## Interview of D. Ransom Whitney by Tom Willke

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##### Contributors:

Willke, Tom##### Subjects (LCSH):

Ohio State University. Dept. of Mathematics -- HistoryMathematical statistics -- History

Ohio State University. Dept. of Statistics -- History

Mann, Henry B. (Henry Berthold)

Whitney, D. Ransom (Donald Ransom) -- Interviews

Ohio State University -- History -- Sources

##### Issue Date:

2006##### Metadata

Show full item record##### Publisher:

Ohio State University Archives##### Series/Report no.:

Ohio State University. University Archives Oral History Program. Ohio State University Oral History Project##### Abstract:

After education at Oberlin College and Princeton University majoring in mathematics, Whitney served as an officer in the Navy during WWII first teaching celestial navigation and later serving on the USS Atlanta, a light cruiser, as a radar officer. He served in the South Pacific, and arrived in Japan just as the war ended. Once discharged Whitney enrolled at The Ohio State University in 1946 and accepted a Teaching Assistantship. His dissertation advisor was Henry Mann, who later became a close personal friend. Whitney was introduced to the field of statistics largely through the teaching and encouragement of Professor Mann. As a graduate student Whitney taught a course on calculus for engineers with an emphasis on statistics.
After completing his dissertation he joined the faculty at Ohio State
since he saw a unique opportunity to develop there an excellent program in statistics. He also wished to continue his professional and personal relationship with Professor Mann. Their collaboration led to the famous Mann-Whitney test, “a non-parametric or distribution free alternative to the standard two sample test.”
As a young instructor he was involved in the creation of the Numerical Computation Lab. Housed initially in a WWII Quonset hut, the lab featured a sorter computer for processing Keypunch cards, and an electronic card program calculator that internally stored memory. Improved processing of data came soon after with introduction of the IBM650 computer. Before long ever more powerful computers were available, including the 701, 704, 7090, and the 360. From that start through the 1980’s, under the strong leadership of Roy Reeves, the National Computer Laboratory became the very large academic computer center, the Instructional Research Computer Center (IRCC) housed today in Baker Hall.
In the mid-1950’s the Mathematics Department was housed in ancient University Hall where space was so restricted that there was no room for the departmental library. It had to be placed in the Main Library, a genuine inconvenience. There was some sentiment that other departments, such as Physics, got stronger support than Mathematics from the administration. The Psychology Department and the Statistics Laboratory also used part of University Hall, and there were classrooms on the third floor. In 1970 the Statistics Laboratory was moved to Cockins Hall. But space was still tight in University Hall. Even major full professors, such as Marshall Hall and Herbert Ryser, had only tiny offices with room for a small desk, one chair, and a single light bulb. All of the graduate assistants were crowded into a single room. Sometimes their conferences with students had to be held in the hallway. Staircases were narrow and there was a genuine fear of the danger of fire. Once, part of the fourth floor of aging University Hall collapsed under the weight of heavy equipment. About 1962 the “new” Mathematics Building was built. It was attached to Cockins Hall, but faced 18th Avenue right across from the Post Office. The Mathematics Tower, the far newer taller building on 17th Avenue, was built much later.
Rising rapidly in the Department Whitney was named Interim Chairman in the early 1960’s even though he was not the most senior member of the Department. He was concerned that several excellent faculty members had departed, and he wrote a letter to President Novice Fawcett, which was forwarded to Osborn Fuller, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, in which he urged that the matter be reviewed. Fuller made a thorough review of the Mathematics Department, and this led to the appointment of Arnold Ross, who came from Notre Dame, as Chairman. Many new faculty members were quickly added, including John Riner and Bob Fisher, and one or two from India. In the 1950’s the total was around 30, although the Department shrank some in the 1960’s. For a time a core of the Department, including Whitney, were faculty who had taken their degree at Ohio State, and this made it harder for newcomers from the outside to feel integrated into the Department. Once Arnold Ross became Chairman he overcame much of this ingrown attitude as he hired many new faculty, and over time the total number grew to 90. Ross asked Whitney to be his second-in-command, but Whitney declined.
