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    The comments section in the VU closure thread are being clogged up with "don't close this thread!" comments, yet nobody has voted to close the thread. It seems these distracting meta comments need a home, so please contribute them here.
    • CommentAuthoran_mo_user
    • CommentTimeApr 27th 2011
    Before I say anything on the actual subject, first, let me also state very clearly that I am sorry to hear about the extremely diffcult situation in which some mathematicians in Amsterdam apparently are. And, I truly hope that a reasonable solution can be found.

    However, on the actual subject, I find it completely obvious that this question is not at all acceptable on MO.

    I will give an incomplete list of reasons.

    1. Let us just consider the actual question aked "what do you think are other good measures to fight something like that?"

    May I just point out that to make a useful suggestion how to achieve whatever goal in a given academic system some familiarity with the acadmic and political system of the relevant country or region might be desirable.

    Now, how many of the people answering this question will be even vaguely familiar with the system in the Netherlands?
    Or, somewhat more modestly, how many of the people answering this question will first have tried to get familiar with the system in the Netherlands?

    I think it is fair to assume the answer will be, to say the least, few.

    So, I have no clue about the details of the system in the Netherlands; but I know a couple of different European systems well enough to at least know that they can be very different.

    Actually, the issue is already documented in the question itself. Ryan Budney points out that 'Rochester' is a non-analogy, which I would not have known, but I can tell you that at least one more of the examples is a non-analogy.

    So, all the time here it is said, it does not make sense, it is harmful and so on to give advice based on incomplete information.
    Why does this not apply here?

    2. The remark on mailing lists seems to me possibly besides the point; depending on what type of mailing lists these are,
    which was not stated.
    But, I know of mathematical mailinglists whose standard content is a mix of research problems, conferences announcements, job announcements, and alike, where yes an announcment like this question would be somewhat unusual but not unacceptable.

    But, does this mean I could post a conference announcment on MO, with the add-on question 'any suggestion for organizing a conference?'
    Adding, on the mailing lists on which I sent out the announcment nobody complained, so I am sure this is fine here, too.

    Fine, the cause at hand is more important than a random conference; but where to draw the line?
    And, I am afraid, the problem mentioned is also not a unique one; so how many of such 'petitions' will be tolerated on MO.
    Just this one? Everyone? One a months? One a year?

    3. It somehow seems that the problem described is not only a problem 'mathematicians' vs 'administration' but as somebody pointed out in the comments it seems there might also be some competition for resources inside the department in the background.

    Is is a really a good idea to discuss internals of a department on MO? At all, and even more so without any precise information?

    To sum it up, with all sympathy for other mathematicians in a diffcult situation, this type of content is in my opinion not appropriate for MO, not even close.

    Finally, I also understand that it might be difficult to vote to close this. So, let me end with a request to the questioner to reconsider the apropriateness of the question, and to perhaps remove it.
    You can't delete a question once there's a certain number of responses, even if you're the question poser, and I'm pretty sure this thread is well beyond that threshold.

    As far as I can tell the thread fits the MO profile in that it's asking for something pretty specific, and it is the kind of thing that gets discussed at a department tea time. It's a little unusual and not specifically a mathematics research question, but it is of concern to mathematics research community.

    It's possible the thread could be perceived as "taking sides" in an internal departmental squabble. That could be a reason for eventually closing the thread. But I don't know enough about the story.
    • CommentAuthoran_mo_user
    • CommentTimeApr 27th 2011
    @Ryan Budney, thank you for this technical remark, I was not aware of this (I only knew that it was possible to delete question, even if there is already some answer; that there is some threshold did not occur to me).

    I view of this I modify my request to the questioner to: at least please edit out all the specific details of the situation and ask this as an abstract question.

    Regarding the second point 'departmental tea' and 'specific': yes, but so are all, or at least many, of the requests one could summarize as 'life as a gradute student' and any number of question. Where however a frequent answer at least by some is 'this is a fine discussion for "departmental tea" or "over a beer in a pub" but not on MO.'
    Why is this different here? (This is what I would say even if the question was only formulated abstractly; actually, most likely I would not have said as at the moment I'd prefer to stay out of this and such discussions.)

    But, to me this is really a very special situation. Namely, what is the main purpose of this question:

    a. To actually get useful advice on what to do in such a situation (in general).

    b. To draw attention to the specific problem and the related petition.

    And, I feel extremely uneasy about some comments suggesting one cannot or should not vote to close somehow out of human reasons.

