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Quoted in The Sunflower re: Computer Science Concerns

In the February 15, 2024 issue of the Sunflower, Trinity Ramm writes about the recent email from WSU’s president and provost regarding graduate student enrollment numbers.

Aside from the fact that the “$2 million gap” could be attributed to poor financial planning based on a one-year bubble, I witnessed some glaring bad-behavior on the part of a disturbingly large number of graduate students enrolled in the computer science program.

The article quotes my informal statement, which I read (very nervously) at the Faculty Senate meeting on February 12. Looking back on the wording now, I do regret two words:

I would rather see $2M budget cuts than admit their likes again.

when I really mean, holistically:

I would rather see $2M budget cuts than admit morons-who-know-nothing-and-choose-to-lie-cheat-and-harass again.

Anyway, it’s been almost six years since I’ve been quoted in a newspaper. In that previous time, my push for no-cost library book holds ended up pissing off the city’s library director. (Years later, we have a new library director and the library no longer charge holds for library books!). I bring this up, because it’s one thing to complain about abuses in an ‘informal statement’ to the most complainingest body on campu/s… It’s another to be publicly going against people I love and respect (Shirley and Rick, this isn’t personal!).

All the said, everything I wrote in the statement is true. But there was far more that didn’t fit into my brief statement:

  • In addition to the reported cheating, many, many instances of cheating that went unreported. For example, my colleague didn’t want to complete over 90 reports after his midterm. He did, however, photograph 90+ desks in his 150 person classroom that had solutions to questions from his midterm study guide.
  • Most of the students in the graduate statistics course for the graduate program in data analytics couldn’t solve basic calculus 1 integrals… fundamental concepts needed for deep work in statistics.
  • After failing almost all of the students in the graduate algorithms course, the college of engineering worked out a deal so that the math faculty member would remediate those students over the summer. He taught the class again, because he’s a hero. Our faculty was stretched beyond capacity to backfill the fact that CS lost several faculty over this debacle.

I am obviously troubled that the CS program’s department chair admitted 900 students and subsequently left the university weeks before the Fall semester. I am obviously troubled that it turned out those graduate computer science students didn’t have backgrounds in undergraduate computer science or mathematics.

I am obviously troubled that many CS faculty left during the semester, meaning that our already-stretched-thin faculty in mathematics were forced to step up to teach the classes.

I am obviously troubled that the university budgeted on a bubble caused by a chair who fled the university before seeing his plans into fruition.

And I am obviously troubled that the University suggests that we faculty are part of the problem.

It was deeply irresponsible to admit those students, especially as they did not have the formal backgrounds necessary to complete the coursework to which they applied.

Could we have done better? Sure! Here’s some ideas:

  • We see they don’t have background and offer them conditional acceptance pending completion of some undergraduate courses.
  • We could give them training on academic dishonesty and the importance of academic integrity in American higher education. We could also ensure that we have the faculty to teach the courses before admitting so many students.

Some of these problems are being solved… CS is no longer allowed to admit 900 students. I think it’s something like 120 now. The office of Student Conduct and Community Standards does academic integrity training for incoming students. And our math department has now had training and guidance around holding office hours with several students in the main math office to avoid bullying. It’s awful we need this guidance… but needs must.

But we mustn’t turn on the enrollment faucet without carefully considering the academic preparation of who we’re admitting. We need to go slowly and vet candidates. Graduate school is hard… but that’s good. A masters’ degree is not a sheet of paper you can buy with dollars and dishonesty.

As I said in my statement, partially quoted in the piece:

Enrollment is everyone’s responsibility. But it is important that we responsibly enroll students. I value Wichita State as a vital driver to the city, state, and nation. And I support WSU to be a leader in engineering in the world. But I don’t want us to be a cash-vacuum for under-prepared, dishonest, and bullying people.

I would rather see $2M budget cuts than admit their likes again.