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Administration Considers Computer Science Major

JOHN WITCZAK ’22 | STAFF WRITER • Wabash College is a serious institution. Given the fact that a strong academic curriculum is the backbone of the school, one is not surprised to learn that the process of establishing a new major is a time consuming and rigorous endeavor. Last Tuesday, September 18, the faculty met for an open discourse regarding the proposed implementation of a new computer science major and decided to bring the matter to a faculty vote tentatively scheduled for October 2nd. The faculty vote is the second of the three biggest hurdles any potential new major faces.

In order to gain a clearer understanding of the process that is already well underway to add a new major, The Bachelor sat down with Scott Feller, Dean of the College and head of the Academic Policy Committee. Feller laid out the method Wabash uses to decide whether or not to accept a new major. The first task, submitting
a proposal to the Academic Policy Committee, had been undertaken on behalf of his colleagues by Professor William Turner, the chair of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science.

The proposal contains a number of interesting and illuminative arguments regarding the merit of a new computer science major. The first is that Wabash has been offering a minor on the subject for years and that a significant number of students, both past and present, have expressed their interest in majoring in the field. The second and related argument pertains to prospective students, many of whom demonstrate strong interest towards Wabash in general but go on to enroll elsewhere due to their wanting to major in computer science. This problem is especially prevalent among international students, and the adoption of the major could see Wabash competing head on with other institutions that are currently ahead of the curve. As we all know, Wabash men are always willing to engage in some friendly (and at times not so friendly) competition.

 

Instituting a computer science major is well in line with the tradition of a liberal arts education. As the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science’s proposal argues, computers and technology play a large role in all disciplines and literacy in the field will aid students in leaving their mark on a society increasingly dependent on computing. Though this is certainly true, an education in computer science also prepares the student for problems of all kinds, not just those in a specific area. The proposal makes this clear.

“While computer science can
be a very technical discipline in which computers play an important role in every course, the discipline actually focuses primarily on the systematic study of the formal properties of algorithms and data structures and their mechanical and linguistic realizations,” Feller said. “It teaches a method for solving complex problems and studying processes in general. The techniques we use to analyze algorithms on a computer can
be used to find more effective processes for systems that do not involve any technology. Computer science thus really teaches a way of thinking and problem solving.”

Having heard these and other arguments over an extended period of time, Dean Feller and the Academic Policy Committee agreed to set the motion to a faculty vote, moving the aspiring major past its first hurdle. The motion now sits in limbo until the vote commences, but Dean Feller feels positive regarding its chances for adoption. In reference to the faculty-wide brainstorming session that was held last Tuesday, Feller said, “The conversation was very positive

yesterday at the faculty meeting. New questions could come up
but my sense was that there was an understanding that this is an opportunity and, honestly, all of our peer institutions already teach computer science, including what I would call our aspirant institutions.” He went on to add,

“I think there is a large reason to think that this is something we can add to our curriculum.”

If the faculty were to vote “yes” on the proposal, it would then head towards the Board of Trustees, which meets three times a year. The Board represents the third
and final obstacle in the way of computer science being Wabash’s newest major. If they were to give it the greenlight, the program’s existing catalogue would be

renumbered and expanded upon by at least five additional courses, with a new faculty member being hired in order to handle the increased workload.

Although there is still much debate, preparation, and paperwork to be done, there is reason to believe that computer science will soon be Wabash’s newest major. “Really, it has been the Math and Computer Science Department that did the research and the work to find out what computer science should look like at a liberal arts college in 2018,” Feller said.