    And, why are all the names of the people in the question; this adds nothing but making it very difficult to deal with the question. Those that know the affected individuals somewhat will know this anyway, and those that even only very vaguely now them would be able to find out (in case they care) given a rough description of the problem.

    Actually, I wanted to write something more moderate at first, but now on rereading I see that the petition is not only mentioned, but the question explictily asks to sign it!

    I can imagine to participate in a site of this form with quite a wide spectrum of subjects (in the details),
    but not a place that gives a large forum to political campaigns of a group of individuals! And this is a political campaign even if it is science/research/math politics and on a small scale. If this is not part of a campaign, what else is this?

    Whether the cause is just and the goal noble, is not the question; this is question of principle for me.
    (And, so to say, I do pure math at a university for a living myself, since about a decade and hope to do so for some more; so I am certainly all in favor of pure math at universities.)

    To address some potential counter arguments right away: yes, it is wise to allow exceptions to such principles, but only under truly extreme circumstances; and, with all respect for the problems this can cause for the affected individuals, but I am sorry a couple of people loosing their job over a scientific reorientation of a depertment are not truly extreme circumstances.

    And, I was under the firm impression that 'no politics' position was consensus and not an extreme minority position as it seems at the moment; for example, I recall this gun control statistics question, which was more indirect in its goal (though yes also less related to mathematics) and it was quite clear this is not appreciated on the site.

    Basically, now that I saw that the question asks to sign the petition, I seriously consider to flag it.
    Before I could at least pretend to believe that a. mentioned aboove is the main reason, but with this?

    I will wait for a while to see if at least the question is edited or somebody can convince me of the converse,
    but if neither happens I will flag it (might be pointless, but still).

    Sorry for this post that might well qualify as a rant, but I really like this site, and am completely surpised in which direction it can apparently go without much discussion.
    From your user name it's not clear you have much experience with math departments. I think you'd have better success getting people to read your comments if you logged on with your real name. That aside, flagging this thread for moderator attention is kind of silly since moderators are already contributing to the thread.

    I could see a reason for closing the thread if there's a perception that it's a one-sided attempt to take a side in a departmental battle. But I haven't got that impression. In that regard I don't think the thread is being perceived as political anymore than teaching calculus is political.
    Ryan, if you think teaching calculus is not political, you may want to look at
    • CommentAuthoran_mo_user
    • CommentTimeApr 27th 2011
    Ryan Budney, yes, it is not clear from my user name, therefore I explicitly said twice that I do have it (to an extent comparable to various other participants of the discussion, though certainly there are much more experienced people than me on this site).
    To repeat it in a differen form: my age is about the average of that of, say, Ben Webster and Andrew Stacey and my entire adult (work) life I did nothing but being a pure mathematician at a research university and preparing for being one.

    Now, of course I could make this up, but then this would not even be too relevant for the question whether politics is as of now admissible on MO.

    The entire thing breaks down into two simple questions:

    a. Is asking for signing a petition to influence (research) political discussions of a department/university, a (research) poltical activity?

    Yes or No. (It is hard for me to see how the answer to this can be anything else than Yes!)

    b. Is direct (research) political activism admissible on MO?

    Yes or No.

    I would be grateful for an answer to b. and/or an explanation of why my answer to a. is wrong.
    I think we don't have the whole story regarding these events. So attempting to put it into simple boxes so early might be unproductive. Let's let informed people (I'm not one of them) fill out the discussion and then we can figure out what we're dealing with.

    For what it's worth, there was some private discussion with the moderators before this was posted, and the abstract idea of such a question was approved. I haven't actually read the resulting question, but will now.

    • CommentAuthoran_mo_user
    • CommentTimeApr 27th 2011 edited
    Ryan Budney, it is certainly true that we (as a collective on this site) do not have the whole story, and in all likelihood will never get it; which, by the way, is a typical reason given in such discussion, why the site should stay away from subjects like this.
    But, I agree that it is not really productive if we two produce a long dialog on this. Thus, thank you for your attention to my concerns, and I will wait with further contributions at least for a couple of hours.
    As I forgot to anwer this, yes, the flagging (as I meant to express with my 'might be pointless, but still') would only be an 'official' (i.e., on main) dissenting opinion, in its invisibility most likely real pointless (but since I am, perhaps contrary to popular believe here, a quite serious person, I would not consider to express my anger/surprise in a more visible way then by complaints here and maybe this flagging).

