William & Mary plans new academic unit in computer science and data science

William & Mary plans new academic unit in computer science and data science

WILLIAMSBURG — William & Mary is studying the possibility of creating a new university unit in computer science and data science.

As Provost Peggy Agouris told the college’s Board of Visitors on Thursday, the idea is still in its infancy, with the model and action plan expected to be finalized in the spring. The goal is to submit plans to the Board of Trustees and the Virginia State Council on Higher Education in fall 2023.

According to a statement from the university, “the effort stems from renewed student interest in applied sciences, computer science and data science” as well as “a commitment by the university to its plan strategy to meet the anticipated needs of Virginia’s workforce”.

Some faculty members, however, were disappointed that they had not heard of the possibility of creating a computer science and data science unit before it was announced by William & Mary News, said Suzanne Hagedorn, associate professor of English.

Hagedorn is one of more than 200 faculty members who have signed an open letter to William & Mary president Katherine Rowe regarding what the signatories see as an erosion of the school’s traditions of shared governance.

The letter, a copy of which the Virginia Gazette received on Monday after it was sent to Rowe, expresses the “deep concern” some professors feel for “the growing distance between the William & Mary faculty and (Rowe’s) administration.” .

Rowe responded to the group of faculty who sent the letter, thanking them “for reaching out in a candid way and agreed that now was a good time to deepen engagement and communication with faculty,” according to the William & Mary spokesperson Brian Whitson.

The letter did not specifically mention the possibility of a computer science and data science unit, but did include a range of other concerns that some faculty members have.

“As faculty members, we hope you understand that we are not obstacles to finding solutions to the challenges facing the University,” the letter continues. “…We want to work together with the administration to find effective ways to move forward.”

Whitson said the letter will be “deliberately and thoughtfully reviewed so that we can clarify, correct and also provide missing context where necessary.” Rowe also plans to ask for time to address the letter at the next meeting of the faculty assembly, which represents the faculty, on October 11.

Formal discussions about a possible new school unit began in the spring of 2022. An exploratory design team was then formed with representatives from the five William & Mary schools to explore the possibilities.

After Friday’s joint meeting at the Alumni House, faculty assembly representative David Armstrong said he had been peripherally involved in the early stages of the discussion, despite being promised that the assembly of professors would be informed and invited to provide information as more tangible ideas were presented. Table.

“I would welcome more chances for input from professors sooner rather than later,” said physics professor Armstrong.

After Friday’s meeting, Agouris noted that when it comes to the potential new unit, once there is something tangible to present, faculty will have the opportunity to get more involved.

“Faculty heads are aware and working on it with the administration,” she said, explaining that once there is a concrete idea to present, faculty members will have the opportunity to discuss it. involve more. “We fully expect to engage the assembly of faculty and have a larger conversation.”

It will be a long process, Agouris explained, and there will be plenty of time to engage the community. She added that once the administration has a better idea of ​​the options, there will be a better idea of ​​how to move forward.

Agouris expects a nationwide search process to add more computing and data science talent to come, with the aim of bringing in “big stars” to the field as William & Mary seeks to respond to what has been described by William & Mary News as “an explosion of interest in computer science in recent years. This is also prevalent among the school’s student body, with interest in IT fields more than tripling in the past 10 years.

In other business on Friday, William & Mary announced that it will guarantee scholarship aid to cover at least tuition and fees for all students eligible for the State Undergraduate Pell Scholarship from the 2023-24 school year. The Pell Scholarship is a financial aid granted by the federal government to students belonging to the low income group. Unlike a student loan, the Pell Grant does not need to be repaid.

“This program will allow William & Mary to continue to recruit the best and the brightest, regardless of family means,” Rowe told the board. “This marks a key milestone in our ongoing efforts to increase access and affordability for our entire community.”

The school’s goal is to increase the percentage of in-state undergraduates eligible for the Pell Scholarship to 20% in four years in a bid to expand William & Mary’s reach to non-traditional students .

According to William & Mary, currently around 17% of their in-state students are Pell Grant recipients, up from 15% just six years ago.

The board also had a preliminary discussion about the possibility of developing a multi-year plan to increase tuition fees.

In May, the Board of Visitors’ executive committee voted to keep tuition flat for the fifth straight year for in-state students and four straight years for out-of-state students. The decision came amid fears that rising costs could affect the school’s affordability and accessibility for prospective students.

During the discussion, several board members agreed that incremental changes to tuition rates would be better than one big change. Student assembly president John Cho said potential tuition increases are a concern for students and the student body would appreciate their voice being heard in these discussions.

Sian Wilkerson, 757-342-6616, sian.wilkerson@pilotonline.com

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