How to use systematically symmetries/conservation laws
*How to calculate efficiently symmetries/conservation laws and their uses
Modern day computers and concomitant software development have made it possible to perform effectively many of the involved tedious calculations and to make the subject amenable to a wider audience, especially users in engineering, various sciences and economics.
When I was at Caltech, I got to know quite well faculty and students in all departments. This repeatedly was of great value in my research. One of the Caltech professors of theoretical chemistry, Vince McCoy, was familiar with my work.
He came to UBC in 1972 for a conference. When he learned about the proposed talk of a mutual friend in the Physics Department at the University of the Pacific, Carl Wulfman, he told Carl to see me.
He immediately realized that his work was obsolete and started afresh with a Japanese graduate student Sukeyuki Kumei. I was the external examiner for Kumei’s Master’s thesis.
In the early 70s, Julian Cole and I worked on a manuscript for a book on Similarity Methods for Differential Equations. We had signed a contract with Harper and Row for this to be the first book in a new applied mathematics series. Then Harper and Row reneged on the series but would still honour our contract. Then we learned that the world’s highest quality publisher in Mathematics, Springer-Verlag, had just started a new series in applied mathematics edited by Fritz John, Joe LaSalle, Gerald Whitham and Lawrence Sirovich. They welcomed our manuscript and so we cancelled our earlier contract and in 1974 our book became the 13th volume in this new series—it ranks 89th in citations for all math books published in 1974—over 1100 citations in total.
In the late 1970s, Sukeyuki Kumei arrived from Japan and started his PhD study at UBC under my supervision. This led to our book Symmetries and Differential Equations, vol 81 of the Springer Applied Math series—it is the 16th most cited math book for 1989 with over 3000 citations to-date. A Chinese edition was published in 1991.
In the 1990s, I started a long collaboration with then PDF Stephen Anco, who originally came to UBC as a Post-doc supervised by Bill Unruh in Physics.
Together we finished my longstanding project on how to find systematically the conservation laws of any differential equation system. Our result was first announced in a 1997 Physical Review Letters paper.
This led to our book Symmetry and Integration methods for Differential Equations, vol 154 in the Springer Applied Math series—it is the 101st most cited math book for 2002 with over 600 citations to-date. A Chinese edition in English was published in 2004 and in Chinese in 2009.
About 2004, I began a long collaboration with then PDF Alexei Cheviakov, originally from Moscow with an emphasis on how to extend my earlier work on how to find systematically symmetries of partial differential equations that were not local (those due to Lie were local).
This eventually led to the book with Cheviakov and Anco, Applications of Symmetry Methods to Partial Differential Equations, vol 168 in the Springer Applied Math series—it is the 50th most cited math book for 2010 with over 250 citations to-date. A Chinese edition was published this year.
Overall I have supervised 9 PhD students, 11 Master’s students (including one in the UBC school of journalism on Numbers in the News and two in Statistics) and 11 postdocs at UBC. One of my MSc students, Richard Lee, worked as an analyst at TRIUMF for several years before becoming an MLA—he has been elected four times as part of the Liberal caucus.
Most of my Canadian students have ended up in Canadian industry. Richard Lee is one of two former UBC Math grad students sitting as MLAs—the other is the Green Party leader, Andrew Weaver. Incidentally, another distinguished UBC alumnus, Jimmy Sinclair, as a BC Rhodes Scholar finished an MSc in Math at Oxford, studied with Einstein at Princeton, and was offered a position by Buchanan in the UBC Math Dept. Justin Trudeau is a proud grandson of Jimmy Sinclair.
Since coming to UBC, I have had a special interest in improving the mathematics experience and mathematics competency in BC schools. This started with my own experience in North Burnaby where there was no public library and the library in my high school had no math books. Moreover, residents of Burnaby could not take out books from the Vancouver Public Library located at Hastings and Main. My teachers promised to get math books for me but this never happened. Unfortunately, my teachers had minimal knowledge of mathematics.
