In 1998 a Mathematics alumnus from UNC Asheville provided an endowment, in honor of Joe Parsons, to fund this annual lecture series. The goal of the Parsons Lecture is to provide the UNC Asheville community with the ability to attend locally a presentation by a nationally renowned mathematician speaking on a topic accessible to the general audience. Speakers for the lecture series are invited to present a lecture not just because of their renown as mathematicians, but also for their skills as educators and orators. The endowment is used to fund travel and other expenses incurred by the speaker and department. Find information on the Parsons scholarship here.
2020 Parsons Lecture
April 2, 2020, 7 p.m., Lipinsky Auditorium.
Lecture Title: Using randomness in search of fairness
Abstract: Math modeling and algorithmic decision making is explosively expanding its reach in governance, policy, and across the spectrum of human activity. The law isn’t necessarily catching up very quickly! I’ll give a tour of one fascinating case — gerrymandering in North Carolina — where mathematicians are using random algorithms to track political fairness and the courts are trying to make sense of the story we are telling.
Speaker: Moon Duchin is an Associate Professor of Mathematics and Senior Fellow in the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University. She serves as director of the interdisciplinary program in Science, Technology, and Society and as collaborating faculty in the Department of Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora Studies. Her mathematical subfields are geometry, topology, group theory, and dynamical systems. Her current research focus is in the study of electoral redistricting in the U.S., using Markov chain Monte Carlo and other randomized algorithms to understand relationships between community, partisanship, race, and representation.
Past Parson Lectures
- 2019 – “The Patterns of Play: A Recreational View of Mathematics” by Dr. Ronald D. Taylor, Professor of Mathematics at Berry College
- 2018 – “From Monroe to NASA” by Dr. Christine Darden. Darden’s character was featured in the 2016 book “Hidden Figures.”
- 2017 – “Playing from a Laptop: Sports Analytics” by Dr. Tim Chartier, Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at Davidson College
- 2016 – “Chaos Games and Fractal Images” by Dr. Bob Devaney, Professor of Mathematics at Boston University
- 2015 – “The Shape of Space” by Dr. Jeffrey Weeks, Middlebury College
- 2014 – “The Right Treatment for the Right Patient at the Right Time: Personalized Medicine and Statistics” By Dr. Marie Davidian, NC State University
About Joe Parsons
Joe Parsons grew up on a farm in western Tennessee and graduated from high school at 15 in 1931. In order that he might get a teaching certificate, a friend gave Joe enough money to attend his first year of college. He completed his undergraduate work and went on to the University of Tennessee for his graduate degree.
When Joe started at Asheville-Biltmore College (what is now UNC Asheville), he was the entire Math Department, and through much of the 1970’s he was the chair of the department. Other roles he filled at UNC Asheville include Dean of Students and Academic Dean. Joe also helped formulate the current plan of the UNC Asheville campus including the choice for the library to face Mt. Pisgah. The view from the library steps is admired on campus. He also was instrumental in the development of the first 4-year curriculum when UNC Asheville joined the UNC system.
Joe matched his dedication to this institution with his dedication to his students. Joe was known to students at UNC Asheville as a wonderful teacher with a good sense of humor. He personally founded an endowment for student scholarships in mathematics. Even in retirement he could not stay away from the classroom, reading for elementary students at Claxton school here in Asheville. Until his death on Sunday ,September 24, 2006, Joe continued to contribute to education in his community. He will be missed.
In 1998 one of Joe’s former students provided an endowment for the Parsons Lecture series to honor the dedication of this great educator and continue his legacy.