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The Department of Mathematics at the University of Utah is committed to excellence in research and teaching at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Its mission is:

  • To provide each student at the University of Utah with a rigorous and effective mathematical education, be he or she the general student, the professional for whom mathematics is a tool, the future engineer or scientist, or the future mathematician.
  • To contribute significantly to the creation and development of mathematical ideas and techniques, both within the discipline and for users of mathematics in other disciplines or in industry.
  • To increase the public understanding of mathematics and of the central role it plays in science and technology.


*The following list contains the names of the individuals who functioned as "head" of the Mathematics Department from the University's inception. In the early years, only one man taught math and there was no actual "department," but that rapidly changed as the University grew.


The University was established and named the University of Deseret by the General Assembly of the provisional State of Deseret, and Orson Spencer was appointed as the first chancellor of the University. Orson Pratt and others were appointed to teach mathematics, but only taught for a couple of winters before  (for variety of reasons) the University's doors were closed in 1853.


The University was re-established in 1867 under the direction of David O. Calder, and in 1869, John R. Park was appointed president. Park enlisted Orson Pratt's services to aid in teaching the mathematics courses.


Joseph L. Rawlins was placed in charge of mathematics instruction at Orson Pratt's recommendation. Rawlins left to further his education at Indiana University, but he later returned in 1873 to the University to teach mathematics and Latin. In 1875 he resigned in favor to pursue studies in the law; he was admitted to the bar that same year. Rawlins later was elected as a Democrat and served as the Utah Territory's delegate to the 53rd Congress (1893-1895) and Democrat to the United States Senate (1886-1903) after Utah became a state in 1896.


When Joseph L. Rawlins resigned, he was replaced by Joseph B. Toronto, who served with John R. Park and Jospeh T. Kingsbury as the only faculty at the University for many years. Toronto taught calculus like his predecessors, but he also taught history and languages. Due to the lack of faculty, math courses were limited. After 1876 only algebra, geometry, and trigonometry were taught until 1888. During the 1888-89 school year, Toronto commenced teaching analytic geometry and calculus again.


Joseph B. Toronto was replaced by Charles Veneziani, who outlined courses for a bachelor's degree--the first time the University offered courses in mathematics for four full years of study. He also outlined the first graduate courses for the University, which included subjects like Higher Plane Curves, Three Dimensional Geometry, Theory of Numbers, Theory of Probability, Celestial Mechanics, Reimann Surfaces, Advanced Quaternions, Advanced Elliptic Functions, Hyperelliptic Functions, Abelian Functions, Fourier Series, Potential Theory and Calculus of Variations. Enrollments in mathematics increased due to the changes instituted by Veneziani. To aid in the increased workload, the University enlisted the aid of Lieutenant Walter K. Wright.


The University's name was changed to the University of Utah, and John R. Park obtained land belonging to the U.S. Army's Fort Douglas on the east bench of the Salt Lake Valley for the proposed campus.

William J. Kerr stepped in after Charles Veneziani left. He continued on Veneziani's work with the four-year bachelor's degree program and made significant contributions of his own. Kerr organized The Utah Mathematical Society (1893-1898) with the purpose of awakening interest in mathematics and aiding in its advancement. In 1894 he accepted an offer to become the next president of Brigham Young College in Logan, Utah. He served as president until 1907 and then moved on to become the president of University of Oregon.

In 1893, Joseph L. Rawlins secured a title to sixty acres of the Fort Douglas military reservation land for the University.


Joseph B. Toronto returned for a second term as chair of the department (during the years of 1897-1904, Toronto was also listed as the Vice President of the University).

The University moved to the new location--Fort Douglas Reservation--permanently in 1900. Buildings were constructed on the Fort Douglas property, specifically on  Presidents Circle.


Joseph B. Toronto retired, and James Lambert Gibson was appointed chairman of the Mathematics Department in the fall of 1904. There were only three mathematics faculty at this time, including Gibson.

Gibson later went on to become the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences in 1915 (while still teaching math, and he remained a dean until his retirement  in 1941). As dean, Gibson was able to obtain national accreditation for his school.

