Nov 012014

A pre-Halloween press release from campus draws attention to the latest USNWR rankings in which UMCP ranks 51st on the list of ‘Best Global Universities’. The also study ranks research reputation in a variety of areas, casting some departments in a very good light.

Cool! But what isn’t said tells a more awkward story, at least for computer science and our College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences.

1999 through 2010 was the era of disengagement for the predecessor to CMNS – the College of Computer, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, which later assimilated the College of Chemical and Life Sciences in order to bring together several closely-related departments. In what some refer to as the “Halperin era”, named for the dean at CMPS’s helm during this period, much scholarly outreach was quashed, undergraduate educational operations were slashed, professorial stakeholders were increasingly removed from policy decision-making and yet administrative practices became high-cost low-yield overhead.

Some will protest the above characterization, since after all, those who got fat from eating the seed corn rather than investing it in long-range projects – taking bold risks like in the days when we grew in size and stature – have no self-interest in outing what low level of attention to detail and mission was tolerated in the era. Others will simply keep silent rather than draw attention to the declines by debating them.

But outside indicators weren’t kind, and that brings us back to the press release, which correctly brags on well-rated areas (huzzah!) but doesn’t mention what fell off the USNWR lists. Recognizing that to a great extent we compare apples to oranges even year to year with those lists, and that there is only so much significance to the numbers, we can use the latest data to refresh our 2010 report on the college’s performance. The current data now refer to CMNS and covers departments which we did not mention earlier.

  • After a rapid rise in the 1990’s, Computer Science peaked in 1999 at 11th, to settle [in 2010] at a reported 14th. Today CS is tied for 29th.
  • Physics rose rapidly to hit 13th in 2002, [in 2010] settling down at 14th. Down to 18 today.
  • Mathematics was at 16th in 2002, [in 2010] dropping to 20th. Not on the map today.
  • Chemistry is at 98 today – thought to have been around 55 in the 2010 study, though not explicitly tracked in our earlier commentary.
  • Biology didn’t make the list today at all, though one of the ostensible goals for merging those colleges was to bring departments like this up to the “old CMPS standards” of research.

Whether you consider the earlier characterization to be fair or polemic, one thing is clear: whatever we did for the first decade of this millennium, and continued in merged colleges under a new dean since then, simply hasn’t been working. Maybe it has something to do with continuing the same old practices which began in 1999.

Our best advice goes back to basics: get professorial stakeholders in charge of policy (and if professors don’t care to do their jobs as full-service scholars then get them the hell out), hold a high standard for attention to detail in our business processes (and stop rewarding administrators to indulge personal biases over institutional missions) and for gosh sakes lets help people remember there is such a thing as an institutional mission in the first place.

 Posted by at 11:52 am on November 1, 2014