The September 2018 edition of ASEE’s Prism magazine contains an interesting article by Paul Basken, which frames the question whether it’s time for U.S. universities to split their engineering and computer science programs into independent colleges or departments.
The crux of the argument for the split is the comparative difference in student interest and employment opportunities in computing, with the number of computer science majors more than tripling since 2006, coupled with growing interest in computer training by non-majors. Schools that have also created specialized computer programs tailored to support different academic departments could also benefit by unifying them into a single school, with the potential for increased efficiency, coordinated faculty recruiting, and improved responsiveness to industry needs. An integrated computing school or department would also have expanded opportunities for fund-raising and research grants, as well as an easier path toward establishing an institutional reputation.
Of course, clearing the path for independent computing schools or departments comes at the expense of traditional engineering and computer science departments, who would be giving up what for many has become their most popular major. It could adversely affect students whose areas of study closely integrates computing and engineering. Some engineering schools are also effectively using introductory computer courses to draw students into their engineering majors. As for reputation, defenders of the status quo also note that several schools, including University of Michigan, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Texas at Austin and University of Maryland, have successfully built highly regarded computer science programs within their engineering or natural sciences colleges.
Basken notes two additional barriers for colleges and universities considering a change, the first being the current shortage of computer science faculty. The other is increasing pressure from industry for engineering and computer graduates with an appreciation of the humanities and social sciences, which may be harder to deliver in a more specialized and focused Computer Science school or department model.
The Prism article does not attempt to answer the question it raises, which is of particular interest to IEEE because of the close affinity between electrical/electronics and computing. So what do you think? Should computing goes its own way on campus, and separate itself from the engineering department or college? Or is there a better way to address the needs of computing both as an academic discipline and as a rapidly growing, high demand field without deconstructing the classic engineering and computer science department or college?
At another level, there is an interesting question as to whether and how IEEE should adapt to the changes that result as more schools work to strengthen their computing programs and separate them from their engineering schools? There are administrative questions, such as how would IEEE student branches work on a divided campus? But more importantly, how would the increasing separation of engineering and computing affect IEEE membership, especially since current member data suggests IEEE’s U.S. membership is tilting more and more toward the EE-side and less toward computing, despite the fact that industry demand for computer grads continues to grow.
Let us know what you think.
|On 15 Oct., MIT announced plans to create the Stephen A. Schwartzman College of Computing, backed by a $1 billion investment and charged with providing an institutional focus on AI. According to MIT President L. Rafael Reif, the goal of the new College is to serve as an interdisciplinary hub to “educate the bilinguals of the future” who can bring the techniques of modern computing to the fields of biology, chemistry, politics, history, linguistics and other fields. From the announcement, it was not immediately clear how the new College would relate to, or impact the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computing in MIT’s School of Engineering.|
Chris Brantley is IEEE-USA’s managing director.