Will the CMS Survive?

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Cover Article
February 2022 TOC icon
Cover Article
February 2022 (Vol. 54, No. 1)

Javad Mashreghi's portraitThe midlife crisis knocks our doors around forties. Insufficient or lack of income, breakups, sickness, etc. are usually the main, hidden or transparent, roots of the crisis. The Canadian Mathematical Society, close to its eighties, has faced a crisis which considering the average lifetime of medium-sized societies could be branded as a midlife crisis for the CMS! We need to survive. Otherwise, in the giant wheel of history, the CMS fate would simply help the statistical data. More explicitly, the current crisis would count as another evidence for the ‘middle-age’ crisis of scientific societies. Let’s count some of the problems. Completing this list and finding concrete solutions are to be thought.

At this strange era, all fingers are pointed toward the COVID virus family. After all, they are guilty of the great pandemic all over the globe! Hence, it is easy and straightforward to hold them accountable for our problems too. As a matter of fact, it is true and unfortunately inevitable that part of our revenues is missing and when we look carefully for the causes and dig profoundly, the true guilty is COVID. Indeed, we even expect worse to come. However, we need to be just and careful. The COVID virus is not responsible for all our problems and if we close our eyes and accuse this family of all the shortcomings, we are misleading ourselves and will not find a true solution for the middle-age crisis. A precise analysis of the financial structure of CMS, its odds and ends, future projections, etc. is inevitable. Incidentally, this is the right point to sincerely thank the federal government. In the past two years, the CMS has benefited from several aid packages offered by the government. Without these generous gestures, the CMS financial status would have been entirely different.

The next item on the list is our meetings. For a long time, the CMS has kept the tradition of having two annual meetings. The winter meeting, usually in major Canadian cities, and the summer meeting, in other parts of the country. As a rule of thumb, winter meetings have attracted more participants. Both gatherings have been essential for the CMS and the Canadian mathematicians, senior and junior. Currently, the meetings are affected by several intertwined phenomena, each one of them needs careful consideration.

The first one is again related to COVID. From the last summer, we started to practice the online meetings. However, since early 2020 there is a myriad of online meetings all over the globe. At the early stage, it was a new and attracting activity for all of us. But the more we continue to live with the virus, the more we are tired of online activities. Students do not show up that much in online courses. Virtual meetings are less populated than before. Our last online meeting was not an exception and it was less welcomed compared to the previous ones. Therefore, we are naturally worried in advance about the upcoming summer meeting.

On one hand, we do not know how long this special period of our life will continue. It is hard, and possibly unwise, to make any prediction. On the other hand, assuming we go back to normal and start having in-person meetings, despite what explained above it seems that there is a willingness to keep the virtual component alongside the main in-person stream. In both situations, either fully online or hybrid, the CMS has no financial benefit and such meetings, despite their importance and moral values, start to be a heavy burden on the CMS shoulders.

The interrelation between the CMS and the mathematical institutes is another delicate item that needs to be analysed and “re-defined’’. The emergence of mathematical research institutes from coast to coast with gradually increasing thematic programs, focus programs, weekly international conferences, high-level colloquiums, etc. spread uniformly all over the year, the importance and essence of summer and winter meetings of CMS have declined. This aspect of meetings is already observed and carefully address by the CMS prominent friend Dr. Juris Steprans in an article entitled ‘’Are CMS meetings meeting their goals?” (CMS Notes, December 2018). I strongly believe that the institutes and the CMS need to collaborate and coordinate their activities.

The Institutes Committee is a newly suggested committee at CMS. As a Canadian entity, its goal is to represent the Canadian mathematical life at major international events such as the Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM), International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM), European Congress of Mathematics (ECM), Mathematical Congress of the Americas (MCA), etc. Considering the above issue and that this committee is not even formed yet, the institute representatives may get together and discuss more broadly about the future of mathematical meetings in Canada, mutual collaborations, responsibilities, etc.

‘Publication’ is another seriously affected part of the CMS body. On one hand, the publisher drastically decreased the projected payments to the CMS. As usual, they blamed the COVID and pictured its implications that eventually led to a lower income for the publisher. Hence, it is immediately reflected in projected payments to clients, the CMS one of them. On the other hand, we are getting closer and closer to the open access era. In three years from now, all publications will be open access. This by itself is a very complicated problem with numerous twists. However, we feel the heat from now on. I strongly request my successors to take this problem seriously. If the CMS cannot find a remedy for its publication problems, I do not see how it would be possible to survive. 

All CMS committees are running by volunteers. In the past 5 years that I have been with the Executive Committee, the Nominating Committee has had difficulty to fill the vacancies. Even worse, the Executive Director has faced shortcomings even for the Nominating Committee itself and had to fulfill some activities which were not officially her task. Lack of young faces and unwillingness of senior colleagues to get involved are major issues in other (even larger) mathematical societies. The CMS has a very rich administrative structure and thus we constantly need volunteers and devoted colleagues in all committees.

Finally, please let me emphasize that I just highlighted some major issues that the CMS is facing. This list is not comprehensive. I still have a couple of other items that were not mentioned above; just the most important ones were put on the table. For future, we need to take two actions. First, closely analyse the situation and detect all the existing problems. Second, to address them. The latter, despite been already partially treated, needs a thorough analysis and implementation. The CMS needs your help.

Email the author: president@cms.math.ca
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