EECS funnels in additional $250,000 to shorten waitlists

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In response to concerns about packed waitlists in the electrical engineering and computer sciences department, the administration has said funding for instructional support — which has been incrementally boosted over the past several years — is not to blame.

Long waitlists prompted an EECS professor two weeks ago to write a letter to campus administrators alleging that Temporary Academic Support funding — which includes money for instructional support — had been cut by about one-third this year. According to interim Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Carol Christ, however, the campus contributed $4 million more to TAS funding in the 2016-17 fiscal year than it did last year.

Funding fell short, according to Dean of the College of Engineering Shankar Sastry, because of a steep rise in students on the waitlist for EECS primary courses to about 2,700, up from 1,600 last year.

“In an ideal world, we would like to increase funding for TAS, but we have a structural deficit that limits the amount of money we can allocate,” Christ said in an email sent to EECS professor Satish Rao and circulated to other EECS department officials, as well as The Daily Californian on Aug. 26.

Reacting to the explosive growth of waitlists, Sastry said the department went to private donors and raised an additional $250,000 as of Aug. 29 — funding largely being put toward adding more sections and increasing advising support.

“We are certainly trying to get all oars into the water,” Sastry said. “We are hiring faculty as fast as we can.”

Sastry said that he had already allocated an additional $500,000 before the first week of school, but that the true magnitude of the waitlist took the department by surprise.

Christ has appointed a task force that will assess campus departments’ projected enrollment and demand in the spring semester, with the end goal of recommending changes to TAS allocations. Vice Provost for Faculty Ben Hermalin will lead the task force.

Computer science, economics and psychology are consistently among departments most strained by student demand, according to Christ.

“CS has become so popular the last three to four years,” said UC Berkeley senior Derrick Mar,  who is majoring in computer science and business administration. “It’s been harder for courses to scale as quickly, and the budget doesn’t help.”

Upper-division computer science courses have borne the brunt of increased waitlist numbers within the department this academic year, according to Christ.

Sastry said this phenomenon is likely just the early demand for computer science at the lower levels shifting upward to become impaction in upper-division classes.

Mar said, however, if any department is equipped to handle skyrocketing demand it is the EECS department, because instructional staff can build software tools to increase efficiency in course management, for example through automatic graders.

Additionally, Christ said the engineering department generates much of its own revenue through sales and services, tuition and private donations, and is more self-sufficient than the College of Letters and Sciences.

EECS professor Christos Papadimitriou said Christ’s email response to Rao is the closest any administrator has come to publicly explain the financial “mess” in which faculty find themselves.

Sastry said he realizes computer science is becoming a core element of a college program.

“We will do everything in our power to keep everyone on track,” Sastry said.

Contact Suhauna Hussain at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @suhaunah.