Should Computing be in its own College or School?
Probably my favorite session from the CRA Snowbird conference this last summer (see agenda with links to all talks) was a session on creating Colleges or Schools of Computer Science. Should we? Why?
The most compelling two talks in the session were from Randy Bryant and Rich LeBlanc, because they were so similar in structure. They both argued that you don’t make the argument for a high-level College or School of Computing because you’re big and important. You make it because you have a driving definition of computing that makes it unique.
- Randy told the story of how CMU’s School of Computer Science was driven by the original definition of computer science from Newell and Simon, and how that definition was broader than most people’s definition of CS today. I recently blogged on that definition.
- Rich told the story of how Georgia Tech’s College of Computing was driven by the ACM report The Future of Computing (led by Peter Denning) which showed how Computing crossed science, mathematics, and engineering. Of course, Rich’s story was particularly powerful for me because I lived that definition — that was the vision that drove the College of Computing when I first got here in 1993. Rich told the story of how that definition convinced faculty and administrators at Georgia Tech that Computing couldn’t be contained within the Colleges of Engineering or Science. It needed to be its own entity. (I may also be biased because Rich quoted me from this blog🙂
Many of the people in the audience wanted to know, “How can I turn my Department into a School or College?” One audience member said, “My CS department is the biggest one in the College of Engineering. How do I break apart into my own College.” All the panelists told him, “You can’t.” No Dean will allow its biggest department to leave — that would be crazy. Some participants (from U. Michigan and U. Washington, in particular) pointed out why they don’t have a College or School of Computing — they have successful multi-department collaborations that make it unnecessary. A new College or School is expensive. Don’t do it unless you have to.