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Column: Computer science cuts a disservice

Matt Leming is a senior computer science major from New Orleans.

Matt Leming is a senior computer science major from New Orleans.

The computer science department offers students some of the most important skills they will need in the modern job market, regardless of whether they decide pursue a degree in the field.

Yet the department is being choked by the College of Arts and Sciences for funding. How’s that for a hook?

This semester, introductory computer science courses were stuffed with students. Fall 2014 has seen 673 enrollments across four introductory courses and 3,067 total seats in computer science courses, the highest total in at least five semesters. Maintaining these seats required 25 graduate teaching assistants and 30 undergraduate teaching assistants.

Next semester, the department is looking forward to only 1,910 seats (as of Nov. 8), the lowest tally in five semesters. It will employ 15 graduate teaching assistants and no undergraduates.

Excluding classes of five seats or fewer, computer science had the highest average class size of any natural science except biology in fall 2014, with an average of 67 students per class. This reflects both the demand for computer science courses and the degree to which the department’s resources are being cut.

In spring 2015, there will be only 300 seats across all introductory computer science courses — approximately a third of all seats available for Biology 101 — and the waitlists for all of the courses (collectively, 60 students) are also full. Additionally, 181 students are tracking introductory computer science courses on UNC Class Checker.

The computer science department put its remaining resources toward allowing current seniors to graduate, and most upper-level classes are also closed.

North Carolina has offices for Microsoft, Google, IBM, Infusion, Cisco, EMC, Intel, SAS, Red Hat, Oracle and a trove of others. Coding is a skill essential to working at any of these places.

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I don’t think that the College of Arts and Sciences is part of some strange conspiracy to not let freshmen or sophomores learn to code — I just think that they spent a little too much time twiddling their thumbs and not enough time looking at numbers.

Coding is an essential skill in many professions — including journalism.

In 2013, the former head of digital for Time wrote a popular op-ed in The Wall Street Journal about why he wouldn’t hire college graduates who had no knowledge of coding.

Now, I don’t imagine UNC as a trade school like Pat McCrory might, but jobs are important, and supplementing one’s education with even a modicum of coding knowledge can go a long way in the real world.

The College of Arts and Sciences is doing a disservice to the 241 students who want to take their first computer science course but cannot, as well as to all those who want to advance their knowledge — not to mention current computer science majors.