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Editorial: CS growth necessitates increase in resources

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

On a typical weekday at the Center for Information Technology, hordes of students can be spotted waiting patiently for a turn to access a computer science undergraduate teaching assistant. As recently reported in The Herald, increased enrollment in computer science courses has overwhelmed the University’s available resources. Computer science is one of the most celebrated and visible concentrations at Brown, and the department must be provided with the resources to meet rising student demand.

According to the article, the number of students enrolled in computer science classes has doubled in the past eight years. CSCI 0150: “Introduction to Object-Oriented Programming and Computer Science” has 279 enrolled this fall, a whopping 54 percent more than last year’s 173 students. Though these increases do follow a national trend, they also attest to the strength of the Brown Department of Computer Science. But if the department is to continue to provide the high-quality education for which it is known, it must increase its number of TAs — a task that presents distinct challenges. It is unclear where the department will find the additional funds necessary for more TAs.

Even with an increase in TAs, other logistical concerns such as room availability, time constraints and computer availability hinder enrolled students from receiving assistance. Given the recent projection that the CIT itself will be over capacity in the next five to 10 years, we worry that the University is not paying sufficient attention to the real threat of overcrowding the department.

Insufficient physical resources present a significant constraint to the computer science department. So far, we have not seen any significant proposal to address this situation in the long term. Expanding the number of TAs is only a temporary solution, as is creating new classes in order to lighten the load. The University frequently promotes the astounding innovations and research of the department, and in turn, the department deserves the resources sufficient to meet its rising demand.

The computer science department is known for its renowned faculty and commitment to undergraduate teaching, but it cannot create the resources it needs out of thin air. Computer science is necessarily personalized, and effectively learning the languages and programs requires individual attention. Students in these introductory classes need to have fair and reasonable access to the appropriate tools needed to fully implement knowledge gained from lectures. We hope to see the University soon address the department’s needs so that resources can match the growing demand for computer science.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editor, Rachel Occhiogrosso, and its members, Daniel Jeon, Hannah Loewentheil and Thomas Nath. Send comments to

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  1. It is a shame that Brown has not been able to focus on computer science resources in its various planning, capital campaigns and fundraising efforts; computer science seems like an afterthought. I was an undergrad in the early 80s, and comp sci was a well-known department at that time–one of Brown’s gems. With a bit more focus by the university, more faculty expansion and research dollars, the potential to make this department among the nation’s finest is within reach. Also, the combination of Brown’s creative student body with digital applications in film, art, music, etc, make the academic possibilities even more exciting. CS should be a top priority –frankly as important as expaning engineering and other STEM activities on campus.

  2. TheRationale says:

    Funding for TAs should come far before any extra curricular activities, including sports. This is a university – it is ludicrous that we “can’t find” the money to do the basic functions. Funding for support for the concentration should also come before non-academic endeavors.

    NOTE: This is not specific to CS. If there were a spike in Chemistry enrollment, the same course of action should be taken. Literary Arts has a problem of repeatedly shutting out people who cannot win seats. I had an APMA class which somehow couldn’t afford a TA, whose help while he lasted could have been tremendous.

    Funding for academics should come well before clubs and sports (including varsity) and other events. That this is an issue across numerous concentrations raises some serious questions about Brown’s spending.

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