Computing Profession

Albion College Eliminates Computer Science

Mark Guzdial
Georgia Institute of Technology professor Mark Guzdial

Albion College’s Board of Trustees has decided to eliminate the Computer Science major due to budget cuts and low enrollment. Albion is a small, liberal arts college in Michigan, so that might not attract too much attention. I’m a native Detroiter, and some of my best friends went to Albion, so I noticed.

In similar letters from Paul Tobias (Chairman, Albion College Board of Trustees) sent to the Albion faculty and the Albion family, the Board of Trustees reported that they have eliminated computer science as a major at Albion College and that Albion College may continue to offer a computer science minor. In the process, an untenured Assistant Professor has been notified his position will be discontinued after the 2010-2011 academic year.

From Albion’s Math & CS Department website.

Eliminating computer science is going to happen at some institutions. The Albion decision is causing outrage because the Board of Trustees changed some faculty governance rules in order to be able to make this decision over the faculty’s complaints. The faculty governance issues are significant, but I’m more interested in the reasoning and context for this decision.

The board made this decision based on ”how do we best prepare our students for meaningful … work in the 21st century?” They eliminated a few additional degree programs at the same time:

Majors in computer science and physical education and minors in dance, journalism and physical education will not be part of the college’s curriculum moving forward — a reduction strategy that will eliminate about 12 courses, said Dr. Donna Randall, the college’s president.

From MLive News.

With the failing fortunes of newspapers, journalism as a major is in trouble. If I want to stay academic rigorous and have to eliminate some education major, physical education is the one that I’d eliminate, too. But computer science? Is it perceived by the general public as dying like journalism? Is it perceived as being as lacking academic rigor as physical education? I find it hard to believe that a Board of Trustees would see Computer Science as not being critical to "work in the 21st century," yet there you have it.

I am not really in a position to critique the Albion decision, and I am not claiming that this is the first of many closings. (It may be — I don’t have any special insight or data to tell me.) What is interesting is the perspective that the Albion Board of Trustees has about computer science, and its relative lack of importance to the academy. Do most intelligent, respected people who sit on such governing boards see computer science in a similar light? That’s a scary thought.

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