minutia press.
The latest on ArtSci and Eng courses

I met with Ed Macias last week, who is the vice chancellor of our university as well as the head of arts and sciences. The issue at hand was the "new curriculum" about which many of you have heard me comment, and in which all schools outside of ArtSci are excluded from counting toward distribution.

I found out some interesting things

  • In the "old" curriculum, computer sciences was the only department to have standing in Arts and Sciences toward distribution. Our cs101 course has a G at its end because of the area in which it satisfied the old ArtSci requirements.
  • The area of common interest is logic, and in the new curriculum there is no such area, hence ArtSci felt they no longer needed to count our course.
  • But ArtSci (the Math dept) offers a "computing in C" course that *does* count toward ArtSci distribution, while our cs101 does not. Students have been advised to take the math course because it knocks out some distribution while cs101 no longer does.
  • Ed Macias is at a loss to explain why ArtSci counts the "computing in C" course, but he is immovable about counting our course.

So I suggested that they shouldn't count their own course either, and this way we're on an even footing. He offered to have us come and talk with the freshman class during advising to tell them about CS courses. I think this is a good idea.

Where does this leave us? Well, it's clear to me that it's a conflict of interest to have a vice chancellor who heads up Arts and Sciences, with nobody to look after the students' overall interests. At some schools, such a person is called a provost. What does this word mean? Of cousre, Webster provides the answer:\

1 : the chief dignitary of a collegiate or cathedral chapter
2 : the chief magistrate of a Scottish burgh
3 : the keeper of a prison
4 : a high-ranking university administrative officer

I'm not sure which definition is most fitting, but I think we can rule (2) and (3) out for now.

What concerns me most is that the people making academic, curriculum decisions are also the people who worry about finances. This is not a good thing. If one school (ArtSci) draws a fence around itself and encourages students not to look at other schools (Engineering, Art, Law) for course offerings that could enrich their days here and beyond, then something is wrong.


One of the things I've noticed during my career here is how almost every decision at this school revolves around money. Personally I find the economics and politics practiced here to be absolutely abhorrent. Amongst friends I affectionately refer to Wash U as 'Nickel and Dime U' - a fitting name in my opinion. It makes one wonder what this non-profit institutions goals really are. Thankfully there still seems to be an interest and desire to educate students among the faculty, but one wonders what this school could be doing if administration actually worked with the faculty to further what should be the primary goal of any such institution.

Posted by: James at February 15, 2003 6:15 PM

He he, does anyone else find it amusing that there is no place for Logic in the Artsci curriculum? Shouldn't the ability to think logically be put on the same plane as, say, writing a composition paper about a novel you don't care about? And if the math department teaches C programming with the same skill in which they teach calculus, then I feel for the poor student who enrolls in that class...

Posted by: Chris Hill Festival at February 15, 2003 6:45 PM

I don't know if anyone has noticed this, but admission to Washington University is no longer need-blind. It used to say so on the admission's webpage. But if you look now there isn't any mention of it. Make what you will of that...

Posted by: Nathan at February 15, 2003 11:58 PM

Quoting from A&S's own "Final Report of the Commission on the Curriculum for Arts & Sciences":

Posted by: Joe at February 16, 2003 12:26 PM

I don't think that there is anything wrong with WashU having staff who are concerned about finances. The school has bills to pay, and as a non-profit it shouldn't be able to horde lots of excess money from its fees and bills. The main problem is that Macias is wearing two hats, so to speak, and as such has a conflict. I have long felt that WashU needs an official who students can go to with their concerns and suggestions, and who will then go to bat for these students. An ombudsman for students. This example just further illustrates that need.

Posted by: david at February 16, 2003 1:58 PM

I agree, there should be those who raise money and are concerned with finances. As our Dean is fond of saying, we are not for profit; but we are also not for loss.

But when curriuclum decisions are based on money and not the students' best interests; when one school (ArtSci) can do what they want, run in the red, but offer their PhD students carte blanche for 6 years funding; when Engineering must run in the black, but when we do so, taxes are increased (money we pay the central fiscal unit), something is wrong.

OK, I am biased about computer science. It is the most wonderful discipline on earth, logic made tangible, and algorithms are the alchemy of our modern society (sand is turned into gold). We are doing some good things in our department; we are engaged in interesting research; and we care about educating undergrads and graduates.

There has to be some kind of balance at work here, some force to act in favor of curriculum without regard to finance. And if finance maens that students in ArtSci are encouraged to take an obviously inferior, fake computer science course in the math department instead of in computer science, where is this going to take us?

Posted by: rkc at February 16, 2003 11:27 PM

I was talking to a student in ArtSci the other day, and it came up that I was a CS major, and he started talking all about how great the C class was that he took in math, and it made me think. Maybe the ArtSci people really do think that it is a replacement, but I am incredibly hard pressed to believe that it is. I have learned more in CS101-102 than in any other class that I have taken, and I find it hard to believe that they are doing the same quality in the math department. No one in engineering is saying "Okay...look everyone. We are no longer giving credit for artsci classes. Chemical Engineering will be teaching philosophy. Mechanical will handle music. EE will take over in place of ALL foreign languages, and Civil...well Civil will do their darndest to fill in all the holes." No, of course not. That wouldn't make any sense at all. But artsci doesn't seem to have any problem with it.

Posted by: Nathan at February 16, 2003 11:42 PM