    A final point: The presently penultimate comment on the question "[DELETED, used to be the exact reproduction of a question regarding details on another perhaps similar issue in the Netherlands; deleted as it was also delted on main]"

    Taking the risk that people find this ridiculous: But is MO the new rumor-mill on university-politics in the Netherlands and maybe elsewhere? And, no one but me finds this strange, not even a bit? I seriously can't believe this.

    That's it for a while, sorry for writing so much.

    ADDED: I had not seen Scott Morrison's response before writing this and thus did not include it in my 'reply'; not to further break my self-imposed (temporary) silence, I will not elaborate any further.

    I would like to expand on my comment on the thread, which may go to answering an_mo_user's comments.

    I think that this question is absolutely not suitable for MO. It is not a question about research-level mathematics, it does not have an answer that is independently verifiable, and it is unlikely that the answers provided will be useful later on. Thus, it could be closed as "off topic", "not a real question", "subjective and argumentative", or "too localised" and I would agree with all of those reasons.

    I've argued strenuously that such questions do not belong on MO, and that if there is a need for a place for such questions then we should build that new place rather than dilute the amazingness of MO by mixing them in. I disagree with the theory that since such a place doesn't exist then we may as well use MO for it because the new place will never get built while MO accepts such questions.

    But this "question" has one feature which trumps all of the above. That is the immediacy of the problem. This "question" cannot wait until a better place is found. So whilst I realise that I am opening myself up to charges of inconsistency (did I ever claim to be consistent?) and double-standards (ditto?), I will not vote to close this question.

    Where to draw the line? We cannot allow arbitrary "social action" questions on MO, so here's my first draft at criteria as to when such would be (reluctantly) allowed:

    1. It must require immediate action
    2. The fact that we are mathematicians must be relevant; so if it is, as in this case, signing a petition, then you could imagine the bean counters looking at the signatures and deciding that only those by actual mathematicians counted.

    I'd also like to start by saying that I also sympathize with what seems to be a shocking and devastating situation, and that I hope we, the mathematical community, will react promptly and appropriately to pursue a satisfactory resolution.

    After reading this meta discussion, I find myself largely agreeing with an_mo_user, and also with Andrew Stacey's argument that the question is not suitable for MO. Andrew's argument that the problem is immediate strikes me as disingenuous; there are a lot of problems faced by mathematicians that are immediate, but which one would clearly regard as not being important enough to tolerate on MO. I submit that the real reason Andrew and others want to keep the question open is simple: it's purely a feeling of emotional solidarity with the affected individuals. While I feel the same emotional solidarity, I am wary of allowing emotions to trump reason in this sort of situation. If there were no other channel for getting the word out, or if voting to close the question at this stage would cause the question to be deleted so that people could no longer read it, then I wouldn't vote to close. As matters stand, however, I don't think that keeping the question open serves any useful purpose. The news is out now, and further answers seem unlikely to be useful.

    Therefore I will vote to close. I want to emphasize that I do not intend my vote to close to be interpreted as a lack of sympathy with the poster's plight; if anything, I want to take a stand for the point of view that people should decide whether to vote to close this sort of question on the basis of, well, whether they think the question should be closed, and not out of a fear that their action will be interpreted as a hostile or unsympathetic gesture.

    • CommentAuthorgilkalai
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2011 edited
    Questions about advising students, refereeing papers, giving lectures, job searching etc. are welcome on MO. There were many quite a few useful such questions. A question about how to react to a situation where mathematical unit is closed and tenured faculty are fired is also appropriate on MO. (Of course, nobody welcome such a situation.)

    Addition: On further thought (and also reading grp) let me add that I was always against questions which can be regarded as dealing with personal issues (or gossip etc.). So in this aspect allowing this question is a delicate issue and perhaps even an exception also for me. However, from various reasons, including the specific way the questions is asked, and reasons others have mentioned, I think we should allow this question.
    • CommentAuthorgrp
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2011

    I want to modify a statement of Gil's: An abstract question about how to react in a situation where a mathematical unit is closed and tenured faculty are fired is also appropriate on MathOverflow. My first question I made on MathOverflow I thought was useful when made abstractly, and would do no harm if I left out details.

    The current question is not the case. May Tilman forgive me for sounding unsympathetic (or at least take solace in the fact that I signed his petition and probably would not have done so if he had not posted a link to it from MathOverflow), but his question is NOT abstract, and I fear MathOverflow will become the repository of specfic posts from soon-to-be jobseekers. If his question had been more abstract, it could be taken as a representative example, many good answers could be gathered, and anyone in the future could refer to this question and its answers for what to do, or refer to it as a base case and then repost their question with important differences outlined. I will not list further faults of the question as correcting them at this point would have little impact.

