Growth of a Department

A Personal History of Computer Science at UNC-Chapel Hill

Middle Adulthood: 1987-94

Research Emphasis

The year 1987-88 brought several new faculty members. Tony Marsland, an expert on programs for playing games, especially chess, came from the University of Alberta to visit. John Poulton, whom Vern Chi had brought into the MSL as a research associate, became a research faculty member. His research is on graphics architectures and VLSI design and design tools. Tenure-track appointments went to Jan Prins, from Cornell, in parallel computing; and to Akhilesh Tyagi, from the University of Washington at Seattle (UW), in VLSI design. Jan is still with us, but Akhilesh has moved to Iowa State.

Jim Ross working on a Datel terminal (Photo by 
Mike Pique)

Jim Ross working on a Datel terminal in 1976. (Photo: Mike Pique, © Department of Computer Science, UNC-Chapel Hill)
A research faculty appointment went to John Eyles in 1988-89. That was the last year for Bharat Jayaraman, who moved to SUNY Buffalo, and for Rick Snodgrass, who moved to the University of Arizona. The loss of Rick, whom we had recently promoted, was the first of several due to the increasingly common phenomenon Fred calls the "two-body problem." Employment prospects for one professional spouse were simply not adequate to attract or retain the other professional spouse. The year was also the last for Jay Nievergelt; Figure 7 shows the sequence of permanent and acting Department chairmen.

Despite serious state budget freezes, we added several faculty members in 1989-90. Data-base researcher Jan Chomicki came from Rutgers for a one-year visit. Don Smith (Fred's 1978 Ph.D. graduate) arrived to begin a three-year assignment from IBM to help us ramp up research in distributed systems. IBM also provided equipment and graduate student support. Initial tenure- track appointments went to Kevin Jeffay, from UW, also in distributed systems; and to Jennifer Welch, from M.I.T., in distributed algorithms. Three more research faculty joined, starting several years of rapid growth in research faculty. They were Marcy Lansman, Susanna Schwab, and Raj Singh. Marcy was a cognitive psychologist brought in to join the Collaboratory project; she remained for 3 years. Susanna, with interests in formal specification of software, succeeded Rick Snodgrass as director of SoftLab, and remained for 4 years. Raj, whose several research fields bridge systems design and computational biochemistry, joined the MSL and is still with us. After the year ended, Dean Brock left for UNC-Asheville, where he now chairs the computer science department.

We made one tenure-track appointment in 1990-91, further broadening the Department's scope by adding Jon Marshall, in neural networks and computational neuroscience, after his studies at Boston University and a postdoctoral year at Minnesota. But we grew by five more research appointments. Mike King visited from the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Henry Fuchs's 1990 Ph.D. graduate Marc Levoy took a one- year postdoctoral appointment before going to establish a computer graphics program at Stanford. John McHugh, an expert on computer security, moved from Duke and remained three years before going to Portland State University in Oregon. Dana Kay Smith, a specialist in human-computer interaction, joined the Collaboratory project. Bill Wright (Fred's 1972 Ph.D. graduate), who had long remained in touch with the GRIP project, took early retirement from IBM to join the project team here. Dana and Bill continue in service.

In April 1991 we had our second "decennial" review of the graduate programs, 12 years after the first. This time the reviewers were Juris Hartmanis of Cornell, John Hennessy of Stanford, and Bill Wulf of the University of Virginia. Their report stated that "the infrastructure for computing and the facilities for system fabrication may well be the absolute best available in academia." But it also recommended that we (1) broaden areas of excellence in hiring new faculty; (2) institute a B.S. and de-emphasize the M.S.; and (3) revise the system of degree examinations.

We held a day-long retreat on 8 October 1991 to consider these recommendations. We decided on areas of strategic importance in hiring, naming parallel computation and hardware systems as major areas to strengthen. We decided that it was too early, especially in the continuing budget crisis, to think again about implementing a B.S. in computer science. We also judged that the marginal cost of our M.S. program was amply justified by its utility. We accepted the criticism of our examination system, and began to consider how best to revise it. I have already described the result. We also decided that the time had come to re-examine the graduate curricula, and began a redefinition process that lasted nearly three years.

At the end of 1991-92, Jennifer Welch became our second loss to the two-body problem. She had become our first-ever Presidential Young Investigator, and we were distressed to lose her because her husband could not find a nearby match to his professional qualifications. Both are now at Texas A&M University. Jennifer's departure was offset by three new appointments. New research faculty were Gary Bishop, Henry Fuchs's 1984 Ph.D. graduate and sometime executive officer, returning from Sun Microsys-tems; and Anselmo Lastra, who had been at Duke. Gary practices system design, especially for computer graphics; Anselmo's interests lie in computer graphics and parallel computing. Joining us as lecturer was Jeannie Walsh, who had previously served as administrator for the newly terminated ONR infrastructure contract. She has become the principal instructor of our computer literacy course.

A highlight of the year was the visit to Sitterson Hall on 30 April 1992 of Arkansas governor Bill Clinton, to participate in a teleconference on "Distance Learning Perspectives" in education; Senator Al Gore had visited on 20 October 1990, to view some of our research.

Akhilesh Tyagi became the third victim of the two-body problem. After a non-faculty postdoctoral visit with us, his wife had obtained a tenure-track position at Iowa State, and their only option for remaining together was for Akhilesh to join her there after 1992-93. That was also the last year for Yuki Watanabe, who moved to the University of Missouri at Columbia. Don Smith's three-year full-time assignment to us had ended, but IBM has allowed him to continue to devote 20 percent of his time to us. Don squeezes an active involvement into two afternoons a week. Postdoctoral research faculty appointments went to Steve Molnar, a graphics engine architect who had just completed studies under Henry Fuchs, and to Lars Nyland, who had just completed studies at Duke and came to join Jan Prins in studying languages for parallel computation. Optical engineer Jannick Rolland, who had joined us a year earlier, was also appointed to the research faculty. Ron Poet came from the University of Glasgow for a one-year visit to the GRIP project. Tenure-track appointments went to Dinesh Manocha and Dave Stotts. Dinesh had just finished at Berkeley; his research encompasses modeling, graphics, and scientific computation. Dave had spent several years on the faculty at Maryland and one at Florida; his primary interests are in CSCW, distributed systems, human-machine interaction, and hypertexts.

In our most recent year, 1993-94, we added two more tenure-track faculty and two research faculty. The former are Jim Anderson and Prasun Dewan. Jim also had taught at Maryland; Prasun had taught at Purdue. Jim's research is in distributed algorithms, Prasun's in building distributed systems. New research faculty are Christina Burbeck and Nick England. Chris is a psychophysicist with a keen interest in human vision. Nick is a former graphics computer architect and entrepreneur, now pursing computer graphics in our ivy-covered halls.

Two of the most notable academic developments of the year were the final offering of the DWE and the first offering of the new oral qualifying examination for admission to the doctoral program. We hope that the new examination structure and new core, reduced to 15 hours, will help propel doctoral students into research sooner, hence out the door sooner.

Next Section: "Sociology: Buildings, Clusters, and Labs"

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