With course schedules finalized, CS50 has officially secured its place as the most popular class at Yale this semester. Perhaps more remarkably, the course has managed to excite the student body in a way unseen since the peak of “The Structure of Networks” in spring 2014; it rendered the cavernous SSS 114 a bandbox, at least until the professor announced in the midst of a rousing ovation that lectures would be taped and posted online. The enthusiasm for learning that CS50 has generated among students is commendable. Nevertheless, the course’s current manifestation is a raw deal for Yale students.
In making this charge, I do not refer to the content of CS50. Frankly, I don’t have the computer science expertise to make such a judgment, and from everyone I’ve talked to in the course, the material covered is both practical and terrific. I don’t begrudge anyone for taking the class and have great respect for the student teaching fellows, many of whom are my good friends, who facilitate the instruction.
However, when we take a step back from the puzzle days and the EDM concerts and the performance art, we are left with an unfortunate picture. The most popular class at Yale today is a Harvard class. We are being charged over $60,000 a year, and our most-subscribed course is another school’s class on a projector. While Yale is undoubtedly the best university in the country, CS50 is an albatross and an unambiguous symbol of inferiority. It’s like wearing a thousand-dollar tuxedo with a big yellow stain right on the lapel.
This reality becomes evident when one considers who exactly is most excited about CS50 at Yale. Ironically, the answer cannot be found on campus at all. Rather, it is the smug, self-important, arrogant students at Harvard (where such a demographic is abundantly present) who now have yet another punchline to mindlessly recycle in demonstrating their school’s supposed superiority. Harvard students are laughing at us, and we have voluntarily provided the fodder.
I bleed “Boola Blue.” However, I also understand the value of changing technologies and recognize that someday in the future, it is likely that some classes will be taught by a handful of professors whose lectures are screened in hundreds of universities. Perhaps CS50 is cut from this cloth.
However, in such a future, education should certainly be less expensive than it is today. When you break down the cost of tuition by the average number of credits a Yale student takes every semester, each class costs $5,088. That’s a hefty price tag for another school’s class on a projector, even if the professor visits every once in awhile. If Yale wants to go down the path of videotaping other schools’ classes, students should not be expected to pay as much for it.
Yet the cost of tuition has only increased — it went up $1,800 this year. Additionally, the University seems to be nickel-and-diming students with an infestation of $50 fines, including a new one for not enrolling in classes on OCS a full two weeks before schedules are due.
Further, the disappointment of CS50 is exacerbated by the state of Yale’s Computer Science Department. If nothing else, interest in CS50 has proven that students have a passion for computer science. The field is forward-looking, with high-paying prospects and cutting-edge opportunities. Yet at Yale, our department is underresourced and understaffed. It is in such poor shape that last year a student petition calling for an increase in CS faculty garnered over 1,000 signatures.
Some faculty positions have been added, and there are indications that the administration is beginning to take Yale’s seventh -most-popular major more seriously. Hopefully CS50 will serve as a wake-up call, affirming the need to meet student interest. Yale should either provide sufficient resources to its Computer Science Department, rendering unnecessary the screening of classes from other schools, or it should charge us less in tuition.
Michael Herbert is a senior in Saybrook College. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .