College of Computing Task Force working group final reports available

Reports present a variety of options emphasizing cross-disciplinary research

Provost Martin Schmidt PhD ’88 wrote to the MIT community Aug. 15 that the Schwarzman College of Computing (SCoC) Task Force working group final reports are available. The working groups developed new ideas for the structuring, staffing, supporting, and curricular programming of the SCoC. These included various options for topic-based clusters of faculty and student groups, data management, and degree programs. 

There were five working groups in the task force: Curricula and Degrees, Organizational Structure, Social Implications and Responsibilities of Computing, Faculty Appointments, and Computing Infrastructure. 

The Curricula and Degrees working group examined various options for new curriculum development, including providing “Programming, Computation, and Data” (PACD) instructors for computationally intensive non-CS subjects, a summer program for first-year students with little computational background, and incubator grants for introductory subjects. 

PACD instructors, analogous to Writing, Rhetoric, and Professional Communications instructors who support communications-intensive subjects, would be flexible in lecturers’ subject assignments and spur dissemination of good practices. However, the program would be expensive, it would be difficult to find well-qualified staff, and instructors would not have subject-specific expertise, the group wrote. 

The group wrote that a summer program would help students who are interested in computation but may not have the skills to succeed in an introductory CS class. However, it may interfere with students’ extracurriculars and negatively impact low income students who may have to work over the summer. 

The group also examined new ideas for degrees. For undergraduate students, they considered a certificate in computation, forming additional joint Course 6 majors, and adding a computational GIR. For graduate students, they considered a micromaster’s, graduate certificates, a professional master’s degree in computation, and interdepartmental and interdisciplinary degrees. 

The group expressed that joint Course 6 majors are popular and work well when there is an emerging new discipline, but they had many concerns about expanding course offerings, including advising capabilities, lack of bridge faculty, and a lack of incentives. 

The group was generally in favor of providing interdepartmental master’s degrees and a professional master’s degree in computation. However, they noted that providing such degrees would require significant development efforts. 

The Organizational Structure working group examined various structures for the SCoC. They noted several challenges with the “obvious” solution of moving all CS faculty from EECS into the SCoC and renaming Course 6 as EE. The group wrote that they were concerned that this solution would further deepen the artificial EE and CS divide, incentivize faculty to move into the SCoC, thereby weakening EE, and fail to promote cross-disciplinary research and training.

They formed an alternative model, which includes four options for faculty interaction and membership with the SCoC.

The possibilities are creating single-community faculty (SCF), multi-community faculty (MCF), incubator groups, and faculty fellows. SCF would have their main or only appointment in the SCoC, whereas MCF would be divided between an existing department and the SCoC. 

Incubator groups would “offer groups of faculty the opportunity to apply for support and space in which to incubate new research topics and teaching opportunities.” Fellowships would allow faculty to sit in the SCoC for a year or more. 

Lastly, the Organizational Structure working group also examined how the EECS department should interact with the SCoC: only through SCF, through MCF, or both.

The Social Implications and Responsibilities of Computing working group wrote, “A combination of top-down, center-out, and bottom-up approaches are required to create a durable structure.” 

The top-down approach includes considering creating a unit centered on “ethical, societal, and policy considerations”; ensuring that such considerations are central to hiring; ensuring that interdisciplinary staff are valued; and adding relevant classes to curricula. 

The center-out approach centers on bridging disciplines and research approaches, such as through creating rotational programs and requiring research proposals and papers to consider technology implications.

The bottom-up approach provides more opportunities for faculty and students, such as through creating theme-based departmental lectureship awards and funding student-led collaboration retreats. 

The Faculty Appointments working group presented five categories of faculty appointments, including the existing dual appointment, joint appointment, and affiliated models. They also developed two new models, MCF and cluster area faculty. 

MCF would either have dual or joint appointments between departments or appointments in both a department and a major lab or institute. Cluster area faculty would be “interdisciplinary teams that collaborate around a defined theme of inquiry.”

The Computing Infrastructure working group examined different models for data management and licensing, funding, organization, and resource deployments. They settled on four overarching models: fully centralized, partially centralized but managed within departments/labs/centers, fully decentralized, and predominantly cloud-based.

The next steps are to “define the status” of EECS faculty in the SCoC; “further advance the ‘cluster’ concept of faculty appointments”; “define the details of how best to integrate teaching and research on the societal implications of computing”; and “create an ongoing advisory mechanism to facilitate input from the MIT community,” Schmidt wrote.