This article is published in the May 2009 issue.

CRA-Deans Committee Formed


The CRA-Deans Committee has a perspective on computing research that it believes can help advance the work of the Computing Research Association. Formerly known as the IT-Deans Group, the colleges and schools we represent approach the field from two perspectives, one as college-level units that emerged from computer science, say C-schools, and the other as schools that emerged from information schools, say I-schools, some of which were originally library schools. We have seen many of the C-schools create information science programs or departments and many of the I-schools create computing programs or add computer science departments from elsewhere on campus. The result is a common intersection among the nearly forty college-level units we represent—each headed by a dean who reports directly to a provost—the C&I-schools (referring to C-schools, I-schools and schools that address both perspectives.)

From inside these C&I-schools we have come to see computing and digital information as two interrelated features of a common discipline. Most CRA member departments are computer science departments, and they understand the computational aspect deeply.  However, some faculty and students are drawn to our units because they focus on the human interaction side of the symbiotic partnership of people and computers, attracted by web information services or digital libraries or information networks, and other topics central to I-schools. These individuals are often interested in social issues as well as the technical ones. They consider the societal needs addressed by computing and digital information and seek a holistic approach to them. This integrated view is taken in the C&I-schools. Several areas of study, such as human computer interaction (HCI), by their nature embody both computational and social aspects and are present in C-schools and I-schools.

The fundamental interplay between computing and digital information is apparent from inside the discipline, regardless of the entry path. That deep intellectual connection is a force that is expanding the scope and increasing the value of computing research, as it is also shaping our college-level units, units that are able to create departments and define new degrees. The deans have a view of this process that transcends specific departments, and we write from that viewpoint on our web pages. What may seem disruptive to established departments can be an opportunity to young colleges, and the C&I-schools will be young colleges for another fifty years.

A major force shaping C&I-schools is interaction with peer schools and colleges within the university. Our peers exert a pull when they need expertise and a push when their territory is threatened. The author’s experience at Cornell is that all the other Cornell college-level units need access to academic programs in computing and information science. Responsible presidents and provosts encourage colleges to avoid duplication and rely on units which can best identify and attract high-quality faculty. As it becomes clear to more universities that computing and information science is about new ways of knowing and about accelerating discovery in all fields, administrators will demand high quality C&I-schools to ensure that all the other schools and colleges are competitive. Administrators also need an academic dean who is responsible for the highest intellectual quality in this fundamentally enabling discipline. They need a unit that lives or dies based on this quality and which is big enough and intellectually deep enough to support the university. Otherwise there will be a vacuum that swallows resources college by college.

Another force that shapes our colleges is interaction with industry. The computing and information technology industry has a large appetite for students from computer science and information science. Their job classifications, such as programmer, software engineer, system analyst, information architect, web designer, game designer, product manager, system administrator, database designer, chief information officer, chief privacy officer, data analyst, data miner, usability engineer, and others, match our graduates well. Building excellent relations with the computing and information technology companies is a key function of the colleges, and our advisory boards keep us regularly in touch with industrial leaders whose support is helpful in winning state approval of new degree programs, validating parts of our curriculum, and partnering in research. The fact that CRA deans spend time with high-level industrial leaders will help CRA be more effective, perhaps expanding the number of affiliated industrial labs.
We suspect that most CRA deans believe as we do that our C&I-schools will continue to expand and be populated with additional departments beyond the computer science and information science departments we already have. There will be new departments created, and at each university we will see special strengths and joint departments arise. We already face a broad potential range that includes robotics, computational science & engineering, bioinformatics, digital arts, new media, and statistics and/or machine learning. Some C&I-schools already have created new departments. Whatever the next common core department is in our C&I-schools, we will see it emerge, and the CRA deans will see it coming.

About the CRA-Deans: The CRA-Deans Committee is a programmatic committee established by the CRA with the expressed mission of dealing with those issues specific to CRA academic units that are organized as schools or colleges (defined to be CRA academic units with a head who reports to a campus-wide executive, such as Provost, Chancellor or President). The mission includes issues such as: organization of schools and colleges focused on computing and related fields; image and public relations of such schools and colleges; interdisciplinary programs and major research initiatives that are relevant to such schools and colleges; and educational programs that are relevant to such schools and colleges. The CRA-Deans Committee was formed out of the IT Deans group, which was established in July 2000 and has been meeting biannually since then.

The CRA-Deans Committee is chaired by Debra Richardson, Dean of the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, University of California–Irvine, who can be contacted for further information djr@ics.uci.edu. Membership is open to deans of C-schools and I-schools, and visitors who are thinking of establishing a C-school, I-school or C&I-school or college within their university are welcome to attend meetings upon request.

Robert L. Constable is Dean of the Faculty of Computing & Information Science at Cornell University.
Debra J. Richardson is Dean of the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at UC–Irvine, and chair of the CRA-Deans Committee.