September 12, 2002

Info Science Unveils New Form

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University officials recently unveiled a plan that will redefine the administrative structure of computing and information science at Cornell.

According to its proponents, the interdisciplinary plan promises increased academic freedom for students and faculty alike.

Computing and Information Science (CIS) will now serve as a college-level entity but without the administrative structure of a college. Students and faculty will have their homes in other colleges and the latter will have joint appointments in CIS.

“Information science is interesting and important and here we want to draw on all our strengths,” said Robert Constable, dean for CIS.

Three years ago, the Faculty of Computing and Information Science (FCIS) was established to manufacture new courses in computing.

“The program has generated something like 15 new courses in computing and information science,” Constable said.

The FCIS was an initial blueprint and the final structure is being finalized with the new restructuring plans.

“The plan clarifies the relationship between the College of Engineering, CIS and the Department of Computer Science. The College of Engineering will provide an administrative umbrella for CIS,” said W. Kent Fuchs, dean of the College of Engineering.

Proponents of the plan hope to preserve academic flexibility while limiting administrative baggage.

“The program cuts through the college-level bureaucracies and technical details,” Constable said.

Constable claims that students with broad interests are often forced to specialize. This can cause trouble for those in computing and information science who are not necessarily focused on the computing but only need it to provide instrumental support for other interests, according to Constable.

The multidisciplinary structure is similar to the University’s academic approach to graduate education.

“Graduate students can follow their interests and not have to worry so much about administrative boundaries. That’s because graduate education is organized around fields and not departments,” said Prof. Charles Van Loan, computer science.

Van Loan, chair of computer science, will now report to the dean of CIS as well as to the dean of the engineering college.

The Department of Computer Science will be held jointly by CIS and the College of Engineering. It was previously shared by the College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences since it was established 37 years ago. However, students in Arts and Sciences will still be able to major in computer science.

“It sounds like a good plan for more opportunities for students interested in computing. I just hope that it doesn’t negatively impact existing computer science majors,” said computer science major Adam Berlinsky-Schine ’05.

The program will open up opportunities for new courses, minors and majors in CIS. The first of these is a new minor in Information Science that will be available in six of Cornell’s seven undergraduate colleges.

“The [School of Hotel Administration] felt that they already offered courses similar to those required for the minor,” Constable said.

Other programs such as computational biology as well as digital art and graphics are also forming. Under the new program, the number of ways to major or minor in computing will multiply from two to six.

The reorganization is a unique response to the problem of finding an appropriate educational structure for the relatively new area of information science, Constable noted. Many universities, such as the Georgia Institute of Technology, have been establishing entirely new colleges devoted to the expanding field.

“When this is done, I hope people on the outside will say Cornell was the one that got it right,” Van Loan said.

Fuchs said that he expects the system to be fully implemented by the end of the semester.

“I’m very supportive of the new organization and how it will enable computing and engineering to collaborate,” Fuchs said.

Archived article by Philip Lane