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Wound to Soviet Science

To the Editors:

The following public statement was recently made by Isor R. Shafarevich, the world-famous mathematician and head of a highly successful school of number theory and algebraic geometry. Shafarevich is active in the human rights movement in the USSR and is the author of several articles in Solzhenitsyn’s collection of essays, From Under the Rubble.

A year ago I was dismissed from Moscow University where I had been teaching since 1944—for more than thirty years. At the time, I believed that this action affected only myself, and I did not publicize it. But now, a year later, my student, A.N. Tyurin, a doctor of physical and mathematical sciences, has been dismissed from the University simply because I attended his seminar. After this, I no longer have the right to remain silent.

Toward the end of the last academic year, the door was suddenly flung open during a session of Dr. Tyurin’s seminar, and a member of the University administration entered the auditorium. He interrupted the lecturer and asked me: ‘What’s going on here?’ I answered that ‘this is a session of Dr. Tyurin’s seminar’ and he left the auditorium.

The very next day the faculty overseers met. They had to decide on measures to deal with this dangerous, explosive situation. I was appearing at seminar sessions in the University. They let it be known that they proposed to terminate Dr. Tyurin’s seminar immediately. In my turn, I let it be known that I would then have no other alternative than to give the entire incident wide publicity. The result was that the seminar continued. (It was almost the end of the school term.) But when the new academic year began, Dr. Tyurin was no longer permitted to teach in the University.

Dismissal from the University has not meant the complete loss of all income for Dr. Tyurin and for myself. The University was not our regular place of work. But dismissal has meant loss of contacts with students, and I fear in the future a break in the continuity of our field (algebraic geometry) and the destruction of a scientific school to whose creation I have devoted the greater part of my life.

This is not the first time I have been dismissed from the University. I was dismissed once toward the end of the Stalin era and was only allowed to return after I.G. Petrovsky became Rector of the University. Until his last days, Petrovsky’s support made it possible for me to teach at the University. I remember one startling conversation a few months before Petrovsky’s death.

They are pressuring me to fire you,’ Petrovsky said. ‘But I’m clever. I told them it’s awkward in the middle of a semester. It will create a bad impression on the students. And by the end of the semester they’ll forget about it. In that way I’ve already managed to drag it out for quite a few years.’

I never found out who the mysterious ‘they’ were who required such cleverness on Petrovsky’s part. (After all, he was a member of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, that is, according to the Constitution, one of the heads of the State.)

After Petrovsky’s death, my position within the University began to change; they no longer assigned me basic courses which attracted a large enrollment. In recent years not a single one of my students was kept for graduate work at the University. And finally I was dismissed.

The situation had come full cycle—but, in accordance with the dialectic of Hegel and Marx, ‘on a higher level.’ When I was dismissed from the University in Stalin’s time, I could not only attend any seminar, I could even conduct my own seminar but without pay. And certainly no one dreamed of dismissing my student simply because I attended his seminar in the same auditorium where I had earlier taught him mathematics.

That is the dialectic evolution of our life…”

After we received this statement, we learned that Shafarevich had been dropped from the Scientific Council of the Mathematics Institute of the Soviet Academy.

Extinction of the universally admired Shafarevich school would be a loss felt by mathematicians throughout the world. We urge the Soviet authorities not to inflict such a wound on their own scientific establishment.

Michael F. Atiyah, Oxford University, Fellow Royal Society, former president London Mathematical Society, Fields Medalist 1970; Hyman Bass, Columbia University; Lipman Bers, Columbia University, former president American Mathematical Society, member of National Academy of Sciences; Philip A. Griffiths, Harvard University; Heisuke Hironaka, Harvard University, member of Academy of Sciences of Japan, Fields Medalist, 1970; Nathan Jacobson, Yale University, member of National Academy of Sciences, former president American Mathematical Society; Serge Lang, Yale University; John Milnor, Institute for Advanced Study, member of National Academy of Sciences, Fields Medalist, 1962, National Science Medalist; Donald C. Spencer, Princeton University, National Academy of Sciences

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