    To refine my comment to the question, the people in the community who participate in MathOverflow must either agree to accept further such type of posting, or (as with homework, not-quite-research-level questions, or duplicates) find a place to redirect such questions. Perhaps Peter Krautzberger can find a place for it at Planet MathOverflow?

    I virtually cast a vote to close, so consider my vote as echoing Timothy Chow's vote (whose reasons and motivation surrounding this question resonate with me) and doing whatever cancellation of a vote to keep open is appropriate.

    Gerhard Paseman, 2011.04.28

    • CommentAuthoran_mo_user
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2011
    Andrew Stacey, in view of the fact that you are in my opinion (from what I saw over the last month on this forum) at least one of the, but actually I tend to say just the, person with the most carfully reflected and consistent position on MO (btw, following your suggestion a while ago I read the related texts on you website) I certainly won't be so petty and bring up 'inconsistency' and 'double standards.' And, in fact, I tried to express earlier in this thread my sentiment that while in principle also an abstract version of this question is 'not for MO' by established standards, I would in all likelihood not have participated in discussing it; and certainly not if the fact stated by Scott Morrison that there was some discussion with the moderators beforehand, would have been mentioned directly right-away. As in my opinion this would be, while not appropriate, at least not be totally out off place, and due to urgency and obvious great importance for the affected individuals, I think a small to mid-sized exception to usual standards is certainly justified [to others reading this: I understand that not everybody here has the same opinion on what the usual standards should be, perhaps consider this to mean what Andrew Stacey and several others, meanwhile more and more myself included, considers as usual standards, still the later parts might be of interest to you, too]. For example, while I found the 'celebration' of yesterdays (or rather two days ago) advising-question more than a bit strange, I waited a while, and then somebody--actually, you--said what I think should be said and that's it. (The main occassion where I insisted on double standards was related to questions in the category 'idle thoughts' in part not even research related.)

    But, I consider the advertisement for this petition so totally out off place that it is hard to tell, at least while trying to stay somewhat polite. Let me continue to elaborate why and contribute something to the discussion you started when petitions or anouncements should be allowed. (Ending the personal part to A.S.) Suggestions in a second post.
    • CommentAuthoran_mo_user
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2011
    Some thoughts on the proposed standards, mixed with additional observations on the 'question' at hand.
    (So far, I did not 'interact' with the question on main in any way; I say this as there are some ano/pseudonymous contributions on it to make clear that none of them is from me. Also, while essentially irrelevant, I won't flag it, as it would feel inappropriate in view of the fact that it is now clear that it has explict moderators' approval; opposed to only implict one, by one moderator's off-hand comment, which was the situation when I thought about this.)

    First, I agree with 1. and 2. expressed by Andrew Stacey. However, 1. and 2. does not seem at all sufficient to me.

    a. Separation. Personally, I would strongly prefer that if there seems to be the need/wish to allow content of this form on MO, then it should be very clearly marked as such and best *separated* from the main content. For example, there could be (assuming this is technically feasible, but I guess it is) a box or some easily visible button or a banner on the front-page that would lead to the information.
    To mix things like this with the main content, seems to be a very bad idea to me.
    This way of handling this would requier some involvement of the moderators beforehand, which for issues of this criticality I consider as desirable, essentially inevitable (I understand that this would be one more thing the moderators would have to handle, but as it should be rare, this might be acceptable; in particular, in view of the fact that such a thing getting 'out of control' might well requier then even more moderators' involvement)

    Remark: since the issue at hand is urgent, it is understandable that something was done right away; however, why that personal a text has to be 'the question' remains incomprehensible to me. Why not instead, say, the abstract question, posted anonymously; with a pre- or post-script saying, first, that the moderators approved this, and second that (of course) this question is motivated by an immideate need and those that are interested in the actual problem can click through to the user profile to find a link to more information. Or something along these lines. This would avoid, what now is inevitable, that every critical remark on the question either here or on main, can be considered as something like "I don't care that you loose your job." Where 'you' is a very concrete real-world person rather than some pseudonym (albeit a quite transparent one, due to the link, but still I think it makes a psychological difference; perhaps not completely unlike the anonymity of referees that is as discussed here also often not too real, but a typically remaining level of uncertainty can help in such situations.)

