As of 11:30 p.m. last night, 289 Yale students and affiliates had signed a petition calling for the University administration to increase the number of faculty in the Computer Science Department.
The petition comes nearly two weeks after an open letter to the administration penned by CS graduate student Rasmus Kyng GRD ’17 and signed by 25 out of the 33 current Ph.D. students in the department. The letter, first published in the News, is nearly identical to the latest petition, which was published by CS major Alex Reinking ’16 on his personal website. The two documents differ only in their opening sentences.
“We are distraught by the condition of Yale’s Computer Science Department,” the petition reads. “Our department lacks enough faculty to offer the breadth and depth of classes expected at a modern university, let alone a world-class research institution.”
Reinking said he developed the petition with the help of other undergraduates and received permission from Kyng’s fellow authors to reuse most of their original letter. Reinking added that he hopes the renewed effort to bring attention to the faculty issue will result in an appropriate response from the administration, which has yet to make a public statement about the future of the Computer Science Department.
While the administration has not offered a formal, public response to the recent efforts, it has acknowledged the graduate students’ letter.
“We did read the letter from some of the graduate students in Computer Science. It is clear that they care passionately about their department,” said Associate Provost for Science and Technology Jim Slattery in a Feb. 25 email to the News.
Computer Science is now the seventh-most popular undergraduate major at Yale.
The petition and letter, which demand a “radical expansion of the computer science faculty” note that the median faculty size of the top 20 computer science departments in the country is 48. Yale currently has 20 computer science professors — the same number of faculty the department had in 1989.
Reinking’s petition website allows anyone with a Yale NetID to securely submit their signature. Reinking said he thought it was important to open up the petition, not just to computer science majors, but to all Yale students.
CS major Daniel Leibovic ’17, who signed the petition, said he chose to sign the petition because he is upset by how “critically overlooked” the CS Department remains, given the discipline’s importance to the modern world.
“I feel very strongly that … the University as a whole will do a lot better in the long run if it invests in one of the fields that is producing the most famous, wealthy and influential entrepreneurs that can push Yale’s name into the future and still provide it with a more reliable treasury,” Leibovic said.
Although the site has been up for nearly two weeks, Reinking said, CS undergraduates just started advertising it to the Yale community on Facebook this past weekend. At one point last night, the petition received one signature roughly every minute for an hour.
Computer Science Director of Undergraduate Studies James Aspnes said in a Sunday night email to the News that he was not surprised by the undergraduates’ support of the graduate students’ sentiments and agreed that the Yale CS Department is in a difficult position after 25 years of no growth. But Aspnes added that he thinks the University administration is committed to finding a solution to the faculty problem.
“Universities are slow-moving institutions, so in the absence of a sudden large donation like the one at Harvard, I don’t expect to see the kind of immediate, rapid increase in the CS faculty that this petition calls for, but the input from the undergraduates help demonstrate the urgency of doing something,” Aspnes said.
In an email response to Jérémie Koenig GRD ’18, one of the students who signed the letter, FAS Dean Tamar Gendler wrote that she and other administrators shared the graduate students’ view that Yale needs a “world-class computer science department in order to fulfill its core mission.”
Koenig said he felt optimistic after Gendler and Yale CS professors hinted that the administration will address the issue in the foreseeable future.
But computer science professor Brian Scassellati said he was unaware of any current activity among administrators to change the situation in the Computer Science Department.
“Yale needs a substantially bigger computer science department if it is to maintain its status as an elite university in the 21st century” CS Department chairman Joan Feigenbaum said in a Sunday night email to the News. She added that in the past few months she has had constructive conversations with high-level administrators and expects to see change soon.
CS major Stylianos Rousoglou ’18, who shared the petition on several Yale community Facebook groups’ pages last night, said he wants administrators to take meaningful action after reading the student petition.