Deep-rooted problems in SEAS

Yet again, our University administrators are focusing on the wrong things when so much needs to be done. I had a glimmer of hope that GW Vice President of Academic Affairs Donald Lehman had recognized the serious problems in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and was going to address them.

But as I read The GW Hatchet’s Oct. 15 front-page article “Lehman calls for restructuring of engineering school by 1999,” I realized that administrators possess an inherently flawed and unfortunate focus on making a quick profit instead of focusing on the academic inadequacies of the engineering school.

They have shown their incompetence by proposing superficial changes such as moving offices around and changing which departments manage certain majors. But they haven’t demonstrated how those changes will address the financial troubles the engineering school faces. GW needs to focus on increasing the quality of education in the long term instead of focusing on reaching target financial goals in the short term.

The quality of education in the engineering school is declining. As an example, the computer science curriculum still requires students to take a class called File Structures, which teaches tape backup and archiving (which pretty much went out in the early 1980s when hard drive space got cheap). Undergraduates are not required to take key classes such as network programming, object-oriented design, computer algorithms and other core classes for which our $120,000 education is paying.

Beyond an outdated curriculum, classes aren’t getting across the concepts they are designed to teach and are taught in an extremely inconsistent manner. Professors often speak of their personal interests rather than the relevant course material. Personally, I have four graduate students teaching my classes whose knowledge was lacking and whose command of English was even worse.

Professors not teaching what they are supposed to is an institutional problem, because the engineering school has no course evaluations. A true course evaluation – not grading the professor for showing up on time – would rate the class for its usefulness and whether it fulfilled the course objectives outlined in the GW Bulletin. The lack of teacher accountability is becoming a major problem and needs to be addressed by both the faculty and the student government.

Another problem is the declining and non-existent facilities for engineering students. For computer science, a large part of software development is working with current tools to help you in each stage of the programming process. Knowing how to use these software tools is a crucial skill in the work place, and GW unfortunately provides no tools or classes on using such tools. In my four years at GW, virtually no upgrades have been made to the SEAS computers or the SEAS network response time, and the hours SEAS labs are open have not been increased.

The end result is that many graduating students are incapable of designing and implementing the software needed for large computing systems. We have never been taught how to take a problem, break it down into its many components and come up with the best algorithms to solve the problem.

The ironic thing is that if GW actually spent more energy on teaching the information it is supposed to, more students would want to come and stay in the engineering school, and the school wouldn’t be in any financial trouble.

Printing pamphlets that list computer science as its own department may help get some recognition, but printing pamphlets that say the computer science department has produced advanced software technologies such as the University of Washington at Seattle’s Pine program would get more recognition.

-The writer is a senior majoring in computer science.

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