As graduate students in computer science, we are dismayed by the faculty shortage facing our department.
Computer science is increasingly shaping every aspect of our daily lives. Many of the largest companies created in the last few decades have computer science and information technology at the core of their business. A deep and diverse subject, computer science has led to great advances in human understanding. Computer science is essential to everything from law to physics, from genetics to economics, from linguistics to engineering.
As a result, the best universities in the world are now judged by the quality of their computer science departments. The flagship computer science programs at Stanford and MIT have helped propel these universities to the top of recent university rankings. An education in computer science is not only essential to a 21st century liberal arts education, but can also translate into rewarding employment opportunities, or empower entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into startups. Alumni earn and donate large amounts of money to their alma maters, and the abundance of private and government research grants means that computer science departments are financially sound.
In light of these facts, we are distraught by the condition of Yale’s computer science department. Our department lacks enough faculty to offer the breadth and depth of classes expected at a modern university, let alone a world-class research institution. Over the past 25 years, computers have changed the world, yet our department is the same size it was in 1989. Our professors are among the best, but there are simply not enough of them. Yale's computer science department is ranked 20th by US News & World Report. We have 20 professors. The median faculty size of the top 20 computer science departments in the country is 48. With Harvard announcing plans to increase the size of its already larger department by 50 percent, Yale is going to be left even further behind.
With so few professors, Yale’s department has no choice but to ignore entire areas of computer science. Our ability to offer classes at an undergraduate level is minimal. Core computer science classes at Yale are seeing enrollment numbers higher than ever before, but we barely have enough faculty to teach the basics. Moreover, fewer faculty advisors means fewer graduate students, and the faculty shortage also translates into a shortage of teaching fellows.
The situation is even worse for graduate students. It is rare for the department to offer more than a single graduate-level course on any subject. Yale has become a risky choice for graduate students who often have to hinge their entire degree on a single faculty member. Fewer and fewer students are willing to take this risk; this year, only two students accepted their offers to attend Yale’s PhD program, compared to five last year and 10 the year before. Despite excellent faculty and students, the faculty shortage has made it increasingly difficult for Yale to compete with other top-tier universities.
It is only the sheer quality and hard work of our professors that has kept our department one of the best in the country. However, among graduate students in computer science, there is a pervasive feeling that the administration simply does not care about the subject. Despite an excellent publication record, the small size of our department means Yale is not seen as an exciting place for computer science. We have ceded the battle to Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Princeton, Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell. The list goes on. Most alarmingly, Yale appears to be satisfied with this future.
Yale needs a strong computer science department in order to fulfill its core mission of education and research. We are ready and eager to make sure that our department is among the best in the country. We do not object to experimentation with innovative teaching practices, nor to the responsible use of undergraduate labor. But Yale must face reality: hiring one or two professors is not enough. Our situation is beyond such palliative measures. Only a radical expansion of the computer science faculty will make it possible for our department to tackle the challenges ahead.
Note: This letter was collaboratively written by a number of PhD students in the computer science department at Yale. The department currently has 33 PhD students, of whom 27 have signed the letter. [Originally, the letter had 25 signatures; this page was last edited on 04-Mar-2015, updating the number of signatures to 27.]
Many of the undergraduate computer science majors at Yale have also signed a petition endorsing and supporting this letter.