In 1917 the Mathematics Department produced its first graduate degree. Samuel S. Smith received an M.S. degree for his work on the development of statics. Smith later was hired by Gibson to teach math on a temporary basis from 1917-1919; in 1922 he became a permanent member of the mathematics faculty.

The first women faculty, Dr. Anna A. Stafford and Dr. Harriet Rees, were hired in 1938. Gibson appointed six faculty during his time as chair.


Ernest W. Pehrson stepped in as chairman in 1941. As chair, his greatest obstacle was decreased enrollment during World War II; however, by 1946, enrollment had doubled. Additional students also required an increase in the number of faculty appointed to the Mathematics Department. Pehrson hired seven additional professors. The number of faculty members hired had increased from three in 1905 to five in 1941and eleven in 1948.  

In 1946 Dr. A. Ray Olpin was elected President of the University.


Clarence R. Wylie became chairman. During Wylie's time, curriculum was radically changed and increased. Twice as many courses were offered, and as a result, the first two doctoral degrees in mathematics were awarded in 1954. Even though the Ph.D. program developed slowly, significant progress was made in the graduate program leading to a master's degree. 

When Wylie stepped down as chairman in 1967, the Mathematics Department had granted 36 Ph.D.s, 168 master's degrees, and 446 bachelor's degrees during his 19-year administration.


C. Edmund Burgess was appointed chairman upon Wylie's resignation. One of the first and most important activities Burgess undertook was the organization of a mathematics research library that was separate and distinct from the main campus library. It opened in 1969 and had about 1700 books and 3300 volumes of journals. The library became an important tool in recruiting new faculty and students. 

Burgess's second accomplishment was relocating the math faculty offices to the John A. Widstoe Building. These changes were a result of sharp increases in enrollment and were important to ensuring a well organized and fully functioning faculty and staff.

Expansion during Burgess's years as chair required a considerable amount of funding. Burgess fought long and hard to obtain funds to enable growth in faculty and facilities. He built significantly on the foundation laid by Wylie and helped develop the University's  worldwide reputation as a first-class mathematics department. The following table provides some comparisons of departmental growth from 1904 to 1977:


Gibson (1904-41)





Pehrson (1941-48)





Wylie (1948-67)





Burgess (1967-77)












After Burgess retired, Hugo Rossi stepped in as chair. Rossi wanted to encourage more women to pursue science and mathematics degrees. Influenced by such women as Lenore Blum (mathematician, co-founder of Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) and Michèle Vergne (French mathematician, specializing in analysis and representation theory) helped motivate Rossi to develop the ACCESS Program for Women in Science & Mathematics. 


As chair of the department, Joseph L. Taylor recruited top mathematicians, helping to lead the department to national prominence. Dr. Taylor also served as the U's Dean of the College of Science from 1985 to 1987 and as Vice President for Academic Affairs from 1987 to 1990. Taylor was known for his willingness to tackle some of the the most significant mathematical problems of his era, bringing new ideas and tools to the task and enhancing the reputation of the department.


Recruited from New York University's prestigious Courant Institute, Frank C. Hoppensteadt joined the department and became chair in 1982. He helped develop a strong mathematical biology team, the roots of which still exist today. Under his leadership, James Keener and Hans Othmer joined the faculty. During his tenure, the field of computer science evolved as a separate area from mathematics. 


During T. Benny Rushing's time as chair, the department continued to grow and was ranked as the most improved mathematics department in the United States. The computing  facilities moved from a ranking of poor to one of the best of any mathematics department in the country, with VAX 8600 supermini, 13 Sun workstations (with fileserver, ect.), a graphic lab (with a mini computer), and an instructional computing lab (which included 20 Macintosh Pluses networked to a DEC 20, etc.).

At the time, the department taught over 7% of the student credit hours of the entire University, including the Medical School. 

Nineteen members of the faculty held research grants with the National Science Foundation and other research agencies, with a total annual dollar amount of $1,303,946.


Klaus Schmitt as chair saw many changes within the department. While the 1980s were the decade of declining enrollments in mathematics, science, and engineering degree programs, the trend appeared to reverse during the 1990s. There was a 6.7% increase in student credit hours just within a year.

