UC Berkeley honor society’s town hall addresses electrical engineering, computer science department concerns

Karen Chow/Staff

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A crowd comprising mostly students and faculty from the campus’s electrical engineering and computer sciences department filled Soda Hall’s HP Auditorium on Wednesday night for a town hall discussion, in response to concern spurred by long waitlists for various EECS courses.

The campus chapter of the international electrical and computer engineering honor society Eta Kappa Nu, or HKN, hosted the event where attendees considered how to address the department’s current budget issues in light of increased enrollment in EECS courses.

Despite a slight increase this year in the EECS department’s Temporary Academic Support budget which mostly goes toward funding for graduate and undergraduate student instructors  some EECS courses have had longer waitlists due to a large increase in the number of undergraduates taking them over the past three years.

According to Karen Rhodes, spokesperson for the campus College of Engineering, currently, no EECS class has a waitlist containing more than 50 people. Dat Le, assistant dean of the College of Engineering, added that in the first week of the semester there were about 2,600 students on waitlists for EECS courses whereas by the end of the third week there were about 500.

Part of the reason that waitlist numbers have reduced since the beginning of the year is because the College of Engineering reached out to private donors and raised an additional $250,000 in funding by Aug. 29, which is primarily dedicated to adding more sections and increasing advising support.

“(If) the money comes in the second week of the semester, it might be more difficult to allocate it efficiently,” said EECS department chair Jitendra Malik said at the town hall.

Interim Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Carol Christ has created a task force that will work to determine the best way to allocate TAS funds and recommend whether changes should be made for the planning of the spring 2017 semester.

“(A) leader of campus has finally said very bluntly, ‘I want transparency in financials,’ ” said Jan Rabaey, electrical engineering division chair, at the meeting.

Students at the meeting, however, were concerned that these solutions only work as a temporary “Band-Aid,” for the long-term problem of maintaining the quality of the department.

Some students proposed that the College of Letters and Science contribute funding to the EECS department proportional to the number of Letters and Science students who take EECS courses. Others suggested introducing direct admission in the College of Letters and Science to the computer science major or having the EECS department take over the program.

But some professors noted that computer science courses should be open to anyone who wants to take them.

ASUC President Will Morrow recommended taking the issue to higher levels in the UC system and state government through student lobbying and letter writing. President of the UC Berkeley chapter of HKN Saavan Patel said he hoped HKN and the EECS community could form a group of people who are passionate about this issue to advocate for solutions.

“I do think it’s the basic responsibility of the university to give the money we need to teach you,” said EECS professor Satish Rao at the town hall. “Seeking private donors … is a bit heroic but a bit sad.”

Camryn Bell and Alex Fang at [email protected].