Understaffed, Computer Science Seeks Faculty to Meet Demand

Computer science is the fastest growing undergraduate major at Boston College, but the department remains notably understaffed.

According to the BC Factbook, the number of undergraduate computer science majors has grown from 57 in 2007 to 268 in 2016, an increase of 370 percent, the largest of any undergraduate discipline. The number of undergraduate minors increased from 19 in 2012 to 41 in 2016. The computer science department had nine full-time faculty for the 2016-17 school year, a faculty to student ratio of about 1:34 for the department’s 309 majors and minors. The faculty to student ratio in 2007 was about 1:5.

Edward Sciore, an associate professor in the computer science department, is expected to retire this year, and the contract of one of the visiting professors in the department is also set to expire. Robert Signorile, also an associate professor, has deferred his retirement to December of 2018. The department has hired two new tenure-track faculty members, with Lewis Tseng to start teaching in the fall, and Emily Tucker Prud’hommeaux to start in the spring of 2018. Vahid Montazerhodjat has joined the department as a long-term faculty member, and two additional visiting faculty, Ziyuan Meng and Anjum Biswas, have also been hired, bringing the department’s total to 12 for the 2017-18 school year. Despite these new hires, Sergio Alvarez, the department’s chair, believes that the department will still be understaffed.

“We’ve grown a little bit, but that’s because we were simply way understaffed,” he said. “Now we’re still understaffed, and we will be with these additional hires.”

Alvarez is in the process of writing a study comparing the computer science department at BC to those at other leading liberal arts universities, including Yale, Dartmouth, Brown, Georgetown, and the University of Chicago. In his research, he found that BC’s department would need 16 faculty members to be on par with the general average for universities nationally. He doesn’t see any sign of students’ interest in computer science slowing down, and he thinks that the department needs a minimum of 20 faculty, based on BC’s size, although he ideally would like to have as many as 30, which would bring the faculty to student ratio down to about 1:15 or 1:10, respectively.

Louis Andrews, MCAS ’17, a computer science major, said that the understaffing of the department sometimes makes scheduling tricky, especially for those pursuing a B.S. rather than a B.A., because some required courses are only offered once every other year.

“I can’t imagine that you would find a CS major at this school that their biggest complaint wouldn’t be the lack of classes offered, which is a product of understaffing,” he said.

The University determines how many professors are needed in each department based on the faculty to student credit hour ratio, according to Vice Provost for Faculties Billy Soo. BC looks at student demand for courses in a…

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