For a time it was difficult to recruit sufficient faculty to handle the growing number of students. Some courses had an enrollment of 500 students. As a temporary solution Ross experimented with some classes being taught on television. He also attracted a number of very bright graduate students; these were used to teach many classes, and several ex-high school teachers were hired as well. Ross did not form search committees for new faculty hires, but would solicit opinions, as he thought appropriate, from members of the department. Promotion and Tenure were handled equally informally. There was no consultation then with an Office of Human Resources, or a need to follow Affirmative Action guidelines.
Close cooperation was developed with the Business School; this included teaching Mathematics 131, 132, and 133. Elements of these courses included trigonometry, analytic geometry, calculus, discrete mathematics, statistics, and even some actuarial work. Whitney published a textbook that was used in these courses, but it was difficult to recruit teachers who could handle them properly. The College of Education requested that its students receive special courses for its students only. Leslie Miller designed these courses.
In a successful effort to further friendships within the Department, Whitney and his wife, Marian, hosted an open house (known as Math 1001) on the first Saturday evening of every month. It featured pool, bridge, drinks, coffee, and friendly conversation.
Whitney was very instrumental in the early 1950’s (and for the rest of his career) in developing an interest in statistics. The Industrial Engineering Department requested a course on statistics for its students. The Department of Agriculture had also shown an interest in using statistics. Often one of their students was sent to talk to Whitney. The Research Foundation sent Whitney and some others to visit the Bell Laboratories, and later on to IBM to learn more about computers.
In his first year on the faculty the Statistics Laboratory was formally recognized. Several departments saw the utility to their own programs of a first-rate statistics lab, and it was, of course, of immense importance to the Department of Mathematics for teaching purposes. Whitney pointed out that contrary to popular belief mathematics is not always an exact science, and students could learn this in the Statistics Lab. For example, he said, that “two-thirds” is not really something concrete, but an abstract notion. In Whitney’s view the skills a student could learn in the Statistics Lab had great practical value, certainly for those who later pursued a teaching career. Once students had mastered practical applications of mathematics in the Statistics Lab they could better move on to understand or develop the theories that flowed from them.
Initially the card punch and sorter for the computer for the Statistics Lab was housed in University Hall, but later the computer was moved to the first floor of Cockins Hall. In the late 1950’s the computer was housed for a time at the Research Foundation on Kinnear Road, and later at Baker Hall. In time the Mathematics Department moved again, this time to the new Mathematics Building, actually an extension of Cockins Hall. In the new building there was sufficient room to house much of their library. But detailed planning was inadequate, and much space was wasted. Bookshelves which could easily have been placed in corner spaces were left out.
In addition to the valuable practical experience students gained from the Lab, extra income accrued to the university from fees charged for requests for statistical services that came from outside the university, and this money usually supported students in some way. Still, more income might have been generated from seeking outside contracts, but there was no interest in running a business. For many years for faculty and graduate students the work of the Statistics Lab was basically a free service, but the establishment of “rotary accounts” in the 1950’s allowed certain modest fees to be collected. These funds were used to support students. Lydia Kinzer worked in the Statistics Lab, and continued to render valuable service for many years although she did not have a faculty appointment.
Sometime after 1959 the Master’s Thesis was eliminated as a degree requirement for most students in Mathematics and Statistics. Whitney and Hans Zassenhaus voted against the change. Whitney required his own students to write a Master’s thesis, and many wrote on “Paired Comparisons.”
At this time Whitney reports the Department of Mathematics was unusually strong in the fields of algebra and analysis, and Professors Hall, Kleinfeld and Riser were doing important research in number, group and measure theory. None of the graduate courses in mathematics were considered the exclusive domain of any particular professor. Few full professors were hired from the outside, although Stephen Drobot in applied mathematics, hired in 1951, was an exception. Whitney remarks that there was much movement in and out of the department. Chairman Helsel was attentive to securing proper salaries for faculty, and the monthly social gathering at Whitney’s home, the so-called Mathematics 1001, helped to build departmental spirit, but still many left. Possible reasons were the “ingrownness” of the department, and the poor facilities at the time in University Hall.
