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CUPM Recommendations: The First Forty Years

By Lynn Steen


The documents and commentary provided below offer an overview of the published work of CUPM since it's beginnings in 1953 as well as the educational and mathematical context in which it did its work. The materials are meant to serve both as an historical resource and as a tool for consideration of today's undergraduate program in mathematics. (Note: Some referenced documents are available via live links; some others have been digitized and may be found on the web via academic library subscriptions; the reminder, primarily longer documents, are available only on paper.)

The history of CUPM is only partly revealed in the reports that it published. The people who contributed to its panels and subcommittees, the conferences and presentations it sponsored, the arguments and compromises that led to its recommendations—all this and more are required for a full appreciation of this important chapter in American collegiate mathematics. A richer history (and pre-history) with these kinds of details can be found in CUPM, The History of an Idea by William (W. L.) Duren, Jr. which appeared in the January 1967 Fiftieth Anniversary Issue of the Amer. Mathematical Monthly (Vol. 74:1 Part 2, pp. 23-37). What follows here is the skeleton of that history focused on the published record—the reports, pamphlets, and recommendations of CUPM from its founding until the early 1990s.

In 1953, "before Sputnik and before the computer had run wild," reports Duren, MAA president E.J. McShane appointed a special committee on the undergraduate program. Following a quick survey, this ad hoc committee reported "widespread dissatisfaction" with the college mathematics program and recommended a national "program of 'doing' to overcome the inertia" of the "enormously ponderous structure" that sustains "all the deficiencies" of the present program. Action by the MAA's Board of Governors in relation to CUP—the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, as it was known in its early years—is documented in the report of the 36th Annual Meeting of the MAA (Amer. Mathematical Monthly, 60:2 (Mar. 1953) 214-218):

The Board voted to approve the appointment by the President of a committee to study the possible establishment of an employment bureau, of a joint committee (with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) on teacher education in mathematics, of a committee on the Undergraduate Mathematical Program, and of a joint committee (with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) to explore the possibility of publishing a mathematical journal for high school students.

Throughout its history, CUPM has undergone changes both in the context in which it worked as well as in the structures within MAA that supported its work. As the first MAA committee on the undergraduate curriculum (appointed when the MAA headquarters were still located at the University of Buffalo), CUPM operated via quasi-independent "panels" on various topics needing urgent attention. Gradually these panels became separate committees, and then in the early 1990s MAA gathered all these independent panels and committees into a new "council" structure. These changing patterns are reflected in this document by a division into seven sections following an approximate chronological order.