Date Posted: 9/05/2002

By Bill Steele (Cornell Chronicle, September 5, 2002)

A reorganization announced July 1 by Cornell President Hunter Rawlings and Provost Biddy Martin promises to streamline the structure of computing and information science instruction, tying the Department of Computer Science more closely to the Faculty of Computing and Information Science (FCIS). Robert Constable, dean for Computing and Information Science (CIS), and W. Kent Fuchs, dean of the College of Engineering, collaborated on the plan. "The Faculty of Computing and Information Science was established to develop research collaborations and educational programs for the entire university. Under the leadership of Dean Constable, the programs in Computing and Information Science have flourished, and we expect they will continue to grow," Martin said.

The FCIS was created three years ago as an interdisciplinary unit, with members spread across several colleges and departments. They're involved in computational linguistics, computational biology, computer-aided design, computer graphics, interactive information systems, computer simulation and more. But there also is the Department of Computer Science, which has been around since 1965. It has belonged to both the College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences, and computer science faculty members held appointments in both colleges. This arrangement made sense because the discipline broadly embraced mathematics, the physical sciences and engineering.

With the reorganization, the Department of Computer Science will jointly belong to the College of Engineering and the FCIS. Charles Van Loan, chair of the department, will report both to the dean for CIS and the dean of engineering. From the inception of the FCIS, its faculty members all have had their "homes" in various academic departments and their respective colleges, reporting both to the deans of those colleges and to Constable. Now members of the Department of Computer Science will be jointly appointed in both engineering and the FCIS.

"I'm impressed that the structure is simpler and cleaner," Constable said. "The structure that Biddy and Hunter came up with is elegant and effective." "It's essentially business as usual with respect to the day-to-day running of the department," Van Loan added. "However, the new administrative arrangement makes it possible for us to contribute in both Engineering and the larger CIS initiative. The whole is definitely greater than the sum of these two parts."

Students in the College of Arts and Sciences will still be able to major in computer science. Currently, Van Loan said, about 200 computer science majors graduate each year, and about 70 of those are in the College of Arts and Sciences. Students in the College of Engineering can either major or minor in computer science.

Starting this year, the FCIS will offer a minor or a concentration in information science to students in six of the seven undergraduate colleges. As Constable describes it, "information science" deals with the use of computers to process large and complex stores of data, while "computer science" is mainly about how to compute well and automatically process information. The new minor, Constable said, reflects the fact that the social sciences and humanities have become more and more information-intensive.

Meanwhile, Van Loan said, "The new structure clarifies my job. We can look forward to creating new opportunities in computational biology and information science, and I don't have to spend so much time worrying about the administrative question marks."

The new programs will operate at both graduate and undergraduate levels, Constable pointed out. The College of Engineering will be the tenure home for faculty members in the Department of Computer Science; appointment, reappointment, tenure and promotion processes will follow college guidelines. The dean for computing and information science will be integrally involved in those processes, Martin said in a letter to the faculty Aug. 4.

The College of Engineering provides a number of administrative services for the Department of Computer Science and now also will provide an administrative umbrella for FCIS. Deans Constable and Fuchs are expected to work closely on both academic and administrative decisions, the letter said.