Response to External Review Department of Computer Science Spring 2012

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1 Link to Self Study Link to External Review Response to External Review Department of Computer Science Spring 2012 Preamble The Department of Computer Science welcomes the opportunity to respond to the final report of our external review committee that was completed December We are gratified for the recognition from the committee of numerous successes in core mission areas such as research productivity, rapid development of the young Masters in Software Engineering program, and others also mentioned in the report. As decision makers analyze the self-study, the external review report and our response to the review, it is important to keep in mind that a major factor in several of the positive accomplishments noted by our external reviewers are the three junior faculty that were hired between 2007 and We draw special attention to this because within the next few years, as many as four faculty members will be leaving the university, primarily due to retirement. With up to 1/3 of the department s faculty positions in transition, strong support from the University administration is necessary for our department to maintain its current momentum and properly address some of the suggestions made in the External Review Final Report. Computer science is an exciting and rapidly evolving field of study. Our faculty and staff continue to be motivated and committed to supporting the mission of the university. The computer science department strives to provide an academic program that both empowers students to contribute to the solutions of a myriad of practical computational problems in both commercial and noncommercial areas of study, and also contributes to the continuing exploration of the limits of computation in solving a wide variety of intellectually challenging problems. Through those efforts, we look forward to the coming years as a time of great opportunity for the department as noted in the following pages. This report is organized by major factors facing the department, with responses to specific issues brought up by the External Review grouped accordingly. 1. Faculty issues Faculty The review committee has several good things to say about the faculty in general, but points out significant needs as well. The most pressing is the need for an additional faculty member in software engineering. The department has lost the contribution of one faculty member in that area, leaving the current faculty with a high project and thesis supervision load. Dr. John Placer has announced his retirement effective June 1, 2012, and the department has requested that his position be returned, with the plan of filling it with a tenure-track software engineering faculty member. That should have a significant impact on the workload of the current three faculty in that area. The hiring process should not be hurried so much that we do not get the best person available in that area, so it will

2 probably be fall 2013, not fall 2012 as the external review recommends, before that person can be hired. For the academic year, the department can rely on temporary faculty to cover teaching responsibilities, with the promise of improvements in graduate student supervision beginning with the academic year. The review committee also recommends hiring a permanent chair for the department. That should be the next hiring priority. The department greatly needs a permanent chair to guide it through upcoming events, such as ABET accreditation, and to keep the department on track for improvement. There is a strong possibility that another position will open by the beginning of fall 2012, and, if the position is returned to the department, a search for a chair should be done concurrently with a search for a new software engineering faculty member. There is another issue related to faculty that the review committee did not address because they did not have the information. In the near future two current faculty members are planning to retire, one of them possibly choosing phased retirement. Although those plans remain tentative and are at the discretion of those faculty members, the department should think about its needs and how to replace those faculty members, with emphasis on junior faculty whose areas enhance the department s coverage of teaching areas and that complement, enhance or extend its research areas. Recognizing teaching responsibilities The review committee recommends recognizing project and thesis supervision as part of teaching load. That is sensible, but has difficulties. First, project and thesis supervision is typically arranged after teaching assignments have been made for a given term, by mutual agreement between faculty members and students, so it is not known in advance what the load on a particular faculty member will be. Second, the university administration has its own way of counting teaching load, and changing that is out of our jurisdiction. One possibility for recognizing supervision as part of load is to assume that each faculty member will have the same supervision load next semester as this semester, and to count that as part of release time. A rule of thumb might be that supervising two students counts as one credit of release time. Practical considerations might make even that untenable, since the department depends on some faculty members with high supervision loads to teach some courses. Not offering the courses is not an option. Faculty who have high supervision loads have them because they realize how important it is for students to have supervisors in their area. Decisions in this difficult area will need to be made by the department chair. Recognition of faculty accomplishments The review committee recommends improved recognition for faculty accomplishments through pay raises and university, college and departmental awards. Faculty members currently receive recognition for their work in their annual reviews. Pay raises are at the mercy of the state legislature, and all that can be done currently in that area is awarding of temporary stipends, which are difficult to get. University awards are available, and faculty can apply for them. Of the committee s recommendations in this area, college and departmental awards are the most viable. Having never seen such awards, their intended nature is unclear, and the committee is vague on it. This issue should be brought to the faculty for suggestions. Faculty development leave The Review recommends instituting some form of faculty development leave. That issue is out of the department s control, and must come from higher up in the administration, or even to the university s financial masters. The department has no options for doing it independently. 2. Equipment, space and system administration System administrator

