A Calculating Career
Growing up as the child of two university professors, Dr. Jonathan Farley never thought of doing anything other than teaching. However, he is finding that the biggest challenge as a young scholar is balancing both professional and social responsibilities.
“One year I noted I was on seven different committees — the Martin Luther King Commemorative Lecture Series, the faculty adviser for the Black students association and the Caribbean students association, plus a whole host of others. Yet at the same time, I was facing the pressure to have to publish or perish,” Farley says. “I made the decision to help the students.”
Farley says the problems — mathematical and otherwise — that he has solved and his other accomplishments speak for themselves. In his short career, Farley has solved an MIT mathematics problem that had gone unsolved for 24 years, and a second problem that had gone unsolved for 35 years.
Upon his graduation from Harvard, Farley won a Marshall Scholarship for study at Oxford University in England. There he won the Senior Mathematical Prize and Johnson Prize for “the dissertation of the greatest merit” by a mathematics graduate student under the age of 25. Farley’s research is in the field of lattice theory, which he describes as “abstract algebra” or the very notion of order in the abstract. Farley, who joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 1996, is a “pure” mathematician but his field has implications for engineering, physics and even epidemiology. He was one of only four people from this country to win a 2001-2002 U.S.-U.K. Fulbright Distinguished Scholar Award to Oxford University.
“The best thing for me was to get my doctorate here in England because I could have gone back to the United States,” Farley says. “It may sound harsh, but Oxford gave me the top mathematics award for my research. And I’m convinced that no matter what American university I went to, I would not have been recognized.”
When Farley returns to the United States later this year, he will face a different sort of challenge altogether — Farley is the Green Party’s candidate in the 2002 Tennessee Congressional race.
Before he tackles politics, however, Farley says he strongly believes his contributions as a professor outside the classroom are equally important as the teaching that goes on inside the classroom.
“What’s important is the students — showing up at their parties, talking to them about getting straight A’s, talking to them about this war in Afghanistan. If we’re no more than just Black faces in academia, then we’re useless,” Farley says.
— By Kendra Hamilton
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com