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Paul Schimpf

Western Washington University’s computer science department isn’t the only one encountering the harsh realities of the state budget crisis. Eastern Washington University is currently evaluating its graduate program in computer science, though chair of the department, Paul Schimpf, said he’s confident it will survive based on a committee’s recent recommendation to the president and provost. Things are moving ahead for the fall term and Schimpf expects things will be “fine.” But, given the developments at Western, he added: “you never know, until you know.”

Meanwhile, University of Washington computer science professor Ed Lazowska said that the department was hit hard by 2009 budget cuts, reversing some of the gains which had been made just two years prior.

“We have been cut more since then, and are expecting more in the immediate future as this year’s cuts are digested,” Lazowska said.

Those situations are not as dire as Western Washington University in Bellingham. Last week, GeekWire reported on a proposal by the university to eliminate its computer science program, a proposal which sparked outrage among members of the tech community.

Just like at Western, the graduate program in computer science at EWU’s is one of many being considered for elimination.

EWU, which is based in Cheney, Washington, has already revised its curriculum, reduced the number of advanced courses and cut computer science faculty

“We have lost faculty members, just like Western has, and it has been tough,” Schimpf tells GeekWire. Due to cutbacks, the university eliminated three lecturers and three tenure and tenure-track professors. At this point, Schimpf said they are in the process of hiring back the lecturers for next year with money pulled from outside the computer science department’s budget. The number of students applying to the program is also on the rise after bottoming out a few years ago.

That’s some good news. And the master’s program at EWU has another thing going its way. It actually makes money, driven by graduate students who teach courses in computer literacy.

“It would cost us far more to do that with lecturers and faculty than it does with grad students, so I can’t imagine that our master’s program would be cut,” Schimpf said. “But, I saw some of the feedback you got from Western, and they couldn’t imagine that they were going to be on the chopping block either, yet they are.”

Schimpf feels for the faculty, staff and students at Western, saying that his initial reaction was one of disbelief.

“It is absolutely insane for state-funded universities to be considering terminating what’s the highest demand area across any discipline,” said Schimpf. He cited U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics which show by 2018 there that there will 140,000 jobs in the computing field for an estimated 48,000 graduates.

“There’s a huge deficit in computing,” he said.

Meanwhile, the pressure continues to mount on Western to preserve its computer science department. Brian Bershad, a former UW computer science professor who now serves as engineering and site director for Google in Seattle, recently sent a letter to administrators at Western. Bershad wrote:

“Having Google and other high tech companies view the state as a produce of qualified candidates is beneficial to residents as well as contributing to the local economy. I hope that you will agree with me that the state should be investing more, not less, in the production of highly qualified engineering candidates.”

The Technology Alliance also has weighed in, with Susannah Malarkey and Jeremey Jaech penning a letter to WWU president Bruce Shepard echoing some of the points Schimpf made above.

“Closing down a well-respected computer science program that prepares students for high-impact, rewarding careers and that supplies our innovative industries with high-caliber talent that enables them to grow and thrive does not serve the people of Washington or the students of WWU,” according to the letter. “It clearly will harm our communities by eroding access to high-demand programs for our students and further depriving our fast-growing technology industries of a locally educated workforce.”

Previously on GeekWireWestern Washington University Provost: ‘We’re not looking forward enough” with computer science

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