Section: Opinion

College lags without compsci

To stay competitive, Kenyon should add major

Kenyon has a variety of departments and a wealth of interdisciplinary majors, but lacks one key staple of the current academy: computer science.

An institution of higher education will have a hard time remaining competitive in the 21st century without a computer science department. Computer science is one of the most popular majors at Oberlin and Swarthmore Colleges, two of Kenyon’s “overlap” schools. The lack of computer science not only drives away students interested purely in coding, but also those with diverse academic interests that may include computer science. Students who may be interested in taking programming classes in addition to courses for their major, or who are undecided but have computer science on their radar, find themselves disappointed by Kenyon’s course offerings.

Kenyon offers the interdisciplinary scientific computing concentration as a half-hearted  compromise, an attempt to fill the void. But the underdeveloped program is failing to meet students’ needs. One of my close friends has resorted to enrolling in computer science courses at Mount Vernon Nazarene University to supplement his studies at Kenyon and his desire to learn programming. This is a rare exception; most students in his position probably would not have given Kenyon a second thought.

Resistance to establishing a computer science department is not just limited to logistical concerns, but also includes concerns about how the highly technical discipline would fit into Kenyon’s particular vision of liberal education.

It’s easy to understand where this concern is coming from — programming is generally understood to be a “technical” skill, and Kenyon is not a technical college. If we offer computer science, why not offer welding or sports medicine? This viewpoint shows an ignorance of how closely computer science relates to departments offered at Kenyon already, such as math, physics, biology and philosophy.

As computer technology has become more and more sophisticated, it has become more and more integrated into the cutting edge of research science as well, and a full-fledged computer science department would foster more opportunities for deep, cross-disciplinary study. Until then, Kenyon will remain a non-option for many bright prospective students with an interest in computer science.

Toby Baumann ’19 is undeclared from Mount Vernon, Ohio. Contact him at baumannt@kenyon.edu.

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