Growth of a Department

A Personal History of Computer Science at UNC-Chapel Hill

Middle Childhood: 1974-78

Curriculum Development

The year 1974-75 saw intense study of the graduate curricula by a faculty- student committee, and in 1975-76 the faculty debated and revised the committee proposals. We created many new courses and substantially revised the degree requirements. With a few adjustments, the new structure served through 1993-94.

A key issue was how to accommodate entering graduate students with disparate backgrounds. We created a set of short "immigration" courses lasting from one to six clock hours, to be offered while classes were starting in the Fall. Upon realizing that it might be difficult to explain our terminology to foreign students, we decided simply to call the offerings "microcourses."

In 1973 Fred had notified Jim Gaskin, dean of the College, of his desire not to be reappointed chairman, and the Department faculty advised the dean to search outside. After various delays, we invited a few candidates to visit in 1974-75, but made no offers.

Academic year 1975-76 was the first full year for Mehdi Jazayeri, who had come from Case Western Reserve with strong credentials in programming languages. But it was also the last for both Jim Foley and Vic Wallace. Jim moved to George Washington University; Vic became department chairman at the University of Kansas. Our graphics strength was sorely reduced by their departures.

In 1976-77 we were joined by operating systems and software engineering expert Dave Parnas, who kept us all on our toes during the four years of his presence. While Mehdi was on leave in 1977-78, Steve Bellovin took the year off from his doctoral studies to serve as full-time instructor. I remember one lively and confusing faculty meeting at which nearly half the participants were named Steve.

A major issue during this period was the funding of computer time for educational use and unsponsored research. The 1975-76 budget, for example, included $135K for educational and $72K for unsponsored research computing. It is hard to imagine now the difficulty of equating dollars with computer time and the various mechanisms used to ensure (1) that available computer time was indeed used when possible, (2) that the federal government paid no more for sponsored research computing than did any other user, and (3) that students personally paid nothing for educational time. Many administrative hours and budgetary wrangles were devoted to this issue.

Every now and then we uncovered a case of unauthorized access to computers. Many readers will note a familiar ring to the following quotation from the staff meeting minutes of 22 September 1975, "Passwords possibly will be changed again."

New West classroom in 1972 (Photo by Peter 

New West classroom in 1972. (Photo: Peter Calingaert, © Department of Computer Science, UNC-Chapel Hill)

We dealt also with other important issues. One faculty member moved on 24 October 1975 "that the faculty take upon themselves the responsibility of wearing their academic regalia, if they have it, to final Ph.D. dissertation defenses. Those without regalia would dress somewhat formally (i.e., coat and tie)." The motion was defeated 3-4.

Even in the peaceful mid-70s there was concern about faculty responsiveness in reading theses. At the same October meeting the faculty voted unanimously "that it is the departmental policy that a student is entitled to receive within two weeks at least an initial response to a thesis draft submitted to his principal adviser, or to a final draft submitted to his other committee members."

The 1975-76 annual report was not prepared, a casualty of Fred's administrative overload. The reports for the next two years mention few excitements. Over 15-17 April 1977, we did hold a faculty retreat with 14 hours of working sessions.

A major concern was cheating in the introductory programming courses. UNC-CH has a long tradition of a student-run honor system, but the student courts proved incompetent to recognize obvious cases of program duplication. Many perpetrators were let off and others received only a "slap on the wrist" for what we felt were serious violations. Our faculty met jointly with representatives of several student attorneys general to hammer out definitions of permissible and impermissible collaboration. We also routinely conducted our own investigations and furnished reports thereof to each honor court. By March 1978 we felt sufficiently frustrated to pass a motion in which the Department threatened to withdraw from the honor court system if matters did not improve markedly over the next two years.

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