AMT’s Trust Issue

Last year, I wrote about the Australian Maths Trust, on CEO Nathan Ford’s absurd censoring of an AIMO question, and on the aftermath. I later wrote a little about my maddening correspondence with Ford and Board Chair, Belinda Robinson. I then considered it done, at least for me.

A few weeks ago, however, I was contacted by a person who has worked with AMT. That person had some interesting things to say about the current state of AMT. The person has kindly permitted me to reproduce what they wrote, and it follows.

“Over the past few years, there have been tensions between mathematical committees and the management of AMT. The issue of rephrasing the AIMO problem sparked a crisis within the organization. As a result, ongoing consultations between the AMT Board, top management, and AMOC representatives have been taking place since October 2023. It is not yet clear where these consultations will lead, but many AMT volunteers remain skeptical about the outcomes. Some of them have decided to leave the organization. Additionally, the positions of State Directors for Victoria and Tasmania had become vacant earlier. This has resulted in only half of the AMOC State Director positions being currently fulfilled.

“The main reason for the crisis is the increasing imbalance between managerial priorities and those related to mathematics and education. The role of the AMOC committee has gradually shifted from decision-making to advisory. Many strategic decisions that impact the Australian Olympiad community are now made by the AMT executive without consulting AMOC. One of the latest examples is the change of the program’s name from Olympiad Program to the High-Performance Program. While this may seem like a small change, many people in the Math Olympiad community are unhappy about it.

“In the past the majority of AMOC State Directors established local enrichment programs aimed at training and better preparing high school students in their states and territories for mathematical Olympiads. However, it became apparent that the AMT office was not interested in these programs. Several State Directors have expressed frustration about their communication with AMT office staff. Often, their requests for administrative assistance were either refused or ignored.

“In light of all this, the AMT organizes numerous activities that are too important to be overlooked or abandoned. One example is the Olympiad program, which culminates in selecting and sending an Australian team to the International Mathematical Olympiad. It holds as much significance in mathematics as the Olympic Games do in sports. Australia stands to lose a great deal if the Olympiad program is abandoned or taken away from the AMT, as no other institution in Australia has the appropriate infrastructure and experience.”

I cannot vouch for the accuracy of or flesh out any of this, and obviously I could see no point in requesting any comment from AMT. But of course, to me at least, it rings very true.

As a follow-up I contacted Dr. Ian Roberts, who is still listed on the AMT website as the NT AMOC State Director. Dr. Roberts confirmed that he had resigned. He declined to go into his reasons but wrote (and subsequently gave me permission to reproduce),

“… it was a clear decision professionally and emotionally. I now have considerably more time for long-standing and continuing productive activities, with good environments and colleagues, in maths and maths enrichment.”

That’s it. I have made clear my own opinion elsewhere, so I won’t comment on these contributions, other than to thank the two people for writing what they did. It is important.


UPDATE (04/04/24)

This absurd AMT business reminded me of a Woody Allen bit:

16 Replies to “AMT’s Trust Issue”

  1. A bit indicative – Execs come above the Board in the About section of their website!

    At surface level, here is a very rough Board composition: Chair – Exec bureaucrat, Professor of ICT, Head of STEM, maths lecturer, former lawyer – late life maths teacher, Professor of Engineering, Emeritus Professor of ICT, Finance Consultant, CEO of AAMT, Senior Executive.

    They are currently advertising for a Board member with senior executive experience. Guess who the contact for applications is!

    Essentially Parkinson’s Law and modern trends to devalue specialist relevant experience and prioritise managerialism in action.

  2. Marty, I must apologise (again). It has taken me 24 hours to realise just how funny this title is… one of your best.

      1. OK. I never fully understood that one, but that is not your fault.

        Also, I did say ONE of your best. There have been some classics.

  3. I also currently work for the AMT (the AMOC selection school is currently underway in Melbourne). From my experience and what I know of others’, there has been a noticeable shift since ca. 2018 towards executive/corporate priority and what is arguably over-administration. Sometimes, the latter has made things actively worse. A few years ago, the AMT completely neglected to submit student results for a prestigious international olympiad.

    I believe what started this whole affair was when the board commissioned a company rebranding with very little input from the wider Olympiad community: the website, logo, and company ethos were ‘updated’, and the actual programs subsequently were too.

    1. Thanks, ABC. That is very interesting, and depressing, to read. The neglecting to submit student results, if true, seems remarkable. If you would be willing to go into it further, you can email me.

      i can understand the arrogance of the AMT management and the Board. That’s what these people are. What I really cannot understand is the many volunteers, particularly the top notch mathematicians essential for writing the competition questions, permitting themselves, and the great programs, to be held hostage by these people.

      That is, and with all due respect, I think the green correspondent and my friend got it right, and the blue correspondent gets it wrong. I cannot fathom why anyone would volunteer for AMT right now.

  4. August 2017 – a new Chair took over!

    It appears that you have a classic case of a managerial board and bosses without much relevant experience – very typical for the modern era.

    There appears not to be a single Board member with decades of teaching experience who might actually have that deep embedded knowledge about interacting mathematically with the Olympiad students who are supposed to be the whole purpose of the organisation. Or presumably anyone to represent the volunteers. A volunteer strike might be the only way to get attention if anything can.

  5. Well looking at the executive team, most of them seem to be the usual managerial/board member ‘great and good’ ie lots of membership of other boards, some people who worked in HR, but no real mathematical types. As a taxpayer, I’m concerned about all this.

    1. No, there are some “mathematical types” on the Board. But, as I replied to J. J., I don’t think it matters.

        1. Oh, whoops. Yes, sorry. That’s trickier. It’s not clear what attributes one wants or expects in such management people. Although I’d suggest “not being Nathan Ford” should be high on the list.

          1. You could do a lot worse than the old public service, which had mainly managers with deep domain knowledge. For example in education, they could be former teachers who had worked their way up the bureaucracy. They had good knowledge and experience of the school systems and how things worked and didn’t work in the bureaucracy and the school system. They also had a culture of respect for the people who did the work (eg. Principals and teachers) and had strong networks to solve issues informally. They were not fancy and not into things like values and mission statements. Instead they kept things in line and ticking over. Of course they built empires but they tended to actually care.

            This is rather rare in any organisation these days.

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