Editorials, Opinions

Editorial: Computer science department’s expansion is welcome news

By
Wednesday, December 5, 2018

In late November, the Department of Computer Science announced that it would be embarking on the largest expansion in its four-decade history. As part of the endeavor, called “CS with Impact,” the department will hire 10 tenure-track faculty and five lecturers. The department also aims to elevate its interdisciplinary competencies, supporting new scholars with research interests in both computer science and other disciplines and enhancing collaborative computational research across departments. We applaud the department’s effort to bolster the size of its faculty and more intensely cultivate its research capabilities. In aggregate, the department’s expansion will benefit the entire student body: It will leave concentrators better prepared for positions in industry and academia, afford more opportunities for non-concentrators to gain exposure to computing and make the University a more attractive destination for faculty and prospective students.

In 2013, the Editorial Page Board recommended that “Brown students — regardless of goals, concentration or background in computers — should properly consider exploring the computer science department.” We are glad to see that student interest in the computer science department’s offerings has grown since then. The past decade has seen computer science explode in popularity among the University’s undergraduates. Between 2010 and 2018, the number of undergraduate concentrators in computer science ballooned from 48 to 248. (Computer science overtook economics as the most popular concentration in 2017.) This academic year, 588 students — one in six undergraduates — have declared concentrations in computer science. The meteoric proliferation of undergraduate interest in the discipline is a true testament to the intellectual value, interdisciplinary utility and wide-ranging applicability of a Brown education in computer science.

The Department of Computer Science has taken significant steps to broaden its appeal, accessibility and interdisciplinary reach in the past two years. In the fall of 2016, the Data Science Initiative — which includes the departments of computer science, mathematics, applied math and biostatistics — began offering a one-year master’s degree in data science. The Initiative also committed to hiring 10 new faculty members and expanding undergraduate course offerings in data science. A year later, the Department of Computer Science made adjustments to its concentration requirements, compelling concentrators to specialize in specific sub-disciplines — like artificial intelligence, data, security and computer architecture — as part of their computer science degree. And this spring, the department unveiled a new introductory track in computer science, offering three courses over three semesters as a less intensive alternative to the existing one- or two-course tracks.

The department’s expansion will build on this progress nicely: A greater number of instructors will keep class sizes small, increase the scope and range of course offerings and give students the chance to work closely with faculty on research. Taken together, these recent changes will likely enable more students, concentrators and non-concentrators alike, to pursue computer science and tailor their experience to their particular needs and interests.

Across the country, universities have started to revamp their offerings in computer science. The University of California at Berkeley announced the establishment of a new Division of Data Science and Information in early November. Two months ago, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology made public plans to invest $1 billion in the creation of a new college of artificial intelligence, which will house 50 faculty members and award numerous fellowships to graduate students. In August, Penn began offering its Master of Computer and Information Technology — a graduate program for students without previous programming experience — entirely online.

Given these emerging trends in higher education — and the swelling premium that researchers, administrators and students are placing on computing — the Department of Computer Science’s expansion will put Brown on a sustainable, competitive footing regarding its computer science offerings. We hope that this endeavor will allow both current students and future classes of Brunonians to forge strong relationships with new department faculty and exploit every opportunity to explore computer science and its myriad applications, from introductory coursework to high-level research.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: Anuj Krishnamurthy ’19, Rhaime Kim ’20, Grace Layer ’20, Mark Liang ’19 and Krista Stapleford ’21. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.