Last time, I told you that the School of Computer Science had struck an ad hoc committee to examine the use of C# in its undergraduate curriculum, and that MathSoc was composing a response on behalf of math students. We're not anymore, and that's because the committee doesn't exist any more.
At a meeting of the School of Computer Science council last week, the faculty of the School passed a motion saying that no committee would examine language alternatives for first-year courses for a six-month period. This terminated the C# Committee's work.
Is C# a good programming language? Is it a good teaching language? Is it of value to students to learn it? These are questions we won't know the answer to for at least another six months. We know that students are using C# on co-op terms, that they are writing work reports about C#, and that they are learning C# on their own.
In their recent decision, the School of CS responded to UW's current memorandum of understanding with Microsoft. The problem is that they responded emotionally, not rationally. They subscribed to the supposed tactics of the Redmond giant — fear, uncertainty, and doubt. All of these threats are allayed by well-informed discourse. If anyone should be able to compose an argument in favour of or against using a particular programming language, it's a computer scientist. It is the duty of our faculty to ensure that their pedagogy is of the highest quality. Now that co-op is an academic credit, it also behooves the faculty to ensure that the skills students learn in class are relevant to their work term placements and vice-versa.
By banning investigation of programming languages, we don't only prevent the faculty from looking at C#, we don't get a chance to review novel languages like Smalltalk and Self, and we cast an air of suspicion over any future language investigation.
Some might argue that tempers are running high in light of August's announcement of the Microsoft partnership. Perhaps, but a public, open, and well-educated debate will hasten the recovery and allow us to move on more quickly. In CS, more than in any other unit in the Faculty of Mathematics, we now have the infrastructure necessary to have such an informed discussion. There is an established tradition in the School to publicize important information on the web. Moreover, there are student representatives on every relevant committee in the School, most notably the Undergraduate Academic Plans Committee. We can be sure that a present debate would be effective.
Programming languages and computer science evolve, and the curriculum in UW's School of Computer Science should be no exception.