1. Even if Babbitt taught merely elementary calculus, don't universities hire someone with at least an undergraduate degree in math to teach it? I quote Schoenblog.com:

Babbitt came to teach at Princeton in 1938—before there was even a music department. We did not have offices. We lived under very Spartan conditions.” When the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, Babbitt was working toward one of the first graduate degrees offered in music at Princeton. During the second semester of that year, he taught music and math (mostly elementary calculus [I bolded.]). “Everybody suddenly began taking math courses that semester after Pearl Harbor. I was teaching on Saturdays.” The music section disappeared as everyone was either drafted or preparing for technical jobs in the army. Babbitt was sent by the Army to Washington, but soon was sent back to teach, because mathematicians were considered top priority. Babbitt stayed with the math department until the end of the war, when he made the not-so-difficult decision to return to music.

  1. In avouching his 'mathematical research in Washington, D.C', Wikipedia hints that Babbitt was skilled at more than elementary calculus.

Babbitt's father was a mathematician, and it was mathematics that Babbitt intended to study when he entered the University of Pennsylvania in 1931. However, he soon left and went to New York University instead, where he studied music with Philip James and Marion Bauer. There he became interested in the music of the composers of the Second Viennese School and went on to write a number of articles on twelve tone music, including the first description of combinatoriality and a serial "time-point" technique. After receiving his bachelor of arts degree from New York University College of Arts & Science in 1935 with Phi Beta Kappa honors, he studied under Roger Sessions, first privately and then later at Princeton University. At the university, he joined the music faculty in 1938 and received one of Princeton's first Master of Fine Arts degrees in 1942 (Barkin & Brody 2001). During the Second World War, Babbitt divided his time between mathematical research in Washington, D.C., and Princeton, where he became a member of the mathematics faculty from 1943 to 1945 (Barkin & Brody 2001).

  • $\begingroup$ Today it would be very unusual to hire someone to teach mathematics who has no academic credentials in mathematics. In the past it was much less unusual. During WWII many people were recruited to do war-related research and to teach in universities. It seems Babbitt did both. I would guess he returned to music when the war ended. $\endgroup$ – Gerald Edgar Aug 13 at 11:49
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think your question has any meaning other than what's answered in your own quoted material. Perhaps you could post a new question along the lines of "What credentials were historically expected of a university professor" and even that would vary by country. $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Aug 13 at 12:19
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    $\begingroup$ Now I'm curious: what research did he do during the war. If it was it associated with an OSRD project it should be possible to find out. $\endgroup$ – kimchi lover Aug 13 at 13:17
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    $\begingroup$ You are confusing the policies of today with those of the beginning of 20th century. One person I know became a fellow of the Royal society before he defended his PhD, and decided not to bother about defense. He is a retired professor now:-) $\endgroup$ – Alexandre Eremenko Aug 13 at 13:30

It is important to realize that classes and operations at US universities during World War 2 had little in common with today, or even with their operations pre-war.

As mentioned in a blog from the Princeton Archives, before Pearl Harbor Princeton had an undergraduate enrollment of about 2400. In November 1943, there were about 3100 military personnel and some 650 non-military students in residence. The military personnel were a variety of programs, mostly officer training and technical schools.

There would have been a huge demand for fairly basic math instruction, and the easiest way to accommodate that would be to find instructors from the current faculty. So, tapping a music faculty with a math professor father would be entirely reasonable. This was not about providing graduate level math, it was about providing simple instruction. I highly doubt anything above calculus was required, and there would be significant need for lower levels than that.

As for math research in DC, there would be plenty of things to be sorted out in ballistics, operations research, etc. that also do not require advanced math beyond calculus.

To add further, in an Interview he is quoted as saying:

I was teaching there for four years before the war came, and then I was sent to Washington to spend a few years doing what, I cannot reveal. Then, by one of these incredible accidents of the military or government or we not know what, I was sent back to Princeton to teach mathematics. There was a moment in the war when people were being called back from the Battle of the Bulge to teach mathematics; it was the highest priority undertaking because there was radar, there was sonar, there were all these things and there were these kids who didn't have enough math to learn how to do it. Even MIT graduates had to be retrained, because they didn't know how to use a slide rule. So I did that at Princeton—it was by accident that it was Princeton, I'll never know how it became Princeton, again, because it had nothing to do with my music department or anything else


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