UC Berkeley’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences department announced that future enrollment for Computer Science 70, “Discrete Mathematics and Probability Theory,” would not be restricted by major.
The announcement followed a prior decision by the department to restrict enrollment in CS 70 to CS-intended or EECS students, according to a press release from ASUC Academic Affairs Vice President James Weichert.
“The (original) decision was horrible, but I am not sure (the EECS department) had a choice,” said campus EECS professor Satish Rao, who has taught CS 70 for many past semesters and will teach it again in the fall. “It was an abomination to treat these students this way.”
CS 70 is a lower-division class required for students to declare the computer science major, which resides in the College of Letters and Science, as noted by a CS enrollment guide from the EECS department. The course is also considered a prerequisite for many CS upper-division courses, according to the UC Berkeley Academic Guide.
Many majors also overlap courses with the EECS department, including cognitive science and data science, according to each respective major’s website.
Weichert said the original decision came as “a last-ditch effort” for the EECS department to try and control enrollment in the CS major, which has “skyrocketed” in the last 10 years and has only continued to increase.
Originally, the department had proposed an effort to assess every admitted student, EECS- or CS-intended or not, for potential suitability for the CS major, Weichert said. Campus’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions would assess every undergraduate admit based on math or science courses they had taken in the past and preapprove students to be able to enroll in the major, regardless of their intended major on their application.
“The proposal was meant to let students know whether or not they could take any CS classes or possibly declare the major without having to go through the three declaration courses,” Weichert said.
He noted that the proposal would remove the 3.3 GPA cap for declaring the CS major; the proposal would also allow the EECS department to “throttle” students enrolling in the major.
Weichert alleged that the proposal was rejected by Letters and Science, which then declined to offer an alternative enrollment plan for the major, leading to the vote to limit CS 70 enrollment.
The limitation on CS 70 enrollment would have prevented students who did not apply to UC Berkeley as CS-intended from majoring in CS or even just taking a CS class for another major or out of self-interest, Weichert added.
Campus sophomore and CS major Genna Gams, who took CS 70 with Rao and EECS professor Babak Ayazifar in fall 2021, said it was unfair to limit enrollment in CS 70 to only those who intended to declare.
“There are many students who come to Cal with little or no prior experience in computer science courses because their high schools didn’t offer them,” Gams said in an email. “These students may not know they are interested in computer science when applying to Berkeley and as a result lose access to the classes that could help them discover that interest.”
The ASUC Office of Academic Affairs worked closely with student organizations to advocate against the limitation, Weichert added. His office and student organizations will continue to work with the EECS department and campus leadership to resolve the CS enrollment crisis.
Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore noted that the original CS 70 decision had been an exploration of a way to address “the longstanding, high demand” for the CS major and related courses.
“The campus anticipates that all current and newly-admitted students (2022-23 class) interested in the L&S CS major will be accommodated consistent with our current policies,” Gilmore said in an email. “We are committed to providing these students with that access.”
According to Rao, the EECS enrollment crisis is more complicated than just the CS 70 limitation.
While CS enrollment has continued to greatly increase each year, the temporary academic support, or TAS, budget for the EECS department has remained at an inflation-adjusted constant, Rao alleged. The TAS accounts for money used to pay teaching assistants, who have been overworked and strained by the rise in CS course enrollment.
Based on funding documents described by Rao, the inflation-adjusted 2015-16 TAS spending is approximately the same as the 2019-20 TAS spending. He estimated that the TAS spending total to be about $117 million, which he alleged is out of approximately $1.7 billion from tuition, state support and donations for continuing operations.
Rao also noted that data for the last year was not available due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Weichert alleged the EECS department was able to obtain emergency funds in some way to keep current CS enrollment afloat and reverse the limitations on CS 70.
He said the million-dollar question — literally — is how the department will be able to secure sustainable funding for the future.
“Emergency funding will eventually run out, and that still leaves the department on the course of an increasing number of CS majors year after year,” Weichart said. “It has left a lot of students in L&S very concerned and understandably hurt — not really by the department, but by decisions the College of L&S has made.”
Weichert believes the EECS funding problems are structural. Rao said the problem extends to the larger campus and that the funds are “really pennies” in comparison to the rest of the money campus spends.
A potential solution for EECS in the long term is the formation of campus’s Division of Computing, Data Science and Society into a new college, which Weichert said will be “an eventuality.” The EECS department would be shared between this new college and the College of Engineering, providing opportunities for fundraising and a more sustainable road map for the major, Weichert added.
Weichert stressed the importance of collaboration between the Division of Computing, Data Science and Society, Letters and Science and campus to resolve the EECS enrollment crisis and allow for a smooth transition for when the department moves into the new college.
“College is supposed to be a time of discovery; the average student will likely change their major while pursuing an undergraduate degree,” Gams said in the email. “If a student finds their passion for computer science once they get to Berkeley, they shouldn’t be restricted from pursuing it because they cannot get into the courses needed to declare.”