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June 11, 2015

Pitt considers merger of computer & info sciences

Is there a new school in Pitt’s future?

Provost Patricia E. Beeson has called for faculty in two areas — the School of Information Sciences (SIS) and the Department of Computer Science in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences — “to develop a proposal for a new unit that will incorporate both faculties into a single academic and administrative unit.”

SIS Dean Ronald Larsen is leading the formation of committees to begin studying the issue this summer. The provost’s idea, Larsen believes, “is actually one that is very timely for Pitt.” He cites other major institutions — Cornell, Michigan, Indiana and Drexel — that recently have undertaken this move.

“Done right, we have the ability to build a new capacity that provides an opportunity for combining strengths in ways we haven’t been able to do before,” Larsen says. “It positions us ideally to be able to respond to large-scale research initiatives which we haven’t been able to address in the past.”

In a May 29 letter recruiting faculty to join in the effort, Larsen refers to planning for a “new unit [called] the ‘School of Computing and Information (SCI),’” although he cautions that “this may or may not become the official name recommended for the new academic unit.”

Larsen calls for “broad engagement with the various voices, constituencies and stakeholders that will make up the new academic unit …” and for “creative approaches that explore novel arrangements of people, facilities and organizations.”

Larsen’s letter is recruiting faculty for a steering committee overseeing the undertaking as well as for committees with more narrow mandates:

Education and curriculum committee: to develop undergraduate and graduate programs, joint degree programs, minors, service courses, certificates and possible structured degree sequences that combine bachelor’s and master’s degrees, typically across five years.

Organizational structure committee: to create both administrative and academic structures for the school.

Administration and budget analysis committee: to assess the space, staffing and budgetary needs of the proposed school.

Research and collaborations committee: to discuss new opportunities with “programs that share significant disciplinary interests” with SIS and the computer science department, from regional corporations and nonprofits to Pitt units, centers and departments, including:

  • — Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (Swanson School of Engineering)
    — Computer engineering program (Swanson school)
    — Department of Industrial Engineering (Swanson school)
    — Center for Energy (Swanson school)
    — Department of Biomedical Informatics (School of Medicine)
    — Department of Health Information Management (School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences)
    — Bioinformatics program (Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences)
    — Intelligent systems program (Dietrich school)
    — Geographic information systems certificate program (Dietrich school)
    — Departments of Mathematics, Statistics, Physics and Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry and Economics (Dietrich school)
    — Information system design program (College of General Studies)
    — Management of information systems program (Katz Graduate School of Business)
    — Business information systems major (College of Business Administration)
    — Nursing informatics program (School of Nursing)
    — Center for Simulation and Modeling
    — Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education
    — Computing Services and Systems Development
    — Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center.

Vision and identity committee: to craft a focus and identity for the new school and to “provide the foundation for prioritizing faculty hiring, infrastructure investment and student recruiting.”

Larsen’s letter says that most of the committees’ initial reports will be ready for faculty and staff review in spring 2016. “The outcomes of these reviews will be used to refine the organizational concepts for the SCI and become the foundation for the academic plan,” which will be submitted to the Provost’s Advisory Committee on Undergraduate Programs and the University Council on Graduate Study early in fall 2016.

The provost had called for a report on recommendations by April 2016, but Larsen’s letter says the administration has agreed to a new timeline that places review and approval of the proposal in fall 2016, with the first class of students entering in fall 2017.

“That’s a very aggressive timeline,” Larsen says. “My hope is that we will agree on the big picture and give this to the provost, then the chancellor, and they will agree that this is a very important topic and they will invest in this.”

As his letter concludes, this is  “a rare and transformative opportunity to create an entirely new school at Pitt, one that takes on some of the most challenging and important questions of our age.”

—Marty Levine