I have noticed that many mathematics departments (a little over half of the public and private Group I departments) follow the name@math.univ.edu format. Does anyone know of a reference to a discussion in Notices of the American Mathematical Society or elsewhere about this common practice?

  • 1
    May we know why you are interested in this? Sep 26 '14 at 4:07
  • 4
    An administrator at my university is trying to change us away from the common format. I am trying to collect information about it for my department since it has many people upset. I also seem to recall reading briefly about the format somewhere; it might have been in the Notices. It would be nice to be able to make a reasoned appeal to the administrator, and more information would be helpful.
    – User1729
    Sep 26 '14 at 4:20
  • 5
    Surely the biggest point against changing everyone's email address is exactly that: it's a change, of which you now have to inform everyone who might think they know your email address. Sep 26 '14 at 7:19
  • 1
    This is not specific to math but just the straightforward way to assign e-mail adresses and domains respectively.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Sep 26 '14 at 8:13
  • 5
    What is the proposed change? If it is from "john.doe@math.univ.edu" to something like "john.h.doe@univ.edu" (a change which one of my research collaborators experienced), point out to the administrator that there will be a greater likelihood of confusion. My collaborator often gets emails intended for a colleague in another department. No real harm done (yet), but some of these emails contain confidential student details etc. and so there could (in theory) be grounds for a lawsuit. Mention of potential lawsuits might scare the administrator off :)
    – Senex
    Sep 26 '14 at 8:35

I don't have a reference about this. The split in email addresses is often because mathematics departments were among the early adopters of computing. I don't know whether this applies to your own institution, but it applies to several I have been at, of different sizes from 5,000 to 50,000 students.

When computing technology began to be available, mathematics departments were among the first adopters. Computers and mathematics go together. At quite a few schools, the computer science department is still part of the department of mathematics; at others, the two departments started together (when the math department began to hire computer scientists), and split apart later.

In the period before PCs became ubiquitous in the 1990s, mathematics departments often found funds (often via grants) to operate computer labs, web servers, and email servers on their own. At this time, especially in the 1980s, university-wide computing services were often quite primitive, and often consisted of terminal servers instead of PCs.

Over time, as computing became ubiquitous, universities hired their own IT staff, and began to run their own web servers and email. This is how, at several institutions I have been at, I had two different email addresses (one for the university and one for the math department) and two web pages (same split)

Now that email and web servers are viewed as a basic service that the university provides to faculty, it is more difficult for mathematics departments to justify having their independent systems. Administrators correctly look at the separation as an inefficiency, asking why the department can't use the same system as everyone else.

In my opinion, math departments that want to continue to have separate systems will need to present a very strong case for why the separate systems are necessary, beyond the historical developments that led to the separate systems coming into existence. As email and web services become more and more of a staple commodity, this argument gets more and more difficult.

  • 1
    Who said anything about a separate system? It is just a subdomain. Sep 28 '14 at 16:42
  • 1
    At the schools I've been at that have a sub domain for math emails, it is because a separate mail server was used for the subdomain. The sub domain can have its own MX record in DNS. Yes, it would be possible to point the sub domain to the same server that handles the main domain, subject to a few implementation issues. Sep 28 '14 at 16:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.