Alexander Coward is currently employed by UC Berkeley as a lecturer in the mathematics department, but in October of last year, the department notified him that his contract would be terminated in June of 2016. This in itself would be unremarkable (lecturers notoriously lack leverage against their employers), save for the fact that Coward, by all accounts, is among the most popular and well-respected professors on campus. By his own reporting, his "teaching effectiveness" scores surpassed anyone else in recorded department history.

Why would UC Berkeley fire one of their most popular professors? In a letter published on his personal website last night titled "Blowing The Whistle On The UC Berkeley Mathematics Department," Coward alleges it's because the department has made a "practice of systematically removing the best teachers."

Here's the reason why the math department is incentivized to take out their best professors, according to Coward:

Indeed, it is an open secret on the UC Berkeley campus that the administration and other departments are jolly cross with the Mathematics Department for not preparing students adequately. The argument used by the Mathematics Department in response to this is to say something like "It's easy for you, you teach these cool subjects that students are interested in and choose to do because it's their chosen major. Take it from us. Teaching these kids calculus is just impossible. That's why our student evaluations are terrible and students aren't prepared for your courses." The argument then concludes, as articulated by a member of Senate Faculty in his response to my open letter of December 15, 2014, something like: "Give us more money and more resources and we'll do better."


Paraphrased: the math department is traditionally terrible at teaching classes. Other departments require their students to take math courses as a major requirement, and are not happy (or "jolly cross") that math is taught terribly. The math department argues it needs more money in order to teach the kids more effectively. And so the presence of a well-liked professor like Coward in the department damages this strategy.

And, clearly, Coward is well-liked: a protest to "keep Coward at Cal" next week already has over 3,000 people attending on Facebook.


The Daily Californian reports Coward filed a formal grievance against the department, and will meet with the campus administration next week to discuss the grievance.

Michael Rosen is a reporter for Fusion based out of Oakland.