These days the procedure was announced for electing the director of the Sobolev Institute of Mathematics of the Siberian Division of the Russian Academy of Sciences. So the natural question arises of appropriate candidates. The two persons are under discussion: Sergei Goncharov and Iskander Taimanov. The performance and image of the Institute depends essentially on the personality of the Director, and so it is important who is to be nominated.
We distinguish between leaders and bosses in science. The leader makes a way, and the boss we need for justice. The leader has the right to be unjust to those who follow him voluntarily. Anyone can leave an unjust leader. No one cares for an unjust boss. The time of encyclopedists in mathematics has gone long ago. No one was ever the leader of this Institute. Sergei Sobolev was averse to the mere notion of “Siberian mathematical school” whose leader he was supposed to be. The Director of the Institute is needed for justice, the latter understood in the broadest sense, and justice is governed by morality. Science knows no frontiers, and morality is international. The Sobolev Institute is rather noticeable in the world mathematics, and its Director must be a figure of consent whose choice is comprehensible and possibly acceptable to the scientific community.
Goncharov is viewed as a natural candidate since he has occuped the position of the Interim Director of the Sobolev Institute almost a year. This candidate can hardly be called a figure of consent. His appointment was initiated by Yuri Ershov in the atmosphere of secrecy, without any consideration of the opinions of other academicians on the staff of the Sobolev Institute and without due preliminary notification of the Academic Council of the Institute. It is customary in the world science to consider the opinions of leaders in various areas, since any nonleader of any alien field understands much less that the true leader of the area. The strategy of granting Goncharov full membership in the Russian Academy of Sciences was pursued without much ceremony in regard to the leaders. The unpardoned pressure on Taimanov is not a great example of valor. The managerial recommendation of Ivan Krylov relates to kitchendom.
The question is often raised: “Why do you blame Goncharov? These are not his doings.” This argument is feeble and unconvincing as reflected in belle-lettres. It suffices to recall the famous dialog of Lancelot and Heinrich of the Evgeny Schwartz play The Dragon. Everyone can accept or reject any offer. Everyone decides by themselves to consult their colleagues or not. Everyone considers or rejects the opinions of their opponents. Everyone has their own judge of morality—the personal conscience. But the moral laws are not a personal phenomenon. Everyone is responsible for their doings to themselves and to the others. It is often insufficient to be in consent with oneself.
The events of the recent year have destroyed the fragile consensus. They resurrected the unhealthy elements of the atmosphere of the grim years of the Institute, bringing about the smell of the past marked with the deficiency of the team spirit, respect to colleagues, and objectivity. It is a secret of Polichinelle that the moral reputation of the Sobolev Institute is low in this country and abroad, which is due to the confrontations in the Institute in the span of the mid-1970s–mid-1980s (cp. the Memo below). Facts never die. They must be pondered over and taken into account irrespectively of how heavy and unpleasant this might be. The past is counted from the present day, and so the past is always the zone of the today's responsibility. Although this is sad and not fair in part, the Sobolev Institute is still viewed in the light of the past events by most members of the scientific community.
To ignore external unfavorable opinions about oneself is a manifestation of subjectivism as well as the tag of utmost provinciality and isolationism. It is the last thing to appeal to periods of limitations—there are none in either science or morality. It is unwelcome to forgive oneself and blame the other, to reproach the mirror of opinions of colleagues and to blame them for prejudice an evil memory if sometimes the administrative resource prevails over academic traditions, the objectivity and respect to the views of the others are dishonored, while neglecting the latter is practically an instance of valor and high principle. It is time to look at ourselves and recall that everyone is judged by their deeds rather than personal motives and self-esteem. The old mistakes are never eliminated by repetition. Mistakes disappear only when repaired.
The appointment of Goncharov will not help to destroy the negative moral reputation of the Sobolev Institute. Consent never starts with the conflict that is sensible about a year and was invoked by Ershov's inexplicable actions and Goncharov's solidarity with these actions. The present state of affairs yields no good to anyone. The Sobolev Institute needs consent and serenity for which nothing is more dangerous that the bacilli of egotism à la Troekurov. The forced consensus is a seal of tyranny. Science follows leaders, but leaders are not elected—leaders are self-made.The democracy of science means nothing more than the equal rights of humans facing the truth as well as open access of everyone to all areas of science. Neither representative democracy nor prerogatives of authority are tools for searching for truth. The lust for domination and use of opportunistic mechanisms must be buried and drowned in Lethe forever. It is time to build the future of mathematics in Siberia in a new manner free of any instances of monopoly and protection, without pressure, conflicts, and trips.
Taimanov has nothing in common with the spoiling of the working atmosphere. He is not overloaded with the old misdeeds since he began to work in the Sobolev Institute in 1986. He does not belong to any of the confronting groups of the past. No moral accusations are aimed at him as clearly demonstrated by his recent election to full membership in the Russian Academy of Sciences. The examples of impeccable management are unknown or at least quite rear, and so some shortcoming of his administrative experience goes to his pluses rather than minuses.
Taimanov is one of the most knowledgable and erudite mathematicians of these days. His sphere of interests embraces geometry and topology, dynamic systems theory, equations of mathematical physics, soliton theory, and minimal surfaces. Taimanov spends much time with youngsters, heading the Department of Geometry and Topology at Novosibirsk State University. He delivered original courses for students and wrote related textbooks.
Taimanov is a good scientist and a qualified professor. He is a decent and hard working person of high reputation in science. Taimanov in not perfect but he works to this end and has most traits of the figure of consent right away. Taimanov's appointment to the position of the Director of the Sobolev Institute, will definitely enhance the development of mathematics in Siberia, improve the reputation of the Sobolev Institute, and lead to the growth of its prestige in the world.
February 22, 2012
February 24, 2012