Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The AS11 staff, then and now

Applied Sciences 11 was the original name for CS50, a course I created in 1981, before Harvard had either courses called "Computer Science" or an undergraduate degree by that name. AS11 wasn't a renaming of Nat Sci 110, it was a whole new enterprise, an attempt to be systematic and scientific about the introduction to the science of computing, more rigorous than Nat Sci 110 and with less of the Santa-suit lecture stunts that I had pulled in Nat Sci 110. It is hard to remember how thinly staffed we were in those days. Not only did I not get a leave term or even summer support to prepare the new course, I actually taught AM108 (now CS121) simultaneously in the fall of 1981. And the previous term hadn't been a light one--I was teaching AM110 (now CS51). (My whole teaching record, and an almost complete list of my TFs, is here.)

The second year I taught the course, the midterm was on Hallowe'en, and I invited the TFs over to my house for dinner after we finished grading. Margo Seltzer--now my colleague two doors down but then an undergraduate--arranged for everyone to show up with tweed jackets, mustaches, and pipes. (I still wear tweed jackets, but the pipe and mustache are long gone.) Here is the group photo, about which I blogged five years ago.
A remarkable number returned for the Celebration of Computer Science on my 70th birthday.
Left to right, Ted Nesson, Lisa Hellerstein, Phillip Stern, Michael Massimilla, HRL, Craig Partridge, Christoph Freytag, Margo Seltzer, Larry Lebowitz, John Thielens, John Ramsdell, Phil Klein. Rony Sebok also showed up, a few minutes too late to make it into the picture, and Larry Denenberg and boo gershun, who didn't make it into the original picture, were also at the event. So that is 14 of the original 23 came back 35 years after the fact (no more than 22 are still living). Sweet!

Thanks everyone!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Harvard's nondiscrimination hypocrisy

I have an op-ed by that title in the Washington Post.

Birthday stuff

I turned 70 on April 19. I made the decision some time ago to creep toward retirement around now. So I am giving up my role as Director of Undergraduate Studies in CS, a role I have had most years since even before there was a CS undergraduate major. I will be teaching half time for the next two years (I have already blogged about the cool new Classics of Computer Science course I will be teaching). I then have a year of saved sabbatical, so will transition to Research Professor or some such title on July 1, 2020.

To mark the moment, and to celebrate what has happened to the field of CS at Harvard and elsewhere in the years since I started teaching at Harvard in 1974, SEAS put on a big celebration on my birthday. Many of my former students and teaching fellows attended, and there was a terrific program of talks. You can watch all six hours of it if you are a beggar for punishment! Here is the video -- thanks to the CS50 team for producing it and getting it up so quickly. (If you just want to hear what I, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg had to say, go to about 20 minutes from the end.)

And Harvard Magazine has a nice report on the event. Thanks to everyone, and especially to Margo Seltzer, David Parkes, and Henry Leitner for their roles in putting this together.

We were able to reproduce a facsimile of A 30th Anniversary Family Photo, which I will post when I get it.

In the meantime, here is another classic -- six women computer scientists of the class of 1980 all came back for the celebration. That really means a lot to me! From left to right, Jeanette Hung, Jennifer (Greenspan) Hurwitz, Betty (Ryan) Tylko, Diane (Wasserman) Feldman, HRL, Christine (Ausnit) Hood, and boo gershun. Thanks!


Monday, April 10, 2017

Tip of the hat to Dave Fahrenthold!

Harvard, the Crimson, and my family are all proud that Dave Fahrenthold '00 of the Washington Post has just been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting, for his work investigating Donald Trump's charitable donations and for breaking the "Access Hollywood" video story. Dave is married to my daughter Elizabeth (see family photo). Before he met her, he covered me for the Crimson while I was dean. See this early example of his thorough, fair-minded work covering an uncooperative subject!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

This week's developments in USGSO policy

The Crimson reported a confusing development this week in the battle over “Unrecognized Single Gender Social Organizations” at Harvard.

