Tufts Department of Computer Science hires four professors, loses three

11/09/2017 - Medford/Somerville, MA - Graduate student Shannon Robinson and Sophomore Allen Zhou coordinate on a coding project in the Halligan Computer Labs on September 11th. The Computer Science department has lost three and hired four professors. (Ben Kim / The Tufts Daily)

In the wake of Assistant Professor Ben Hescott controversially leaving the Tufts Department of Computer Science this May after being denied tenure, the department has faced additional faculty changes in the past few months. The Department of Computer Science has hired four new professors and lost three.

Megan Monroe specializes in visual analytics and will now be a full-time lecturer, co-teaching Introduction to Computer Science in addition to teaching her own course on natural language processing. In Fall 2016, she taught a class on visualization, acting as a part-time lecturer. 

Professor Susan Landau is a cybersecurity policy expert and Tufts’ second Bridge Professor who is developing programming between the School of Engineering and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. She will begin teaching courses in the spring. 

“I’m hoping to have most of my courses cross-listed so that students from both places, as well as maybe International Relations or Political Science or Psychology or History, can take them as well,” Landau said.

Assistant Professor Liping Liu is a machine learning researcher who specializes in working with data sets that have a geospatial aspect, such as the migration patterns of birds. This semester, he is teaching a course on Machine Learning for Ecology and Sustainability. 

Assistant Professor Jivko Sinapov is an expert in developmental robotics and hopes to start a robotics lab at the University. He is a proponent of hands-on teaching and project-based learning, finding teaching to be much more fulfilling than working in industry.

“In industry, you may have interns, but they come in for a semester, then they’re gone,” Sinapov said. “Here, you get to actually watch the students grow. That’s why I’m in academia.”

The hiring of these new professors has been accompanied by the departure of three others.

Greg Aloupis, who specializes in algorithms and computational geometry, will begin teaching at New York University in January. Bruce Molay, who taught many introductory level courses, retired this August. Associate Professor Anselm Blumer, who taught in the department for over thirty years, will be retiring in February.

Blumer said his decision to leave Tufts was directly linked to Ben Hescott being denied tenure.

Hescott said he received no explanation from either the Committee on Tenure and Promotion or the Board of Trustees as to why he was denied tenure.

“It seems to indicate a lack of support for good teaching on the part of the University,” Blumer said.

According to the AS&E Faculty Handbook, both teaching and scholarship quality are important factors in evaluating whether faculty receive tenure. However, many of his former students believe that Hescott was denied tenure because he did not secure a sufficient amount of research funding, according to a Medium post which collected responses to Hescott’s denial of tenure from alumni and members of the Tufts community. 

Blumer said that such an expectation is detrimental to the University because it suppresses intellectual freedom and removes any incentive for graduates to work in academia.

“Industry does research in the areas that they think they can sell. Universities are supposed to be doing research in all sorts of different areas, but if you force new faculty to go for research funding, then it’s essentially the same thing,” Blumer said.

Professor and Department Chair Kathleen Fisher explained that in order to combat the increasing difficulty of finding and hiring professors, in the past year, the department has accelerated their system of hiring.

“We’ve been shifting to a model where we make offers as soon as we have a candidate that we’re really excited about instead of waiting to have all the candidates come in.”

Fisher added that the problems with retaining professors have not been financial.

“There are just not enough [computer science PhDs] who are interested and qualified in the positions, so everybody [computer science departments] is competing against everybody else,” she said.  

The Computer Science Department currently has five open positions it is looking to fill for next year.