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History of the Department - 1962-1970: The Beginning

Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the Department of Computer Science at Carolina. To honor this tremendous occasion, we are presenting excerpts of the department’s creation and growth from Peter Calingaert’s personal history published in 1994.


The first steps toward creating a computer science department began in 1962 when the University of North Carolina began looking for a new Computation Center Director. The committee was interested in Dr. Frederick P. Brooks Jr., a Chapel Hill native and Duke University graduate who had also studied at one of the nation’s first computer science programs at Harvard. Brooks was not interested in the position, but he was interested in coming to the University. When he came to visit that spring, his lecture “Ten Research Problems in Computer Science,” stirred the minds of several key figures at UNC. An assembly of senior professors suggested the creation of a study committee, which recommended the creation of a new academic department within the College of Arts and Sciences. The University offered the position of leading the fledgling department to Brooks, who accepted.


As the head of a new Computer Science Department, Brooks worked closely with Hugh Holman, the Dean of Graduate Studies at UNC, to structure the department. Brooks strongly believed that the department could have the most effect on modernizing the computer culture of North Carolina by concentrating on educating teachers rather than practitioners. He immediately began the lengthy process of getting a Ph.D. program approved.

Brooks’ coming full-time to the University of North Carolina was delayed while he stayed with IBM to help manage the System/360 software release effort, a product of which he had been instrumental in the development. The University, IBM and Brooks reached an agreement that he would remain another year at IBM while spending one week per month in Chapel Hill to help launch the new department. In addition, IBM promised to help the school upgrade their computer system in the future. To teach courses and provide continuity, IBM agreed to dispatch George Cramer, who became the Department’s first full-time faculty member.

J. W. (“Bill”) Hanson, who had been appointed as director of the Computation Center and lecturer in mathematics, also agreed to help fill in the new department. Brooks, Cramer, Hanson and Sara Elizabeth (“Lib”) Moore, the new secretary, set up the department in the tiny but attractive West House.

West House

West House, the first home of the Department of Computer Science


Thanks to the help of Dean Holman and other UNC departments, who donated some of their own graduate research funding and budget money for a copier, mimeograph and other necessary items, the department was established and ready to go in the summer of 1964.


During the first year, 1964-1965, Cramer and Hanson taught classes while Brooks taught seminar courses in bursts during his visits to Chapel Hill. By the 1965-1966 academic year the Master’s Degree program was initiated and Brooks finally came to UNC full-time. While recruiting a faculty and managing a new academic unit, Brooks taught six courses in five subjects with average enrollment of 27, conducted seminars and tutorials, and supervised master’s theses.


Cramer returned to IBM, while Erwin Danziger, the newly appointed director of Administrative Data Processing, offered his services. With an academic appointment but no extra compensation, Danziger taught a business data processing laboratory course from 1966 -1985. The staff was also joined by Sylvia Hubbard, who taught programming.


Several significant milestones took place during the 1966-1967 academic year. The first M.S. degrees were awarded to Gail Woodward in December 1966 and to Hung-Ching Tao in May 1967. Akira Nakamura came from Nihon University in Tokyo to begin two years as visiting assistant professor. Carl Page, newly minted Ph.D. and father of future Google Co-founder Larry Page, became the first full-time tenure-track appointment (other than Brooks) as an assistant professor. Page only remained at UNC for a year due to significant allergy problems. He left on friendly terms, and Brooks helped him secure a position at Michigan State University. Another important milestone took place in 1967: the Department began to enroll its first Ph.D. student officially and received the first terminal for computer aided instruction (CAI).

During the first decade, the Department used joint appointments to increase its breadth faster than its budget. The first two such appointments, Sally Sedelow with English and Walter Sedelow with Sociology, were the first senior faculty members to join Brooks. Walter Sedelow continued to teach in the department even after he became Dean of Library Science. Dick Brewer served the first of his two years as an instructor with a joint appointment in both computer science and the journalism department. Two visiting professors included Tom Gallie from Duke and John Sanderson from the University of Adelaide.

New assistant professor appointments went to Dave Benson, Steve Pizer, and Don Stanat. Pizer, like Brooks, was a Harvard Computation Lab alumnus. At Harvard and at the Massachusetts General Hospital, he had begun research on processing medical images. Stanat came from the Communication Sciences program at the University of Michigan, where he researched programming paradigms. Benson, whose degree was from Caltech, returned after three years to his beloved Pacific Northwest. The other two remained here, both as full professors. Stanat has retired, but Pizer is still a professor in the department. He was named a Kenan Professor in 1992.


In 1968 Peter Calingaert joined the department as the second full professor. Demetrius Koubourlis of the Slavic Languages department taught programming courses in the Spring of 1969, 1970 and 1971.


In 1969, three more faculty members, Hal Hanes, Gerry Fisher, and Vic Wallace, joined the department. Hanes came from Earlham College as a one-year visitor. Fisher stayed for a year before resigning to go to the Illinois Institute of Technology. Wallace remained at the department for seven years.

Brooks teaching in 1972

Dr. Fred Brooks teaching a class in 1972


Of course, it was not just the faculty that grew. From 1964-1970 student numbers soared. The number of graduate students in the department more than quadrupled from 15 students to 63 students. It would take another 20 years before the number would double from there. The total number of registrations in courses in the department, including thesis and dissertation research, rose from 306 to 1,214.