3 As discussed in the self-study document, having a good system administrator is critical to the success of a computer science department. From 2001 to 2005 the department had its own system administrator. After that person s resignation, the department went two years without any system administrator. In 2007, at the department s request, the dean converted a faculty line to allow the hiring of John Jones, who has provided administration for equipment to support Computer Science. However, he is part of the college staff, and has other duties that involve supporting other departments. There have been frequent failures of computers that support students and faculty. There has also been a lack of support for departmental web pages and other system functions. The review committee recommends getting a system administrator dedicated to the department. One way to do that would be to move John Jones position back to the department, since it was taken in 2007 from a computer science faculty line. The department chair will discuss this with the dean. Department website The committee points out that the department web site needs work. It is not clear just what kind of work they are thinking of, such as whether they are concerned with appearance or content or both. But regardless of that, maintaining web pages, or just about any other recurring task, works best when it is the responsibility of one person, though that person might request help in getting things done. It is tempting to assign such work to a student assistant. But doing so is almost guaranteed to lead to a lack of consistency over time. The best person to be responsible for the department web site would be the system administrator. Faculty members already have plenty to do without also trying to maintain a web page with constantly changing information. Movement of a system administrator position into the department would help solve this problem. If a system administrator position is not achieved, then it is not clear where to go with this. The department currently has a webmaster, but that person has not chosen to make more than minor content changes, and it is unlikely that anyone in the department is really interested in maintaining web pages as part of his or her job. A better option is to ask one of the department s administrative assistants to be responsible for the web pages. The nature of the content will necessarily be different, since administrative staff cannot be expected to maintain any kind of sophisticated web site. Graduate student space The review committee makes two recommendations concerning space for graduate students. The first is to improve the facilities in Austin 207, the graduate student lab. The second is to offer office space for graduate students who have assistantships. The first suggestion is already underway, thanks to efforts by Debra Haddock. Both furniture and computers will be improved shortly. Currently two graduate students who are teaching introductory courses are sharing a vacant office. But office space is tight, and offices are not likely to remain vacant for long. The department will do what it can to provide office space for students with assistantships, given the constraints. A properly equipped Austin 207 is a backup for this purpose for student study and research purposes, and a backup for holding office hours is the laboratory, Austin 208/ Curriculum issues BS software engineering track The review committee recommends establishing a track in software engineering for the BS degree.

4 That has been under consideration by the curriculum committee. There are some stumbling blocks. One is that the department decided a few years ago to remove concentrations, allowing students more choice in what they would study. But this reintroduces concentrations, and it is not sensible to oscillate in degree requirements. A more serious consideration is introduction of new courses. The department currently offers two undergraduate software engineering courses, and both are required for the BS in computer science. In order to offer a software engineering track, the department would clearly need to offer some additional undergraduate courses in software engineering. But right now faculty members in the software engineering area have no additional time for such courses. Further consideration of this track should wait until a new software engineering faculty member is hired. MSCS online The review committee recommends offering the MS in Computer Science online. Given the low enrollment in the MSCS, offering it online is the probably best way to prevent cancellation of the degree. However, there has been resistance to it based on concerns about quality of instruction, reliability of student assessment, and increase in instructional work load (and, as cannot be avoided, a corresponding decrease in work on other things.) The review committee wisely recommends against ramming an online degree through against serious faculty objections. Since those objections have persisted, the department s best approach now is to obtain information on to what extent online education will likely increase enrollment, based on experiences in Computer Science departments at other universities, so that faculty can make an informed decision. 4+1 degree The 4+1 degree allows a student to count a few courses toward both the bachelor s and master s degree, typically saving one semester and increasing the possibility of finishing the master s degree after five years. The department faculty approved applying for a 4+1 degree, and the curriculum committee developed the details and got it approved. However, in the process it was learned that the administration considers the 4+1 degree a separate degree. That means that any student who enters the MS degree as part of the 4+1 degree will not be counted as part of the MS class. Since the MS in Computer Science already has enrollment low enough for it to undergo low-enrollment reviews, establishing a 4+1 degree for it is counterproductive. The department should revise its proposal to allow a 4+1 degree leading to the MS in Software Engineering, which has higher enrollment. Certificate programs The review committee recommends increasing enrollment by offering certificates. The department currently offers one certificate, but it does not seem to attract students who are not already majors. If pursued, that must be approached with caution. Certificates that require new courses would increase teaching responsibilities without it being clear that there would be any demand. Each certificate is required to be assessed for university accreditation, and that adds to the assessment load. The committee does not offer suggestions for the nature of the certificates. The department s curriculum committee should look into this, with due caution. 4. Graduate program Graduate committee and assistantships The review committee says Graduate admissions are the responsibility of a 3-member committee. The Graduate Assistantships are allocated by the Graduate Program Director (or equivalent) who makes every effort to consult other faculty members in an informal way before making decisions. The committee recommends formalizing this process. The graduate committee currently has three members, and that is a reasonable size for a committee that assigns assistantships. The department currently has a policy on assigning tasks to assistants, which has remained approximately the same since the MS degree was approved, and that follows the following model. During the first week of