    [To be continued]
    • CommentAuthoran_mo_user
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2011
    b. Non-Controversiality. Essentially nothing is completely non-controversial, but still there are many different levels. I do not want to make up or give too many examples of what I would consider a non-controversial announcment/petition, but for example I have some recollection of activities following a somewhat recent flood in Central/Eastern Europe where mathematical libraries where destroyed and the affected researchers looking for help. To advertise such an activity to me seems as non-controversial as it can get. I would tend to also allow things a bit more controversial than this, but not too much.

    [Initial disclaimer: As said I am not knowledgeable on the mathematical landscape and general academic system in the Netherlands specifically, but by very general measures (rough geographic location, general economic development, appr. size of the country) my own background is not that far away, and in this sense likely closer than that of many others discussing on this question. And, since this is a recurring issue, let me repeat it I am a pure mathematician at a research university, slightly above thirty, and I guess about as knowledgeable as on average one is with this background on the subjects at hand.]

    This question/petition, and this was alluded to by some commenters too, might not be that uncontroversial. I don't know this, maybe it is. But, apparently, there are other mathematical research groups at that departement, too. What is their position on this question?
    This is not at all clear. Do they support this petition? Are they against it? Are they neutral towards it?
    Should one know this before signing the petition? Is it sufficient that this seems to be pure vs. applied maths to take automatically sides if it should be controversial?

    At a bare minimum I think it should be at least determined/stated whether the department in total or at least a large majority supports this.

    [Also see Gerald Edgar's comments on main.]

    c. Detailed Information. Perhaps I am strange at this, but before I sign whatever petition I want to know quite precisely what I support by signing it. That the buzz-words seem to be right, is not sufficient.

    Remark: For me the question at hand has serious shortcomings regarding this. Several of the anologs are apparently less than precise (actually, the problem at hand could be worse than at the supposed analogs, still it does not raise my general level of confidence); the title does not match the situation [also see Laurent Berger's comment].

    For example, what would I like to know (to some extent I can find this out myself,
    but maybe one could help me and others in doing so):

    .) What does 'tenured' mean precisley in the Netherlands. And, no thank you, I do not need a general explanation what 'tenure' means and why it is important.
    What I mean is: what is the precise type of position the affected people have? What is the legal status (preferably with a link to a quite technical document on this, perhaps the actual law/regulation governing this)? And, perhaps some details on how this 'theory' is typically handled in practise.

    .) Some information on the general mathematical and scientific landscape in the Netherlands.

    I assume that everybody discussing this issue is aware that the institution in question is not the only university in Amsterdam with a math. department.

    I also assume that everybody discussing this is aware how far (or actually not far) Utrecht is away from Amsterdam. In case not, to save you some time looking it up; less than 30 min by train central station to central station (according to the booking information I found on some website); and as I believe to know that the UU math dep is not in the center, I actually checked what Google maps has to say on the time it takes by car from VU Amsterdam to UU math. dep.; 40 mins. (So maybe UCLA to Caltech not Boston to Seattle.)
    This has some effect on my opinion how important it is that some research topic is available at both places. Maybe on yours, too?

    Which does not say that, thus, I have this or that opinion on the question at hand,
    the only thing I want to say is that in my opinion one needs a quite good knowledge on various circumstances to be sufficiently informed to be entitled to an opinion at all.

    [One more]
    • CommentAuthoran_mo_user
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2011
    d. Exceptionally strict policy regarding discussion/answers.

    On the question: Is it necessary to suggest to basically try to ruin the reputation of the department, so that no 'serious analyst' would apply. And, havong only 'non-serious analysts' there this will surely be of huge help to the students.

    I think I will leave it at this for now.

    Final remark: I understand that it is a difficult situation and difficult to do the right thing, but, I am sorry to say this, this petition (that is to say the way in which it is presented) certainly does not encourage me to sign it. Even if some petitions are allowed on MO, I now say it for the third time: in my opinion the presentation of this one here, should be changed.

    [But it is apparently more important to worry about a gold-badge.]

    p.s. My very personal opinion is that sending this petition over PlanetMO, would also be inappropiate.
    That being said, I certainly have no say whatsoever on this.
    • CommentAuthorgilkalai
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2011
    To an_mo_user's comment. Closing a whole unit in an academic department and firing tenured professors is such an extreme action that it cannot be accepted.
    • CommentAuthoran_mo_user
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2011 edited
    To Gil Kalai:

    I do not disagree with you, and I believe nothing I wrote is incompatible with this being an extreme action.
    In view of my already too long contrbutions, I will limit myself to one abstract point and a comment:

    In my opinion not every reaction to an unaccaptable action is automatically acceptable.