In the early 1960’s several faculty from the Department of Mathematics were assigned to work in the Statistics Laboratory, including Richard Barnes, John Riner, Jessie Shapiro, and Ransom Whitney. Among other responsibilities the group served as consultants to the Department of Commerce on mathematical issues. This original small group expanded as economists from the College of Commerce and some students were added. Regular meetings were held to exchange ideas. Separately, but about the same time, a new major was introduced in mathematics which included such areas as game theory, statistics, and computers. Whitney, with the help of Jessie Shapiro, wrote a new textbook, but it was not a great commercial success. Undergraduate education was expanded with the introduction of Mathematics 131, 132, and 133.
In the late 1960’s sentiment was emerging to create a separate Department of Statistics. Professors Henry Mann and Earl Green both championed the creation of the new department, and Arnold Ross, Chairman of Mathematics, voiced no objection. Jagdish Rustagi, hired in 1963, was the first major new addition to Statistics. Other new appointments in the area of Statistics in the 1960’s were Peter Anderson and Jagnir Singh.
In 1970 an autonomous Statistics Divisions was created within the College of Mathematics and Physical Sciences, and in 1973, as mentioned, Statistics became a Department. No one played a greater role in the creation of this new Department than Professor Whitney. By this time the new Department had 10 or 11 faculty. Peter Anderson, Doug Wolfe, Greg Mack, Ted Archambault, Keith Everhard, and Austin Barron were hired. Jesse Shapiro remained in the Department of Mathematics but taught several courses in Statistics. Not all faculty of course remained permanently, and new hires were made regularly. Other names added in the 1970’s include Michael Fligner, George Policello, and Jason Hsu. Whitney secured separate course listings for the new Department.
Somewhat earlier, to the disappointment of Whitney, a new Department of Computer and Information Science had been created within the College of Engineering. He had advocated the creation of a School of Mathematical Sciences that would have included subunits of pure math, applied math, statistics, and computer science. Since that dream had been shattered, he now advocated the creation of a separate Statistics Department independent of Mathematics.
There remained a strong emphasis on the Statistics Laboratory and on applied science; there was less interest in hiring pure theoreticians. Given the emphasis on practicality, graduates of the Ohio State program had little trouble in finding jobs. There were some Statistics Departments in other universities – Catholic University, for example – that favored a more “theoretical probability” approach to mathematics. Ohio State, however, favored a broader, more practical, less theoretical, background for mathematicians when making new hires for its own department.
Whitney and most of his colleagues thought of themselves first and foremost as a member of the Professorate, i.e. a member of the University faculty, rather than as an advocate for a narrow departmental or personal field. Whitney also spoke to the value of faculty developing social as well as professional contacts with faculty from other departments. President Gordon Gee had encouraged such interaction. The best opportunity for such contacts came from the Faculty Club, but even there many faculty routinely ate lunch only with friends from their own department. Furthermore, many, if not most, faculty never joined the Faculty Club. The current trend in universities worldwide is for faculty to focus more and more exclusively on their own research and area; this allows little time for social and departmental interaction such as the Faculty Club facilitated. Also, some younger faculty may find the Club too expensive for lunch. Whitney served a term as President of the Faculty Club. He was also a founding member of the Ohio State University Retirees Association (OSURA). The local chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) was helpful in starting OSURA; it furnished mailing lists, etc. Madison Scott was also helpful. Whitney was also instrumental in starting the monthly Tertulia breakfasts for retired faculty at the Club.
Whitney explained some of his attitudes about students as he reflected on his long experience at Ohio State. High school students have had too many distractions, extra-curricular activities, cars, television, etc. and many never learned proper study habits, especially if their parents failed to monitor their activities. Consequently many drop out of college after their first year. There may have been too much reliance on computers. Whitney recalls the story of an engineering student, one of their best ever, said a colleague, who had no idea where to place a “damn decimal point.” After his retirement Whitney received the Distinguished Service Award.

