Thursday, May 28

Submission: UCLA’s overhaul of financial actuarial mathematics program damages its purpose

I want to thank the Daily Bruin Editorial Board for its editorial criticizing UCLA for its treatment of lecturers in the financial actuarial mathematics program. The university has announced it will overhaul the FAM program and not rehire lecturers in the program, and instead replace them with ladder faculty.

I am the chair of the Actuarial Advisory Council, which is composed of actuaries working in industry who are members of the International Actuarial Association or Casualty Actuarial Society, and many UCLA graduates and officers of the student-run Bruin Actuarial Society. There are 352 undergraduate students enrolled in the FAM major.

My husband, Ira Boyle, founded the program in the late 1970s to meet a need for actuaries on the West Coast. At that time, universities with actuarial programs were located on the Midwest or East Coast. Because of the high cost of housing on the West Coast at that time, my husband could not persuade students from those universities to move to Los Angeles. And so he started an actuarial program within the math department at his and my alma mater, UCLA. Ira taught the courses with one of his previous math professors in the late afternoon to any students wanting to attend.

Following Ira’s untimely death in 1993, Transamerica, the company he worked for, his friends, family and I pooled money to grow the program in his memory. There are multiple endowments that currently support the program. The FAM program at UCLA has also spawned actuarial programs at several other UC campuses, often coming together for Case Competitions, in which teams present solutions to scenarios written for them.

The lecturers in the FAM program are all actuaries who held high-ranked positions in industry. They were not teaching for the money, but to give back to the profession and to live out their love of teaching and working with students. They were paid paltry sums, but even those were denied by the administration’s nickel-and-dime tendencies, which have cut corners in several ways such as by rounding a percentage of a teaching unit down instead of up.

On Jan. 23, the head of the FAM program was given notice of the immediate termination of one of the department’s lecturers and full termination of all lecturers at the end of spring quarter. As noted in the Daily Bruin’s coverage, administrators put the blame for this change on the union that represents lecturers. Being a member of a union throughout my career in special education, including in the California State University system, I immediately knew this could not be true.

The union also confirmed it indeed had nothing to do with the firings and informed me about the practice of terminating lecturers before they complete 18 quarters of teaching to avoid promotion to permanent status to avoid the appearance of “churning.”

We were told by UCLA Division of Physical Sciences and math department administrators that the lecturers would be replaced by post-doctorates, and indeed this has proven to be the case. At a recent meeting of the Actuarial Advisory Council, a student described how this change has taken form in one current class: The instructor informed the students he has no knowledge of actuarial science or the specific material related to the course. He also stated that he has no desire to teach the course, but will make it an easy class so that they can all get A’s.

Thus, the students will get A’s, but leave the class totally unprepared for the Society of Actuaries exam they need to pass in order to be hired and advance in their chosen profession. And they are being charged tuition for this.

I received assurances from the undergraduate vice chair of the mathematics department that he would attend this Actuarial Advisory Council meeting to address the concerns of students and council members. At the last minute, however, he emailed me that he would not attend. I later learned that this was at the direction of one of his superiors. Thus, physical sciences and mathematics department administrators have deliberately withheld information about the program from students, despite their repeated pleas for it to be provided. Similarly, they have ignored emails from Actuarial Advisory Council members, many of whom actively participate in the program and give generously to the university.

In its greed to nickel-and-dime the professors and deny them tenure, the administration has neglected the fact that the program draws many international students who pay high tuition for the world-wide instruction UCLA’s FAM program has become known for. It is not hard to imagine the change might even result in international students currently signed up for a popular summer actuarial course to withdraw their registration.

For a university that is constantly claiming a need for funds and soliciting them, it is amazing that they would dismiss and destroy the FAM program so readily.

Shame on the UCLA administrators responsible for this, for their disservice to UCLA, and especially for their disregard for the students and professors.

Boyle is the chair of the Actuarial Advisory Council.

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