Since then, I have always thought it is essential to create maximal opportunities for students to learn, make students aware of opportunities and have materials readily accessible to students.
When I joined the UBC faculty, I was right away interested in working with local schools. Starting in 1969, I got involved with the Saturday night Berg Science seminars for bright high school students—monthly seminars held in many North American cities. The seminar I gave at Eric Hamber school led to a brilliant Grade 10 student visiting me weekly at UBC to learn about differential equations. Kevin would go home and build radios modeling the equations and becoming dazzled at the connections between theory and application. Kevin, who was from a poor family, finished a Physics degree at Caltech with scholarships through my contacts there, later became a ballet dancer in Oakland followed by working at Microsoft in Seattle.
A remarkable visit in the early 70s was to Queen Elizabeth Elementary where I showed the children how to devise a game with dice with increasing sophistication to model the National Hockey League. A few months later two boys from the school excitedly visited me at UBC with their pages and pages of research in which they were modeling the Canadian Football League. Many years later one of these boys taught Math to my older son.
Our failure rates in calculus were exceedingly high, so studies were done to compare success rates at UBC by school. The differences in the meaning of grades from schools were so great that it was decided to send school-by-school information to schools as well as school boards. This was sure a wake-up call. Schools were compared based on the percentage passing, percentage making first class marks and on how grades changed from school to UBC. A series of news programs on BCTV exposed our results. This led to the President of the BCTF writing to the President of UBC to stop such studies and to the BCTF hounding me in their newsletter.
But schools that made changes saw dramatic improvement in their UBC results.
Then there were studies to account for factors leading to lack of success at UBC. At the time it was the fashion to compare performance of females and males. We found this was secondary to much more important factors: lack of a standardized provincial exam, semestering, using a textbook with challenging multistep problems. We played the leading role in getting a new weak textbook eliminated, in the reintroduction of mandatory provincial exams in BC (starting with Mathematics) and in arresting the spread of semestrization of senior math courses.
A main concern was the elimination of serious geometry from the BC syllabus. Our public TV exposure on this may have had an effect on the Ministry’s decision to reinstate geometry. Advice was sought on an appropriate choice of geometry textbook: we asked for a set of books under consideration. Nothing was heard from the Ministry—later I received a letter thanking us for our assistance. I seemed to always get nonsensical response letters from BC’s Superintendent of Instruction. So I arranged to go to Victoria and meet with the Deputy Minister of Education and the Superintendent of Instruction. The visit verified why I received such letters–the Superintendent was almost blind!
While chair of the CMS Education Committee, I visited U Waterloo in 1978 to look over the wonderful work done with their nationwide Junior Math Contest for grades 9-11, their local Gauss contests for Grades 7-8 and the Ontario Euclid Contest for Grade 12. I made acquaintance with their talented and dedicated faculty concerned with schools. This led to the introduction of the Gauss and Euclid Contests in BC and then the rest of Canada. For three decades I had a long and fruitful relationship with the Canadian Mathematics Competition administered by Waterloo—I served two decades on the committee making up the problems for the Euclid Contest.
Soon thereafter a school workshop program was established first with BC high schools and later elementary schools with the financial support of Euclid Contest fees, Science World and the Ministry of Education. At one time our department annually gave 200 problem-solving workshops to students in Grades 6-12 throughout BC at no cost to schools. This involved 15 faculty and over 75 graduate and undergraduate students. In turn this led to a 4th year undergraduate course called Mathematics Demonstrations in which students learn to develop interesting problems for our school workshops and present them in schools.
I have made over 200 school visits throughout BC and have had many delightful experiences in presenting workshops.