Traditionally all-female final clubs and sororities will be allowed to retain their “gender focus” for the next few years—and potentially beyond that period—while complying with the College’s policy penalizing single-gender social groups, according to Associate Dean of Student Life David R. Friedrich.

This fulfills the Implementation Committee’s recommendation that it “supports the idea of continuing to allow the female final clubs and sororities to operate with gender focused missions, with the understanding that the positive contributions of those organizations to the campus community would be assessed in three to five years.” There is a catch, however.

Friedrich clarified, however, that any groups’ gender-focused mission should exist simultaneously with “substantive advancement toward full inclusion,” including gender inclusivity.

This development brings two thoughts to mind.

First, when I referred in my original remarks before the Faculty to an Index of Prohibited Organizations, I was half joking. I didn’t think anyone would actually have to keep a list, because everybody knew which organizations were covered: The men’s and women’s Final Clubs, and the fraternities and sororities that were restricted to Harvard students. Targeting that constellation of clubs may not make a lot of ethical sense (seems odd that Lambda Upsilon stays off it by having MIT and Wellesley members), but at least it’s pretty well defined.

But now a published list really will have to exist. Someone in University Hall will have to make judgments about which groups have a “gender focus” and which are just women’s groups. Which groups are making “substantive advancement” and which groups’ advancement is less substantive. Which groups are making “positive” contributions and which groups’ contributions are neutral or negative. The keeper of the Index will move groups onto and off the list in accordance with periodic audits—another new concept introduced recently, which seems to mesh with the Implementation Committee’s recommendation that student groups submit their “demographic breakdown” to University Hall.

In the absence of a published Index, a student affirming her compliance with the USGSO policy could not know whether the organization of which she was a member was prohibited or not.

(At this point I was going to write a sentence or two explaining what was wrong with having a dean keeping the Index and deciding which organizations to move onto it on the basis that they are utterly without redeeming social value. I couldn’t make myself do it. If you don’t see anything wrong with this, probably nothing I could say would convince you.)

That was one thought. The other was surprise that the University would adopt an implementation plan that so plainly discriminated against men’s organizations. We have only the Implementation Committee report and the Crimson interview to go on, but it seems that what is described as a “gender focus” loophole is in fact strictly for women’s groups, and no men’s group can escape the Index on the basis that it makes positive contributions to the experience of its members.

Whatever the asymmetry between the experience of men and women at Harvard, I am surprised that the University would so starkly state that all men’s organizations are worthless and intolerable but women’s organizations can be useful and will be tolerated, having in its recent pronouncements focused exclusively on nondiscrimination as the rationale for the policy. It’s a very odd idea—gender discrimination in furtherance of gender nondiscrimination.

I have to wonder if this implementation plan meets President Faust’s minimum requirement.

“I hope that, and trust that, during the process things that might concern me would be communicated during the process,” Faust said. “Ultimately, I want to be able to ensure that this policy is not going to get us sued instantly, is legal, is something that the governing boards feel is acceptable to implement.”


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

I know it's a dumb question, but

… what does it mean when it says that USGSOs seeking to be recognized are expected to maintain “in both policy and practice … Publication of the demographic breakdown of the organization’s membership”? (2(d) on page 16 of the Report.)

At a minimum, “demographic breakdown” must mean by gender, in which case this is a way of walking back from the promise previously made to the Seneca that it would suffice to change the club’s bylaws without changing its actual membership.

But “demographic breakdown” must mean more than that, or else the demand would simply have been for the gender breakdown.

 It must include ethnic breakdown, since the parallel between gender discrimination and racial discrimination is cited so often. No all-white clubs need apply for recognition. Fair enough.

But that raises an interesting question. There is a Harvard chapter of the Jewish fraternity, A E Pi. I imagine it has a negligible number of Christian members. Suppose it decided to go co-ed and applied for recognition.

Would someone in University Hall check the “demographic breakdown” of the newly reformed A E Pi to make sure there weren’t too many Jewish members? 