    I consider the way the petition was presented here, as not good.
    This is the main message, essentially only message, I want to transmit.

    I think I should add a comment about why I went ahead and voted to close despite someone's request to cancel out the first vote to close with their own. In general, I can understand that the vote-cancellation mechanism can save time, so that one does not need to go through the whole process of re-opening a closed question. However, in this particular case, I don't think that efficiency is the real issue; since no votes to close were actually cast before mine, pre-emptively canceling a vote to close was surely not an attempt at efficiency. It looks a lot like an emotional gesture, intended to express solidarity with Tilman's plight and to intimidate anyone who might "dare" to vote to close. What I see happening is that there are people (e.g., an_mo_user) who want to vote to close but are afraid of being stigmatized. Should we regard an_mo_user's comments here as being the "first" vote to close that is cancelled out, leaving the door open for me to cast the "second" vote to be cancelled out? Or do we have to force an_mo_user to post an official vote to close to be cancelled out? When the issue is so emotionally charged, I don't think the vote-cancellation mechanism works properly. Therefore I decided to do what seemed to be the simplest thing, namely to cast a vote to close. The worst that can happen is that the question gets closed and gets promptly re-opened (and even that doesn't seem likely to happen, given the way things are going).

    • CommentAuthoran_mo_user
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2011
    I am only named as 'e.g.' and I can well imagine somebody else could be affected by what Timothy Chow said, yet for the record: I cannot yet vote to close.
    I am inclined to agree with Timothy Chow's comment, and I followed his lead. an_mo_user also made some good points.
    Despite this, I think that the question is a good and a relevant one (but not for MO), and perhaps, beyond university politics, a greater effort to popularize mathematics within the university system might be a good idea. Once it comes to the stage of laying off tenured faculty, it's already fairly late in the day. For example to explain in a public forum (at a pop science level) some of the great results in mathematics in the last 10 or 50 years.
    I don't really understand Daniel or Timothy's rationale -- in that it seems to be largely based on the "vote cancellation mechanism" rather than on the content of the thread. I've seen an_mo_user's voluminuous posts but I don't see why Chow and Moskovich are voting to close. IMO it makes sense to let the thread run its course. At some point it will die down and we can come to a conclusion on whether or not it should be closed, and what to do with similar threads in the future.
    @Ryan I think it would be better for the thread to both run its course (and for us all to sign the petition), and to also get closed. This gives both the message that we do sympathize with the plight of those who are in danger of being laid off (and indeed, we should send that message in many different ways, and do our best to assure that things like this stop happening); and together with that message, also the message that this category of questions really ought to be closed in general. It sometimes makes sense to send this type of "mixed message". Sort of like in the military; if somebody goes on a successful mission which breaks military regulations, they both get a medal and also end up in front of a court martial.
    @Timothy : Don't try to read my mind as to why I voted to keep the question open. Mathoverflow functions as well as it does in part because we have very strong standards of civility. Part of maintaining that is following the rules, especially when it comes to voting to close questions. You decision to ignore the votes to keep the question open disenfranchises the people who have voted to keep the question open. I find this personally rather insulting.
    @Andy I disagree strongly with the sentiment expressed in your comment. There's a button to close, and in my opinion it's anyone's right to click their conscience. If there were a button to "not close" you could click it too- unfortunately "cancel my vote not to close" isn't a button. It's not incorporated in the software, and it doesn't make sense to change the rules of MO half way through the game. Keeping track of vote cancellation blocks up the comments, and nobody has the energy to count such things, I don't think- I vote strongly against such a system.
    If the thread in fact closes, you have the freedom to click to reopen (I would urge you not to, because the fact of the thread being open does nothing at all to protect any of us or to prevent such layoffs from occuring in the future). But I don't think you can go around telling people not to click the button that their conscience tells them they should be clicking.
    • CommentAuthorAndy Putman
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2011 edited
    @Daniel : We had many discussions about this on meta long ago, and we agreed on the policy that people could "vote to keep open" by leaving a comment. If you want to change this policy, create a meta thread to do so, but I don't think that anyone has the right to just ignore it.
    In case there are people that were not aware of the "vote trading" convention we've been using, here is the main thread where it was proposed:

    This is a topic that's come up over and over again, though. As far as I'm aware, people have been trying to stick to the vote trading scheme. There were a few threads about a year ago where there were wars of attrition where threads were closed and reopened repeatedly. We're trying to avoid that.
    • CommentAuthormarkvs
    • CommentTimeApr 29th 2011
    I think "vote trading" is wrong and against the current rules of MO. About the original question. I did not vote to close but eliminating a department of mathematics in Amsterdam is not the end of the world. As I understand, the Tohoku department of mathematics in Sendai (Japan) was recently closed due to the fact that the University is destroyed by the earthquake. That is a more serious problem. Why don't we collect signatures to protest against large earthquakes? I think that MO is not the right forum for these questions, and that petitions won't increase the budget of VU. Perhaps a better solution would be asking for money instead of signatures.

    @Andy: Of course anyone has the right to ignore it.

    @markvs is that true about the Math Department of Tohoku University being closed? If so, it would be a disaster on a grand scale for us, because it's a tremendously strong department. However, I have heard nothing of its closure in the Japanese language press or on their homepage. Yes, the math library was damaged, and yes, they are suffering some difficulties, but was the department actually closed = shut down???
    @everyone-else I was not aware of the "vote trading" convention. If it's used, it makes sense to incorporate in into the software (although I know it's easier said than done). Doing it in the comments, in the words of markvs, seems wrong, because it's a pain to count, and in bungs up the comments to a thread. Personally, I'd suggest simply voting to close once- one vote per person- or to reopen once if a thread gets closed, which prevents a war of attrition in a more effective way. Anyway, there will be no war of attrition in this case. Certainly I plan on voting precisely once (which I have already done), and I assume that others do as well.
    • CommentAuthormarkvs
    • CommentTimeApr 29th 2011
    @Daniel: I was told that the University is badly damaged, not just the library, and is not working. The information is second or third hand of course, and I do not read Japanese. In any case, what happened to the people in Sendai, including mathematicians (I personally know some of them) - is much worse than what is going to happen in Amsterdam. People from Sendai whom I know are just happy to be alive.
    @Daniel : Of course it would make sense to incorporate it into the software. However, that not just "easier said than done" -- it's impossible! We don't have the ability to change the software. The whole point of this annoying system is that it is the best hack we could come up to make voting to close actually "voting". The consensus was that closing and then reopening was a bad solution because it was perceived as insulting to the questioner.
    @markvs: it's "wrong"?? It's the convention of the forum. Perhaps you don't like it but calling it wrong is silly.
    • CommentAuthormarkvs
    • CommentTimeApr 29th 2011
    @Ryan: This "convention" does not exist, it is a product of your imagination. At least it is not in the FAQ.

    Perhaps markvs has misinterpreted the term "closed" to mean "permanently shut down" instead of "various facilities temporarily unavailable" - they have an English page describing the situation here. Pretty much every library within about 400 kilometers of the epicenter sustained some damage, but they obviously got shaken much more in Sendai than we did in the Tokyo area. At any rate, from the standpoint of job security, it doesn't seem to be a valid example for comparison with the situation at VU Amsterdam. Tilman is asking about ways to convince other humans to change their minds (and not to increase the budget, but to shift priorities), and the fact that actions like petitions and letter-writing campaigns are even conceivably effective is an essential difference from earthquakes and tsunamis.

    • CommentAuthormarkvs
    • CommentTimeApr 29th 2011
    @Scott: If your information is correct, it would be very nice. My info is from a US co-author of a mathematician in Tohoku. I do not want to write directly to Tahoku because I do not want to bother them now with my curiosity. As I understand the situation in Amsterdam, they just do not have money and need to close a department. Usually math faculty have higher salaries than faculty from some other department (at least that is the case in our University, as far as I know). Thus you either fire 4 mathematicians or 6 tenure faculty from other departments. Both choices are bad but the cause (lack of money) cannot be changed by petitions, just like the earthquake. Perhaps I am wrong.
    • CommentAuthorRyan Budney
    • CommentTimeApr 29th 2011 edited
    @markvs: please help me understand, are you saying that the community can not make any decisions unless they list them in the FAQ? in essence the meta forum is only a staging ground for considering modifications to the FAQ?

    And could the Tohoku discussion be moved elsewhere?
    • CommentAuthoralias
    • CommentTimeApr 29th 2011
    "As I understand the situation in Amsterdam, they just do not have money and need to close a department."