Once a student called me up from North Delta in the fall to present a workshop to his fellow Grade 12 students. I mentioned that workshops had to be initiated by teachers. I heard nothing from the school until late February when Moninder Jheeta called me up again and asked why no workshop had yet been scheduled. I reminded him of the need to have a teacher involved. Moninder then co-opted a teacher who said it was fine to go ahead with an after school workshop. A few days later we arrived before 3pm and no teacher received us—in fact there was zero interest in the school office. So we went to look at the school trophy cases—only sports were featured with special pride for the school football team—there were large pictures of each player. When school finished I was expecting a disaster. No teacher showed up but soon who came bounding in to see me but Moninder. Did he ever have a presence—he led us down a corridor and students scattered to get out of Moninder’s way. We were led to a spartan portable, the school math room which had no books, no pictures. A teacher was present but he vanished asap. But to my surprise about 35 students came in under the baton of Moninder. And what a group of students these were—they were the most inquisitive I had ever encountered. Moninder studied honours math and physics at UBC, then went to grad school at Cambridge and MIT. Today he lives in the Bay area and is the Director of Engineering, Domain Search for GoDaddy (note added: as of 2017, he is vice-president of GoDaddy).
I learned a lot about BC through the workshops. I had an amusing workshop in Dawson Creek. It was amazing to see so many buffalo ranches, a major local industry at the time. The students made fun of the best classmate in the workshop—it turned out that his father managed the largest buffalo ranch for an American company—he had chosen managing in Dawson Creek over managing in Hawaii.
At a workshop I gave to about 50 Grade 6-7 students at Kerrisdale elementary, one of the problems involved probability , the Edmonton Oilers and the Canucks. A girl in the class got very excited—her father had played for both teams—one year he scored 46 goals with the Oilers with a fairly good linemate with number 99.
A workshop that heartened me took place in an elementary school in Mission. The class was most unusual. All students were female and seemed to have emotional problems. One girl seemed to strengthen and gain confidence as the two hours proceeded, to the consternation of the classmates at her table who always tried to put her down. After the workshop ended, I mentioned the unusual nature of this class to the principal and about this girl in particular. He purposely had us do this workshop for girls from broken homes with severe emotional problems. The girl in question had the most problems. A year later I happened to meet this principal and asked what had happened to her. He said that as a result of the workshop she had completely changed and now was very confident in her studies and doing very well in school.
Ten years ago, I initiated the UBC Math Circle for the brightest Math students in Lower Mainland schools. Each week, from January to April, about 50 top invited high school students come to UBC for one evening after school to hear a lecture from an outstanding professor from Math, Stats, CpSc or Physics, followed by food and a problem solving session run by our top undergrads.
In the initial year 2006, it took a lot of work to put this together. With lack of time availability, we did not continue in 2007. But six students that attended the 2006 Circle approached me to take charge. They said that they had gotten so much out of the Circle that they wanted to give back to future students. These six students that I called the United Nations of Canada included students who had immigrated to Canada from North Viet Nam, Israel, Iran, and Taiwan. This has allowed the program to be sustained. The Physics Department followed up with a similar activity.
Over the years I have had many experiences with the media. Once I was asked to appear live on the Knowledge Network’s nightly news program. This was concerned with Mathematics, there was to be a debate and I was not told who were to be my fellow panelists. The producer of the program repeatedly phoned me with questions about school math. As the evening neared, I feared a set-up for math-bashing. Arriving at the station with notepad and pencil, I met my fellow debaters—a vocational teacher and the principal of the Langley Fine Arts school. The producer said that our live portion of the program would begin with a film clip to respond to, and no notes or pencils were permitted. I was not allowed to view the clip in advance. As our portion of the program was about to begin, the two cameramen yelled out—we hate math. Then the clip rolled and it included two segments involving boys who wished to go to vocational school and both claimed that problems with math blocked them. The moderator turned to me with a most accusatory look. Thankfully, I was familiar with the overall school math program and showed how both of these boys were incorrect in blaming the Math system for their difficulties. The principal concurred. The moderator became red in the face and I relaxed for the rest of the segment.
Sometimes my school and research experiences mixed. In 1982, while on sabbatical in Nottingham, I was invited to Leeds by David Crighton since we were then working in a common research area. David was an extraordinary applied mathematician who later headed DAMTP at Cambridge and along with Michael Atiyah represented Britain at the IMU.