Advancements made in technology ushered in changes within the department. Computing was incorporated into much of the curriculum, which began a degree emphasis in scientific computing. The computing facilities also saw changes. Graduate students' offices were filled with MACs and PCs, while the DEC 20 and VAX 8600 had become obsolete. 


When T. Benny Rushing began his second stint as chair of the department, one of his goals was to get rid of the barracks that had been used for tutoring and build a more attractive and permanent space to serve the needs of math students. Ultimately, his  vision was realized under the leadership of James Carlson

Rushing was known for his ability to get things done and to use diplomacy to diffuse tensions among faculty, especially between the areas of pure and applied mathematics. He was considered a tireless champion for the department. 


Paul C. Fife had originally been tapped to teach at Brigham Young University, but chose instead to join the U's math department. Fife worked on building and expanding the area of applied mathematics and was responsible for hiring Calvin Wilcox and Graeme Milton.


During the 1960s the University had enjoyed a period of legislative funding and expansion, which resulted in new buildings for biology, chemistry, and physics. Math was also promised a new building, but by 1970, the funds had been exhausted. The department was asked to settle for a remodeled Widstoe building. The department agreed, but asked the administration to adopt a plan to meet the needs of math into the 21st century. The long-range plan called for the construction of a new structure which would connect the Cowles and Widstoe buildings.

At this time James Carlson was chair and oversaw the LeRoy E. Cowles Building (LCB) renovations and construction of the T. Benny Rushing Mathematics Student Center in April 2000. In December 2001 everything was completed, and after nearly 30 years of building and classroom maneuvering, the Department of Mathematics was finally housed in a single complex. This was made possible by the generosity of the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation.

The department was awarded the National Science Foundation's Vertical Integration of Research and Education (VIGRE) grantThe C. Bryant and Clara C. Copley Scholarship Fund was established to benefit students in mathematics at the University.


Following James Carlson, Graeme Milton became chair in June of 2002, and Nathan Smale  was named associate chair. Graeme was chair for only two weeks when the president of the University called to say there had been a major flood in the LeRoy E. Cowles Building (LCB). The entire computer system (and internet) was out, as was heating/air-conditioning, and the elevator shaft was warped. A major pipe into the building had broken. Fortunately, everyone rallied to help keep things flowing, but it was a challenging introduction to serving as chair. 

During his tenure, the department received an Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) grant for the Mathematics Biology Research Program to train a new generation of mathematical biologists. Many of the programs under the VIGRE grant were enacted during this time, including ACCESS, Math Circle, MESA/STEP, Summer High School Program, etc. With remaining funds from the renovation of LCB, the Nadahoo'ah program at Monument Valley High School (intiated by Herb Clemens and reinvigorated by Kelly MacArthur) began in 1994. 

The loft on the top floor of LCB was redesigned to incorporate a space for graduate students. The Dumke Family donated a total of $125,000 to make the project a reality. On February 23, 2004 the loft was dedicated and given a new name, Dumke Loft. 


Aaron Bertram became chair in 2005. During his time, the department received a continuation of the VIGRE grant, extending its support until 2013.

One of Bertram's most notable achievements was holding the department together during the Great Recession and during the budgetary cuts that followed. During this time the department did not scale back its graduate or postdoc programs and was able to continue hiring at the tenure-track level.


During Peter E. Trapa's term as chair, the department hired ten outstanding faculty members in a wide spectrum of pure and applied mathematics; grew annual research expenditures to about $4M; secured new departmental endowments of about $1.8M; and implemented a number of student-centered initiatives (like enhanced advising and extra lab sections for many lower-division classes) aimed at improving student success in critical gateway courses.


Davar Khoshnevisan became chair in 2017. During the early part of his tenure, Distinguished Professor Christopher Hacon was named the first McMinn Presidential Endowed Chair in Mathematics at the U. In additon, Hacon was also awarded the prestigious 2018 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics.



PHONE: (801) 581-6851
FAX: (801) 581-4148 
Last Updated: 5/24/24