Re: ‘ To Hell In a Handbasket ,’ Sept. 20, 2001,

By Dr. J. R. Parker

Editor, the Gauntlet,

I read James Keller’s comments from my seventh floor office in the ICT building. The editorial is clearly split into two parts: the first being generally negative comments on the ambiance of the new building, and the second being an equally negative commentary on the value of Management, Computer Science, and other studies that happen to be of commercial interest and whether these belong at a university.

With respect to the first half, I happen to think the building is ugly. Do you think we, as tenants wanted it to be so? It was something of a surprise to me that the outside of the building was going to violate the otherwise architecturally controlled pattern of this campus. It was not pleasing to me that there would be no ceilings or floor finishings.

Did you think to ask why? The reason is simple: it is cheaper. I would be surprised if there were a less expensive building, metre for metre, on campus. It conflicts with the view that we, the technical departments, are pampered favourites who drain resources from other areas. Half of the special funding sent from Edmonton for the expansion of the Computer Science and the Electrical Engineering departments drained into other areas: Humanities, Social Sciences, and so on.

Do I consider that a waste? Of course not. I, like most of my peers, recognize the value of the other subjects taught here. The very name "university" implies a diversity of study.

Which brings me to the second half of the commentary–the criticism that what you see as ‘job training’ has no place at a university. The university has always played a role in training people for careers. It has not become our only role, nor do I fear it will at any time. Should we ban a subject if it becomes too popular or commercial? Advances in Computer Science, such as the Web, laptops, word processors, and computer graphics, have changed the way almost everyone works and plays, including those in the Humanities.

I would say these comments reflect a serious lack of knowledge about what we in the Computer Science department actually do. They assume we spend our time creating Web pages and teaching students how to use spreadsheets and word processors. This is quite mistaken.

Scholarly activity and teaching of principles are our most frequent tasks. We advance the state of both pure knowledge and practical applications on a daily basis. We have earned our status at the university, and dragged nobody down to achieve it.

If our students graduate to interesting jobs, I have no apologies. Nor should I.


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