Poland’s Oldest University Honors Pitt’s Thomas Saaty, a Pioneer in Mathematical Decision Making

Issue Date: 
January 9, 2012

Pitt Distinguished University Professor Thomas Saaty, the father of a mathematical system for decision making called the Analytic Hierarchy Process, was awarded an honorary doctorate by Jagiellonian University, Poland’s oldest, for his groundbreaking research and the application of his mathematical process in matters of weapons disarmament and economic stability.

Saaty, who teaches in Pitt’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business and College of Business Administration, has consulted with the governments of the United States, France, Egypt, Sudan, Kuwait, and Tanzania, as well as with many international companies that use his mathematics-based processes to make important decisions. In addition to devising the Analytic Hierarchy Process, Saaty developed two other similar decision-making models, the Analytic Network Process and the Neural Network Process.

“Through a series of comparisons, the intensity of feelings can be translated into numbers and used to make a decision,” Saaty says of the Analytic Hierarchy Process. “In conflict, the parties structure a hierarchy of their contentious factors, then each side provides comparison judgments to determine the concessions they are most willing to offer—and also the value of the concessions the other side offers—in the hope of reaching an equitable swap.”

The complex mathematical theory behind the Analytic Hierarchy Process isolates subproblems within the decision and analyzes them independently, assigning them values or priorities. Most decisions are analyzed in four ways—in terms of their benefits, opportunities, costs, and risks. The outcomes are then synthesized to determine the best overall outcome.

In October, Saaty traveled to Kraków, Poland, to accept the Doktor Honoris Causa degree from Jagiellonian University in a special ceremony attended by high-ranking school officials and other notables from Poland and Europe. Established in 1364, Jagiellonian University counts among its notable alumni Nicolaus Copernicus and Pope John Paul II, who was also honored with this degree during his lifetime.

“It would be difficult to find another person as successful in combining academic work with practical implementation of the developed theories as Professor Saaty is. The methods developed by him have been applied in science and put into practice in almost every discipline,” wrote Wiktor Adamus, a professor at Jagiellonian University and a member of the school’s Management and Social Communication Faculty, which made the motion for Saaty’s honorary degree.

Adamus used the Analytic Network Process in 2007 to advise the Polish prime minister against rushing into joining the Euro currency—advice which Poland heeded and which shielded the Eastern European nation from the current Euro crisis.

Born in Mosul, Iraq, in 1926, Saaty says his interest in mathematics began when he was young, and it persisted throughout his education. He obtained his bachelor’s degree from Columbia Union College, a master’s degree in physics from Catholic University of America, and master’s and doctoral degrees in mathematics from Yale University; he completed his postgraduate study at the University of Paris.

Saaty says that his work stems from his love of humanity and that his inspiration is the desire to contribute knowledge that will make the human race more peaceful. “The human race is too beautiful and intelligent not to survive,” Saaty adds.