##### Description:

William A. T. “Ted” Archambault, Jr.: Assistant Prof. of Statistics (p. 137)
-- Frederick Richard Bamforth: Professor of Mathematics at Ohio State (p. 12)
-- Jack Belzer: (pp. 109-110
) -- Blumberg: Professor of Mathematics at Ohio State (pp. 12-13, 33-34, 103) -- Colin Bull: Dean of the College of Mathematics and Physical Sciences (p. 130) --
Marion Burnstein: (p. 178)
-- Henry Colson: Professor of Mathematics (pp. 52, 176-77) --
John Corbally: Provost at Ohio State, President of Syracuse University (p. 142
) -- Bill Davis: Professor of Mathematics (pp. 61-62) --
Stephen Drobot: Professor of Mathematics (pp. 51, 60-61, 106) --
Edward J. Dudewicz: Professor of Statistics (pp. 138, 140-142
) -- Bob Dudgeon: (pp. 88, 90, 94-95) --
Novice Fawcett: President of Ohio State (pp. 79-80) --
Robert Fisher: Professor of Mathematics (pp. 57, 80, 122, 124) --
James Osborn Fuller: Dean, College of Arts and Sciences (pp. 129-30
) -- Robert Gardner: Professor of Mathematics (p. 178
) -- Alfred D. Garrett: Professor of Chemistry (p. 109) --
Gordon Gee: President of Ohio State (p. 169
) -- Earl Green: Prof. of Genetics (pp. 23-24, 125, 177) --
Bruce W. Griffin: Professor of Biology (p. 80) --
Marshall -- Hall: Professor of Mathematics (pp. 31-32, 60, 62, 79, 106, 171) --
Woody Hayes: (pp. 220-21) --
Howard Hedlesson: Professor (p. 178) --
Robert Helsel: Prof. & Chair of Mathematics (pp. 11-12, 28, 58, 63, 78-79, 107, 118-
19, 123-24, 187, 193, 215) --
Robert Henry: (p. 82
) -- Karen Holbrook: President of Ohio State (p. 220
) -- Harold Hotelling: Professor of Statistics, Univ. of North Carolina (p. 102) --
Virginia Hoy: secretary to the Statistics Department (p. 178
)-- Lydia Kinzer: (pp. 89, 178, 181, 184
) -- Erwin Kleinfeld: Associate Professor of Mathematics (p. 106
) -- Erwin D. Kreyszig: Professor of Mathematics (p. 78) --
Norman Levine: Professor of Mathematics (p. 35
) -- James Ray McCoy: Dean, College of Commerce (p. 111) --
Greg Mack: Graduate Student in Statistics, later Vice President of Battelle (p. 137) --
Henry Mann: Professor of Mathematics (pp. 13-14, 30-31, 62, 82, 157, 177) --
Paul Maranda: Graduate Student of Mathematics (pp. 178, 183) --
Earl John Mickle: Professor of Mathematics (pp. 8, 107, 193)
-- Leslie Miller: Professor of Mathematics (pp. 51, 86, 110, 123-24) --
Robert Miller: (p. 124
) -- Alexander Mood; author of a textbook on statistics, (pp. 25, 27) --
Bill Morris: Professor of Industrial Engineering (p. 20
) -- H. N. Nagaragna: Professor of Statistics (p. 151) --
Tom Obremski: Assistant Professor in Statistics (p. 164) --
Bert Price: Graduate Student in Statistics (p. 186
) -- Tibor Rado: Chairman of Mathematics Department (pp. 11, 13, 29, 31, 166) --
Roy Reeves: Professor of Mathematics (pp. 42, 86-87, 91, 103, 110, 128
) -- Paul Reichelderfer: Prof. of Mathematics (pp. 11-12, 28, 31, 46
) -- John Riner: Professor of Mathematics (pp. 57, 111, 117, 122) --
Mohammed Rizvi: Prof. of Statistics (pp. 130, 186
) -- Arnold Ross: Professor and Chairman, Dept. of Mathematics (pp. 46, 100, 187-89
) -- Fred Ruland: (pp. 87, 95) --
Jagdish Rustagi: Professor of Statistics (pp. 151, 186, 190, 213-14) --
Herb Ryser: Professor of Mathematics (pp. 31-32, 60, 79, 81, 106, 171) --
Thomas Santner: Professor and Chair of Statistics (p. 151) --
Harold Schecter: Prof. of Chemistry (pp. 213, 219
) -- Madison Scott: (p. 209) --
Jessie Shapiro; Prof. of Mathematics (pp. 111, 115, 127, 162)
-- Bob Silverman: Professor of Mathematics at Wright State (pp 183-84
) -- John Skillings: Prof. of Statistics at Bowling Green University (p. 137) --
Charles Summerson: Professor of Geology (p. 217
) -- Louis Sucheston: Professor of Mathematics (p. 192)
-- John Synge Lighton: Professor and Chairman of Mathematics (pp. 10-11, 30-31) --
Bert K. Waits: Professor of Mathematics (p. 122) --
(Hans Zassenhaus: Professor of Mathematics (pp. 49, 61, 99-100, 156, 190, 216) --
Joseph Zilber: Professor of Mathematics p. 122)

##### Type:

Transcript##### Other Identifiers:

SPEC.RG.40.268##### Collections

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