Pomona Computer Science Department Faces Faculty Shortage

Mirroring national trends, Pomona College computer science majors are having a hard time getting the classes they need due to a dramatic increase in interest over the past five years.

In Spring 2012, just six Pomona graduates were CS majors – this year the department expects to have 60 graduates, according to a campus-wide email sent by Chair of computer science Yuqing Wu. 

With the increased interest in CS, the department used a pre-placement registration policy this semester. CS majors and minors filled out surveys indicating their interest in course offerings, which Wu spent hours reviewing before making decisions about which students would get seats in the offered courses. Students majoring in CS through Harvey Mudd College undergo a similar process.

Additionally, the department has been having issues with staffing. In her email to the student body, computer science professor Michelle Wu said that in 2011-2012 "we had 4 tenure-track CS faculty, this year we have 6.5 tenure-track faculty (though 1.5 are on leave) as well as 2.25 visitors." The .25 refers to staff that exclusively works in labs, and .5 refers to professors who teach one course.

During Spring 2018 registration, some sophomores CS majors were unable to get into classes required for the major. In making their decisions, the department had to prioritize seniors and juniors to make sure they enrolled in the classes they need to graduate next semester, Wu said.

Additionally, some seniors who have already completed their major requirements were not able to register for higher-level elective courses. CS major Matthew Gee PO ’18 said he wanted to take higher-level CS classes next semester, but was unable to register.

“I am done with the major, so it doesn’t really matter,” Gee wrote in an e-mail to TSL. “But it would have been nice to take more classes I am interested in.”

Junior CS major Wentao Guo PO ’19 was originally not pre-registered for any of CS classes. He was eventually able to get into a class at Harvey Mudd after telling his professor that unless he got in, he wouldn’t be taking any CS classes this semester.

Now, as his second semester of his junior year approaches, Guo hopes to take two more CS courses, one of which will be relevant to his senior thesis.

“It would be nice to be able to take the course now, so that I can think about it over the summer,” he said. Given the current situation, though, Guo thinks the chances he'll be able to enroll are low. 

In her email, Wu identified that the problem results from the fact that "the increase in enrollments has not been matched by the increase in faculty or resources, such as space or funding, of the department."

As a result, the department has been forced to increase class sizes. Though the average Pomona class size is 15, CS introductory courses now enroll 30, 40, or 50 students.

"These large classes put a lot of strain on the faculty, student mentors, and students," Wu wrote. "We can’t increase class sizes any further without significantly jeopardizing quality."

Elvis Kahoro PO ’20 has started a petition to ask Pomona to hire more CS professors and ease the strain on the department. He hopes the petition, which has been signed by more than 300 students in just three days, will convince the Pomona's Faculty Position Advisory Committee to act.

The standard policy of the colleges is that the department cannot hire more than one professor per year. Kahoro hopes convince the administration to hire at least two.

Kahoro thinks the students who are the most affected by the large class sizes are groups that are typically underrepresented in CS – women and students of color.

"People who are really good at making themselves visible are able to get themselves more access to the professors," he said.