    Do you have any basis for this statement?
    • CommentAuthormarkvs
    • CommentTimeApr 29th 2011
    The only basis I have is the MO post. Perhaps I read it incorrectly, and the situation is more complicated. Say, the administration there just hates mathematicians (because they got C in calculus many years ago).
    • CommentAuthoran_mo_user
    • CommentTimeApr 29th 2011
    alias, could you clarify what you mean? My problem is I could at least imagine two completely different things you mean.
    • CommentAuthormarkvs
    • CommentTimeApr 29th 2011
    @Ryan: The rules that are not in FAQ are not the rules of the forum by definition. Since it is clear to me and not clear to you, I do not see any point in arguing about it. What should be clear to you is that this rule makes voting to close/reopen not anonymous which contradicts the rule that the names of the people who close are made public only when there are 5 of them (which is quite reasonable).
    • CommentAuthoralias
    • CommentTimeApr 29th 2011
    "alias, could you clarify what you mean? My problem is I could at least imagine two completely different things you mean. "

    I do not think that the information available on MO is enough to know that the reason is money, and much less that closing a department is the only solution. The comparison to an earthquake is very misplaced, unless markvs has some additional information, thus my question.
    • CommentAuthormarkvs
    • CommentTimeApr 29th 2011
    @alias: what is your reading of this post then? What is the reason of closing? I remember that when I was in University of Nebraska, one year there was a budget crises, and the University wanted to close a department (not Math) because of that. I do not remember the outcome (most probably they did not because there were some tenured faculty there), but as I understood then, a University may want to close a department because of budget problems.

    Dear markvs,

    We've discussed the convention of "votes to keep open" on meta before. Ryan links to the relevant thread above. It's true that there's nothing about this in the FAQ, and that that thread discusses a number of different proposals. Nevertheless, this convention has been more or less in practice for a few months now, and it's silly to deny its existence. You're allowed to ignore it, of course, but I think at this point it is at least somewhat rude to do so. (Of course, often being somewhat rude is a fine course of action.) You can certainly start a new thread here on meta to propose that we cancel this convention --- there is a strong argument that it hasn't worked out so well, and the clutter is not worth the prevention of the open/close cycles we were seeing previously. But, as a simple matter of fact, this convention exists.

    best, Scott

    • CommentAuthormarkvs
    • CommentTimeApr 29th 2011
    @Scott: I do not have anything to say about this convention except what I have said above. I do not want to follow it, but if somebody wants, I can't and won't stop them. I did not know about that discussion on meta, and would not know about it if it was not mentioned here. I think there should be some way to notify MO members about new rules by changing the FAQ, and somehow showing that it is revised. As I remember, even though the software cannot be changed, a moderator can make some text displayed on the main page. The text can say that the FAQ has been changed.
    • CommentAuthoran_mo_user
    • CommentTimeMay 1st 2011 edited
    If I were a bit more cynical, I would be very happy about the last answer [ADDED meanwhile deleted].
    Since I'm not, I repeat my increasingly desperate request:

    Somebody with the power to do so, please stop this!

    p.s. I should add that Tilman immideately very strongly distanced himself from this 'answer,'
    which I find very good. Still, discussions like this simply have a tendency to get ugly
    and personal, and thus in my opinion are best not held on the internet (except perhaps
    with a very very strict moderation system not available here).
    Perhaps it's time to close this thread ?

    It seems to have served its purpose. My main reason to vote to close is to diminish the amount populist non-research types questions are perceived as being important to MO. Right now this is the highest-voted open question, and I think that sends a confusing message to new users.

    I found my way back to this ancient meta thread because of the recent (closed) "Lost soul" question, and was surprised to see Andy Putman's response to me. I went and read the other meta thread on vote trading just now and saw no "consensus" about vote trading, or any indication that it's a "rule" that no one has the "right" to ignore. Nor is it a "policy"; Andrew Stacey made a good distinction between a "policy" and a "convention" and vote-trading is at most the latter. It also doesn't "disenfranchise" anyone to violate the convention since if the question gets closed, the vote-trader can always fall back on the old system of voting to reopen.

    So I'm not sure why Andy Putman felt insulted. Perhaps it was because he perceived that I was trying to read his mind (in which case I'm probably insulting him again now with this sentence). I can't see that I've done anything wrong, or acted uncivilly, and I still think that in the particular case of this highly-emotionally-charged question, it was important for someone to cast an actual vote to close. That Andy, in my opinion, overreacted to what was at worst a violation of a recent and not universally known or accepted convention, just strengthens my feeling that something about this question caused people's emotions to trump reason, and that it was important to try to correct that somehow.