One evening with David and his Dutch wife Joanna, to my astonishment Joanna recited chapter and verse from Vancouver School Board minutes of my experiences with Vancouver schools and in particular of school board attempts to discredit UBC Math Department studies of schools. It turned out that although based in Holland, Joanna was a consultant to many school boards in North America, including Vancouver’s.
I have authored or co-authored two papers in science education journals. The 2013 paper published in the International Journal of Science Education : Student Success in First Year Physics and Mathematics Courses: Does the High School Attended Make a Difference, written with Maria Adamuti-Trache in Education at U Texas and Tom Tiedje, Dean of Engineering at U Victoria and former Head of UBC Physics, continues to receive a lot of media attention.
Recently, I served on the now disbanded BC Provincial Board of Examiners.
In 2000 I received the first PIMS (Pacific Institute for Mathematical Sciences) Education Award. In 2001, I was honoured as the first westerner to receive the Adrien Pouliot Award from the Canadian Mathematical Society. The award recognizes individuals or teams of individuals who have made significant and sustained contributions to mathematics education in Canada.
More recently, I have been involved with improving aboriginal education in mathematics in BC schools. I am on the Board of a non-profit society connected with this.
In getting involved with schools, it is important to not bash schools and especially not bash teachers and to be constructive. Most important, for credibility, it is essential to follow through in any new initiative. I have found working with schools to be an effective way of balancing math research activities. In research, one needs to pause when hitting a brick wall and the impact of a significant result is rarely immediate. When visiting a school or mentoring a student, one is often rewarded by immediate impact.
I have taken on several roles at UBC, as a co-founder of the Institute of Applied Mathematics, as a member of the inaugural UBC Major Entrance Scholarship Committee, as the first undergraduate chair in Mathematics, as Head of Mathematics for five years, as a member of the UBC Medical School Admissions Committee, on the executive of the Faculty Association, as chair of the bargaining committee for the Framework Agreement, and two terms on Senate where I served as Chair of the Senate Awards Committee.
Let me relate some escapades connected with these UBC activities:
While serving on the Major Entrance Scholarship Committee, UBC initiated five National Scholarships. In the first year of these awards, clearly the two best students were from the same school in Victoria. Against my strong objections, the committee decided to allow a school to have at most one such award. The second student was given a lesser award. I presented these awards for UBC at the McPherson theatre in Victoria. Before doing so, I met the families of the award winners. It turned out that the second student was aboriginal. Not only that, he was a member of Canada’s Olympiad team for Physics. I came back to UBC even more furious and the second student was offered a National Scholarship. Later that summer, he tied for the top score in the world in the Physics Olympiad with a student from the Soviet Union—a feat never before achieved by a Canadian. By the way, the first student is now a cherished faculty member of the UBC Physics Department.
The deparment was very busy during my headship, especially with the hiring of 23 tenured or tenure-track faculty, and the inauguration of PIMS and MITACS. There were certainly many unexpected incidents, including flooding, CSIS, the RCMP, harassment cases, cheating and even chalk.
I will focus on two incidents:
One day it was brought to my attention that the chalk seemed to be crumbling. I investigated and was told that there had been no change in UBC chalk. Checking this out, I did not believe this and protested vigorously. Finally, it was admitted that there had been a change to save money. After this, the person in charge of UBC supplies came to the Head’s office with about a dozen boxes of different chalks and said that we could choose anyone of them to be UBC’s chalk. This is the chalk we have today.
A number of female students complained to their math instructors about a harassing male student who leered at them in lectures. I received such a complaint from two instructors. Apparently the individual was not a student in the respective classes. So I asked for an alert to be put out by the Sexual Harassment office—they refused to my chagrin. About two months later, the front desk in the Math department mentioned that a male student wanted to see me about a complaint of being harassed by a male student. The staff were afraid of this complaining student from his mannerisms. I had a suspicion that this might be the actual culprit who had harassed female students.
