Albion College eliminates Computer Science

May 20, 2010 at 7:23 am 6 comments

Budget cuts and low enrollment have led to this:

In similar letters from Paul Tobias (Chairman, Albion College Board of Trustees) sent to the Albion faculty and the Albion family, the Board of Trustees reported that they have eliminated computer science as a major at Albion College and that Albion College may continue to offer a computer science minor. In the process, an untenured Assistant Professor has been notified his position will be discontinued after the 2010-2011 academic year. The letter to students also indicated “Students who are currently enrolled in the affected programs will receive personalized advising to enable them to accomplish their academic goals and fulfill their graduation requirements for their major in a timely manner.”

via Albion College Math/CS – News.

In other news coverage, they detail the cuts overall:

Majors in computer science and physical education and minors in dance, journalism and physical education will not be part of the college’s curriculum moving forward — a reduction strategy that will eliminate about 12 courses, said Dr. Donna Randall, the college’s president.

via MLive news: Albion College officials defend decisions.

That comparison point really hit home.  Newspapers are dying, so journalism is less valued and on the chopping block.  Okay, I get that.  Physical education is the least rigorous field of education to prepare teachers for, so if you have to chop one, that’s the least valued.  And computer science is in that group.

To me, this is a sign of the dire straits of computer science and university budgets these days.  More than that, it’s a sign that computing literacy among the general public is at an all time low.  The uproar about these decisions is that they were made by a governing board, against the wishes of the faculty.  This governing board sees computer science as being so useless, so lacking in value?  The board made this decision based on “”how do we best prepare our students for meaningful … work in the 21st century?” What do they think computer science is?

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Harvey Mudd’s Breadth Intro Course presented at NCWIT Media Computation and BPC-Related Workshops this Summer

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alfred Thompson  |  May 20, 2010 at 8:25 am

    At a recent event I attended I heard talk of a high school in NY that eliminated their computer sciencecurriculum in order to save enough money to add a hockey team to their athelitic program. I haven’t found confirmation yet but it doesn’t seem as improbable as I’d like to think.

    Reply
  • 2. Steve Tate  |  May 20, 2010 at 8:29 am

    My first reaction to reading this was a shocked “WHAT? You’ve got to be kidding!” But then I started reading a little bit, and my initial shock has faded to a “well, maybe they have a point.”

    I didn’t know much (ok, anything) about Albion, so did some digging on their web site and through their institutional data reports (the administrative side of my brain is starting to take over – save me!). Here’s what I found: a small, liberal arts school with 1738 students. On the “degrees awarded” stats, in 2008-2009 only 0.7% of degrees were in CS, and in 2007-2008 they awarded NO degrees in CS. Unfortunately, while not all majors were singled out. I’d love to see how many physics majors there were, but they only list “physical sciences,” which I’m sure includes chemistry and geology, but there were TEN TIMES the number of CS majors (7.1% of degree were in physical sciences).

    So maybe people interested in CS simply don’t go to Albion. Is that a problem? While I’m shocked that more students aren’t interested in CS, does every school have to offer a full degree in CS?

    Note that they’re not eliminating computer science courses, just the major, so “computing literacy” can still be addressed. I think that needs to be a major push in CS now – and I note with great happiness that you worded it “computing literacy” rather than “computer literacy.” Why aren’t there intro computing courses that are valued at the same level as general intro physics or chemistry or biology courses? Surely computing is every bit as fundamental to the world we live in, but we need a widely supported, intellectually interesting introductory approach. Teaching C++ programming as a general education skill? Uh, no. Teaching word and excel as “computer literacy”?- probably does our discipline far more damage than good. Maybe the new AP course design that people are experimenting with will help fix this, but it’s a problem of both public relations for the field and of coming to some sort of consensus as to what “introductory computing” actually is.

    As for the major at Albion, I note that in the last year only 0.7% of degrees awarded were in mathematics – identical to CS degrees. What math has that we don’t is history as an intellectually stimulating field – while I see at least as much intellectual depth in CS as in math, it’s clear that people outside CS don’t view the field that way – not even close. Changing that perception through educating people about what CS really is – that’s our main challenge.

    Reply
  • 3. Owen Astrachan  |  May 20, 2010 at 8:50 am

    Over on the classical studies listserv there’s a large group of amazed people wondering how they could cancel the Latin program and the Classical Studies Program at the University of XYZ. I’m also monitoring the Horticulture threaded-discussion group where the folks there are wondering how they could let a group of Botanists go — after all, without plants we’d all be dead!

    A closer reading of the case at Albion [from published reports] shows that the administration seems to have acted outside of the rules prescribed by a governing agreement with faculty, after changing the rules to allow for that. So the process is broken. But isn’t it possible that the program was one that could be cut with minimal impact and a large benefit, i.e., that there were few students with an expensive faculty? I don’t know that at all, but it’s possible.

    I think our field is great, it’s wonderful, it’s essential. But I hope that folks in other fields feel the same about their own field. We can’t all be right about ‘essential’ when something has to be cut. I don’t want to be in a department that teaches computer literacy and skills (Mark bemoans ‘computer literacy among the general public is at an all time low’) and I don’t want to be the go-to-guy when someone’s laptop can’t find the wireless network. So I don’t want to sell computer science as either an essential skill or an indispensable discipline — it’s the wonderful academic enterprise in which I’ve chosen to invest my energy. I hope I can convey that wonderfulness. But if the faculty can’t bring in money and they can’t fill seats in courses, then the faculty has failed.

    Looking at the comments in the thread at the Chronicle of Higher Ed http://bit.ly/bIg5FO indicates that Albion is in trouble in terms of enrollment and that the administration pulled a fast one on the faculty in changing the rules. To me this is about process and faculty governance, not about computer science.

    Reply
    • 4. Mark Guzdial  |  May 20, 2010 at 11:17 am

      Owen, I didn’t say “computer literacy.” I said “computing literacy.” The Board doesn’t know what computing is.

      I completely agree with you and Steve that computer science may be too weak at Albion (as a specific school) to go on, and maybe the faculty failed in not getting bodies in seats. It’s the decision to toss computer science because it doesn’t prepare students work in the 21st century suggests a disconnect somewhere — perhaps just with where I think work in the 21st century will be.

      Reply
  • 5. Jeff Graham  |  May 26, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Lycoming College eliminated its cs program two or three years ago. It is similar to Albion in profile, a small liberal arts college. With the steep drop in cs majors, these events should not be such a big suprise. I am the head of a mathematical sciences department at another liberal arts college similar to Albion. We graduate 3 -5 cs majors each year (down from 25 in the last peak around 2001). It is to the point where I am only able to offer 3 computer science classes per semester typically. Of those, half are CS1 (fall and spring) and CS 2 (spring only). We are still producing decent graduates, but they have fewer elective options than they used to have. Fortunately, this place is in pretty good financial condition, so there is currently no talk of eliminating majors. However, if the proverbial excrement ever hits the fan, I am sure that cs will be one of the first programs to be ditched. For comparison’s sake, we graduate roughly twice as many math majors, primarily because we offer a secondary education certification. We graduate about the same number of physics majors. I will admit that if we had to choose between eliminating cs or physics, I would support the physics major since it is a degree more in keeping with the mission of the university. I would also bet that any job that our cs degreed students get could also be obtained by someone with a strong cs minor.

    Reply
  • […] schools that have closed down CS, journalism has been closed down too.  Colorado is now talking about closing down journalism, and to create a School of Information. […]

    Reply

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