TITLE: Talking to the New University President about Computer Science AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: July 11, 2013 2:57 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Our university recently hired a new president. Yesterday, he and the provost came to a meeting of the department heads in humanities, arts, and sciences, so that he could learn a little about the college. The dean asked each head to introduce his or her department in one minute or less. I came in under a minute, as instructed. Rather than read a litany of numbers that he can read in university reports, I focused on two high-level points: I closed with a connection to current events:
We think that all university graduates should understand what 'metadata' is and what computer programs can do with it -- enough so that they can understand the current stories about the NSA and be able to make informed decisions as a citizen.
I hoped that this would be provocative and memorable. The statement elicited laughs and head nods all around. The president commented on the Snowden case, asked me where I thought he would land, and made an analogy to The Man Without a Country. I pointed out that everyone wants to talk about Snowden, including the media, but that's not even the most important part of the story. Stories about people are usually of more interest than stories about computer programs and fundamental questions about constitutional rights. I am not sure how many people believe that computer science is a necessary part of a university education these days, or at least the foundations of computing in the modern world. Some schools have computing or technology requirements, and there is plenty of press for the "learn to code" meme, even beyond the CS world. But I wonder how many US university graduates in 2013 understand enough computing (or math) to understand this clever article and apply that understand to the world they live in right now. Our new president seemed to understand. That could bode well for our department and university in the coming years. -----