5 classes, all faculty members are sent an similar to the following. Please submit your proposals regarding the use of graduate assistants for this semester by 5:00PM, ***date***. The support duties to which I assign portions of various assistants' time will include CSCI 2311 and CSCI 1001 lab support; general lab support and some grading support depending on the enrollment levels; but there will still be some assistant hours available for research support. Involving students in research and publication is a high priority and I will try to support your research activities as much as possible. After receiving requests, the Graduate Director makes assignments. Policies such as this are always subject to change if someone proposes a change and that change is approved by the faculty. Increase support for graduate students The committee recommends increasing support for graduate students. Such support can come from three main sources: department support for research and teaching assistants, grant support for research assistants and student jobs in other departments or off campus. Support from grants depends on acquisition of grants, and really falls into another area. The department s Graduate Directors have put in quite a bit of time on increasing support from the university, yielding approximately $80,000 in general assistantship support and $99,000 specifically for software engineering students. In prior years the dean s office has been generous with additional support derived from lapsed salary money, but that money is scarce this year. (Even in this year, the dean has managed to offer an additional $8,500 in summer assistantship support.) The Graduate Director has contacts in other departments where students are hired, and should continue to exploit and increase those. It is not clear that there are additional, unexplored areas. PhD Pursuing a PhD, as recommended by the review committee, is a sound long-term goal for the department. The department has several faculty members who are active in research and who would benefit from the presence of PhD students. New programs are difficult to get approved in the current climate. The department should look into the possibility of joining a consortium with another university that already offers a PhD as a stepping stone toward sole ownership of the degree. Working with the consortium will enhance faculty credentials for offering this degree and greatly improve later chances of getting it approved. 5. Other issues Accreditation Assessment and accreditation issues are of key importance. SACS accreditation work is ongoing, and the department plans to seek ABET accreditation for the BS degree in Dr. John Placer, who retires at the end of spring 2012, has lead the department on both SACS and ABET accreditation work, and will be sorely missed. Nobody else in the department has his level of interest in assessment issues. The department needs to develop an active assessment committee that has significant contributions from all members. Relationships with alumni Contact with alumni is important to the department, since the department needs to know what and how well its alumni are doing in order to assess how well it is doing educating students. The

6 department has been sending s to alumni requesting information about what they are doing. The department has alumni on its advisory board. There has been a suggestion to have a social networking page for departmental alumni. However, if alumni are too busy to reply to s, it is unlikely that they are willing to participate in a social networking site. Also, maintaining a presence at such a site is time consuming. The department should continue to attempt to contact its alumni, and should maintain a social networking site only when it is clear that there is interest among alumni and that someone is willing to keep the site up to date. Transparency in departmental administration The committee points out that some faculty feel that departmental decisions are not made in a transparent way. The department chair needs to improve that. There is no single magic bullet for doing this, but a general effort in several areas will improve it. The chair s decisions will never be popular with everyone, but at least it should be clear that everyone s opinions and needs are taken into account. University evaluation of the department The committee recommends that the university evaluate the computer science department by comparing it to computer science departments are peer institutions rather than by comparing it to other departments at ECU. That lies beyond the control of the department, and does not appear to be an area where an investment in time will be fruitful. The recent report by the Program Prioritization Committee (PPC) offers little hope for altered review policies. In fact, the PPC declined to re-evaluate its findings on learning that its data for the first pass had been incorrect, and preferred to stick with results based on known incorrect data, in spite of much pleading that they change the way they were doing things. Faculty engagement The committee says that some faculty members are not fully engaged in the departmental operations to the extent they could be. It is unclear from the report just where they see the lack of engagement. It is likely that the expected turnover of one third of the faculty in the next two or three years, along with the hiring of a new Chair, will improve this perception greatly.

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