Kenyon is setting itself apart from other liberal arts colleges across the country, but maybe not for the right reasons: Kenyon is one of the last elite liberal arts schools in the country that does not offer a computer science major, according to Professor of Mathematics Bob Milnikel. Now, a board has assembled to advocate for a computer science major at Kenyon — which would ideally be available to students within the next five to 10 years.
“Computer science is very much part of the liberal arts in the 21st century,” Milnikel said. “It’s matured very quickly into one of the fundamental scientific disciplines, and so it would be appropriate and desirable for Kenyon to have a program in computer science.”
Milnikel said the potential computer science major came up during a lunch discussion in May 2015. In February 2016, Provost Joe Klesner called together a dozen or so faculty members along with Ron Griggs, vice president for library and information services, to investigate whether or not a computer science program would work at Kenyon. The College is still in the early stages of the process of creating the major.
Davidson College in North Carolina and Whitman College in Washington are two other notable liberal arts schools that initially resisted adopting the major, Milnikel said, but both will be adding computer science to their curriculum next year.
The largest obstacle in bringing this major to Kenyon is securing funding for the new department, but, according to James Skon, visiting professor of mathematics and computer science, a lack of funding will not deter the College from testing the feasibility of the major.
“If we’re going to do computer science,” Skon said, “we’re going to do a program that is of the caliber and the quality that you’d expect from Kenyon.”
President Sean Decatur believes that a computer science major can thrive at Kenyon. “I think there’s a really good argument to be made that computer science has emerged as a true liberal arts discipline,” President Sean Decatur said. “There’s a particular way of looking at problems … that’s based on algorithmic thinking, that is fueled by computer science.”
Students believe upgrading Kenyon’s current computer science concentration to a full major would be an asset.
Sam Troper ’18, the founder of the Kenyon Computing Club, said he viewed Kenyon’s lack of a computer science major as one of the College’s drawbacks. Troper is a mathematics and economics double major but said if Kenyon had a computer science major, he would have done that instead. “The fact that Kenyon doesn’t have a computer science program is kind of absurd in a way,” Troper said. Dan Olivieri ’19 said that, while it is frustrating he cannot major in computer science during his time at Kenyon, he is happy future students will have the opportunity. “[The major] is going to add a lot to the school,” he said. To make up for Kenyon’s lack of a computer science major, Olivieri took a class in computer programming through a cross-registration program with Mount Vernon Nazarene University last year.
Skon believes computer science would add a welcome dimension to the Kenyon liberal arts experience. “When you look at companies like Google and Apple and Oracle, they like to hire people from liberal arts colleges,” he said. “They want people who can think critically about building systems that are going to do unique things for people.”