So I said that the alleged culprit should make an appointment to see me on another day. I contacted the responsible Associate Dean about this before seeing the culprit. So the alleged culprit came in to see me to lay a complaint about a male student who had harassed the culprit by confronting him in the Buchanan corridor for leering at his girlfriend. I told the culprit to put everything in writing and to sign his statement. While writing his statement the Associate Dean phoned me and I had a hard time putting him off. The next day an RCMP constable came to see me, and then the culprit was arrested during a class and a front page story appeared in the Ubyssey with a photo of him. He was expelled from UBC and I believe was jailed for a short time. Later he harassed President Martha Piper.
Let me relate a Senate escapade. During my second term an amended bursary award was brought forward for approval. This award originated in 1938 and a large amount of money had been added to it as a result of an estate. The problem was that the award was restricted to a British subject and was not to be given to a Catholic. UBC had gone to the Supreme Court and the judge would not allow a change in restriction to a non-Catholic as requested by UBC counsel. As chairman of the awards committee, I was not agreeable to putting forward the amended award for Senate approval, and neither were any of my fellow Senate members on the committee. But UBC counsel refused to go the BC Court of Appeal. I looked over UBC’s case presented to the Supreme Court and thought that UBC’s presentation was abysmal. I consulted a friend of mine, an Appeal Court judge, about the chances for appeal. The judge thought that the chances would be good. I did not mention this consultation to anyone. In any case, for two more years this award could not be given. Finally, UBC counsel relented and agreed to go to the BC Court of Appeal. UBC hired a very good lawyer for the appeal. We spent some time together. I attended the Appeal Court case and actually played a role in the hearing. The lawyer argued on three grounds: precedence in a British case, the way the world was in BC in 1938, and how the donor would have acted in current times—he used the example of another donation he had made to UBC and the independence of UBC Senate committees. The three Appeal Court judges ruled quickly and changed appropriately the terms of the award. They went further and ordered that all appeal expenses could not be charged to the bursary funds.
External to UBC, I served as a vice-president of the Canadian Mathematical Society, inaugurated annual meetings for heads of Canadian Mathematics departments, and was the first Canadian invited to make a presentation at the annual meeting in Washington DC for US chairs of math departments.
I will relate an escapade that arose when serving as VP of the Canadian Mathematical Society. The most prestigious world award in Mathematics is the Fields Medal. This Canadian award was initiated by the University of Toronto mathematician Fields. The medals are minted in Canada, have a cash award of only $15K and are presented by a Canadian official. The Fields Medals are awarded every four years at the International Congress of Mathematicians. Recently, Norway had initiated the Abel Prize in Mathematics with a cash award equivalent to that of the Nobel Prizes. We felt threatened by this. So we wrote to Prime Minister Chretien with two requests: to increase the value of the award to that of the Nobel Prize and for the Prime Minister of Canada to make the presentation. The next award ceremony was to take place in the Canadian consulate in Beijing. We were turned down on both requests. When the ICM was held in Beijing, the President of China, Jiang Zemin, for the first time came to the Canadian consulate for the award presentation and apparently spent two hours there. The embassy was amazed! There has been no change to-date but the Fields medal has not lost its prestige value.
For the past two decades I have chaired the Kristallnacht Committee for Vancouver. My parents were saved by the now famous Japanese vice-consul Chiune Sugihara, who issued them a life-saving visa without their having proper documentation, and who also acted against the orders of the Japanese government.
I have been doing research on this and am in regular contact with the Sugihara family in Japan. I have given many talks about Sugihara’s exploits here and in Tokyo and will be giving a related keynote presentation at this year’s annual Kristallnacht commemorative event in Vancouver in November. Earlier this year he was featured at the exhibit in the Vancouver Maritime Museum in celebration of Yokohama’s fifty years as a sister city of Vancouver. Currently there is a major exhibit in Tokyo honouring Anne Frank and Chiune Suighara. A feature film about Sugihara, shot in Poland with leading Japanese and Polish actors, will premiere in December in Tokyo.
So I have had a fun-filled time as a student, researcher and in working with schools during my UBC experience.