On Thursday, dozens of students across campus could be seen wearing navy blue shirts that read “SEAS++” on the front, a play on the computer programming language C++; on the back of the shirts, “BYTE ME” — spelled out in binary.
The shirts came from a noon ceremony in the CEID, at which administrators announced two donations — totaling $20 million — to the SEAS, the move of the Computer Science Department to the engineering school and the addition of five new faculty spots to the department. All students interviewed were ecstatic about the announcement, but many were careful to temper their enthusiasm — even with the donation, CS at Yale is far from where it needs to be, they said.
“It’s even more than just hiring professors — [University President Peter] Salovey and other administrators made it clear that they’ve admitted this is a problem and they’re working to solve it,” said Debayan Gupta GRD ’17. “I definitely see this as a very positive first step, as long as the administration keeps going in this direction.”
Among other concerns, students cited the large size of rival departments at peer institutions. The recent donations, along with one other faculty addition for a specialist in online privacy, will only ensure that the Yale Computer Science Department grows from 20 faculty to 26. But Harvard already has 24, and following an estimated $60 million donation earlier this year, plans to hire 12 additional professors.
Still, students said the news represents an exciting first step.
“It might not be enough, but you need to start somewhere,” Gupta said. “You can’t do everything in one step.”
Rasmus Kyng GRD ’17, the co-author of an open letter from graduate students to the administration, which petitioned for a radical increase in the size of the department, said that he is willing to believe the administration will genuinely try to pursue future growth.
“It is a very good step, but only the beginning,” he said.
Alex Reinking ’16, who circulated an online petition that was signed by more than 1,100 Yale affiliates and argued for increasing the size of the department, said the commitment to growth made by administration was “either a very good lie,” or the CS Department will actually see more future growth than already promised.
Computer Science and Electrical Engineering major Kimo Hon ’15 said that although, as a senior, he will not reap the benefits of the donation, he is happy the department will finally see growth.
“It is slightly disappointing to me that we have to wait for a $20 million donation to expand the CS faculty,” he said. “There should have been some way to do this by drawing from some other source [within Yale].”
Aaron Segal GRD ’17, who co-authored the graduate student open letter, said he had expected to hear only five new slots being announced at the ceremony, but was pleased to hear that there will be seven hires over the next several years. Those two additional hires will include a replacement for current CS professor Bryan Ford and the position for an online privacy expert.
Two faculty searches are being performed this year, three have been approved for next year and the final two searches will follow in the next several years, Gendler announced at the ceremony.
Segal said he is optimistic about the hiring, and that he has heard the applicant pool for this year is especially strong. Even if the searches take longer than expected, Segal said the administration will continue to be committed to growth.
“We had some concerns before the announcement that [the administration] would think all of our problems are now fixed, but to hear the president and deans say they were committed to this being just the first step was very reassuring,” he said.
Students also expressed optimism regarding the shift into the engineering school.
Ferro said she believes the move will set up a more “sustainable future and bolster the infrastructure which is currently lacking” because SEAS is more likely to care about the concerns of CS faculty, graduate students and undergraduates than the Faculty of Arts and Sciences — where the Computer Science Department was previously housed — does.
Still, students were divided on whether they believed the move into SEAS would signify an increase in the number of CS courses that focus on application as opposed to theory. With more faculty, the department might be able to offer more courses focused on applications.
Hon said he thinks the move into the SEAS, where applied reasoning is a central focus, will welcome more application-based classes.
Still, Reinking, who spoke with department chair Joan Feigenbaum about the issue, said the new hires would most likely not mean a shift toward application-based classes. He pointed out that even some professors in SEAS place a strong emphasis on theory, so the move may have little impact in shifting focus from theory to application.
The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences was founded in 1852.