Perhaps some descendant of President Lowell could be found for that unsavory job.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

More about the Implementation

I hadn’t noticed Section 2 of Appendix H of the Implementation Committee Report until a student asked me about it. This section makes various recommendations about how Harvard space could be repurposed for undergraduate social life. Some of these ideas seem good, but I wonder how much thought has gone into them since they all seem to have problems.

Renew the Queen’s Head Pub. Great idea, but will Harvard really do a third major renovation of this space in barely twenty years? The original, very expensive Loker Commons was overbuilt architecturally, indeterminate socially, and a failure operationally. Then (after some more modest tweaks) the space was turned into a pub—an odd choice for a space close to freshman housing. The Report dismissively says it’s popular mainly with graduate students, as though graduate students are, if anything, overprovisioned and it wouldn’t hurt to give their space to undergraduates. Really? (What happened to One Harvard?) And with the FAS budget under pressure from the costs of renovating the Houses, would it make sense to undertake another renovation of the Memorial Hall basement?

Loeb House as event space. This is a fabulous idea. Loeb House has a beautiful, stately ballroom, often empty but occasionally used, at very high cost, for receptions after funerals. When I was dean I tried to get it for the Ballroom Dance Club and Team (not a hard-partying group). No, was the answer—they would scratch the floor. This is a great proposal, not just because it is a natural use for this space, but because it presents an opportunity for the Corporation (whose offices occupy the building) to address in deed as well as in word the problem of undergraduate social life.

The Smith Campus center.  Couldn’t this have been thought through just a few years ago when the Center was being planned? Or shall we embark on an immediate renovation to make it an “Agora” for undergraduates, to use the Report’s term, instead of whatever it is actually going to be?

Phillips Brooks House. A seductive idea which is never going to happen. First, it would surprise me greatly if the public service groups went along with it. But more importantly, that building has not just a history but a deed of gift. It was built thanks to a gift from the Randall Charities Corporation. As the 1896-97 Harvard President’s Report states, the gift was applied “to the construction of the Phillips Brooks House to insure in that building suitable accommodations for the charitable work of the organization known as the Student Volunteer Committee so long as the said organization retain the approval of the President and Fellows, or in case this work should be given up, for kindred work at the discretion of said President and Fellows ….” IANAL, but I wonder if this idea was checked out before it was put in the Report.

SOCH as party central. That is Hilles Library, for earlier generations of readers. Might work great for students in the Quad. It’s never worked as planned as the complex for student offices and extracurricular clubs since it was decommissioned as a library. (Was that even a good idea, in retrospect?)

Transition administrative offices into student space. Send offices like the Office of International Education and the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships from their “impressive frame wood houses on Dunster Street” to somewhere less central. Repurpose these buildings as “a quasi-student union, with accessible study and hang-out spaces during the day and bookable space for student organizations and perhaps the dining societies to book for meetings and social gatherings in the evenings and/or on weekends.” This seems at odds with what we have heard at other times about the need to restore the centrality of the academic experience. It seems a little odd in particular to send fellowship applicants, who would have sworn not to be members of the nearby final clubs, off to some more distant location for conversations about fellowships, so that the fellowships office building could be used as a Harvard-banded club.

These are all details, of course. The biggest question, the one about the policy itself that lay behind the motion I made about nine months ago and then withdrew after the new committee was promised, remains on the table, awaiting the work of that committee.


But another big question remains after reading the Implementation Committee report in full. One of the complaints about off-campus social clubs has always been that they draw social life out of the Houses. Making them go co-ed would do nothing to change that, or to make them less exclusive, or elitist. (Vide The Hasty Pudding Club— the social club, not the Theatricals.) Won’t all these efforts to create social space outside the Houses compete with House social life rather than enhance it? The other two sections of Appendix H describe House-based activities. Does the whole picture really hold together—better social life in the Houses, and also better social life on campus outside the Houses?