Ying Wu College of Computing’s Instructor Shortage

NJIT’s Ying Wu College of Computing is suffering from a lack of professors and lecturers. This instructor shortage has caused strife for many – predominantly computer science students, leading to issues with registering for essential classes. 

The Ying Wu College of Computing is one of the largest colleges that composes NJIT.  With nearly 3,000 students as of Fall 2019, it is second only to the Newark College of Engineering in terms of student population. The college is comprised of the Department of Computer Science and the Department of Informational Science ad is best known for its CS and IT programs. 

The college faces a steadily increasing number of students. Ying Wu College of Computing’s Academic Coordinator Daniel Pavlick takes pride in its growth. “We’re growing,” Pavlick said. “A lot of other [colleges] are pretty much static or shrinking.” The coordinator also stated that he has not heard students outside of the college complaining about issues about finding teachers and courses, signaling that Ying Wu’s instructor shortage may be unique among NJIT’s colleges. The ever-increasing amount of computing students has exacerbated Ying Wu’s instructor shortage, as the college has not been able to keep up with its increasing student growth. 

Ying Wu suffers from a lack of faculty members – which includes assistant professors, associate professors, professors, distinguished professors and most importantly, lecturers.  

“It’s not so much a professor shortage, but rather a senior lecturer shortage,” said Student Senate’s YWCC representative Marisa Sigas, a senior majoring in computer science and theater arts and technology. A single lecturer can be asked to teach as many as four classes a semester, while a professor’s class load is dependent on their other responsibilities at the university. According to Pavlick, a faculty member’s minimum class load is defined by the Teaching Allotment Committee; faculty are allocated a minimum number of classes based on how active they are in research. A faculty’s class load is also dependent on responsibilities besides research, such as being involved in a committee or managing a master’s program. In short, a lecturer is much more effective when it comes to running more courses compared to a faculty member. 

Another issue is that certain courses are inherently difficult to hire for. In some cases, an instructor can make significantly more money in the field than they would teaching the subject of their expertise in university. Pavlick notes the difficulties that the college faced trying to hire cybersecurity instructors, explaining that “if someone has a choice, you know, out there in the world to go work as a teacher for however much money or go make twice as much money in industry… it’s not a hard decision to make.” 

“When I joined as a student… I didn’t have trouble registering for courses,” said Pavlick – who started as a student at NJIT in 2013 – noting that the shortage began to affect computing students about half a decade ago, “but starting working here as an advisor in 2016, I remember students having trouble getting into classes.”  

This trouble refers to excessively large waitlists, issues registering for required courses and a lack of electives. Ying Wu’s computer science students are especially familiar with the last issue. Every computer science student is required to complete three upper-level computer science courses to graduate. With barely enough lecturers to teach required courses, many electives are run with an insufficient number of sections in proportion to the Ying Wu student body. 

Several years after Pavlick began advising, two separate groups were formed within Ying Wu’s computer science program based on which version of the curriculum was followed, leading to intense competition  for courses that would exacerbate registration issues within the college.  

Ying Wu’s computer science degree does not offer areas of specialization; every computer science student is expected to complete the same course load, with a few spots for electives. But in Fall 2019, the curriculum for Ying Wu’s computer science students was altered. Among the changes to curriculum, CS 351, Intro to Cybersecurity, and CS 301, Intro to Data Science, were added as required courses. This “new curriculum” was introduced on an opt-out basis for all current computer science students; existing students were given the option to stick to the “old curriculum,” leaving CS 351 and CS 301 as elective courses. 

Due to the decrease in electives caused by the instructor shortage, many old curriculum students are taking CS 351 and CS 301 to fulfil their elective requirements, even though these courses aren’t required of them. Sigas claims that these courses “don’t have the appropriate number of sections to cover the amount of people who need to take [them].” She expects that the situation will improve once the old curriculum students have graduated, but “it won’t fix the [core] issue.” The bottom line is that Ying Wu still needs additional instructors to teach more classes and more sections of classes. 

Both of Ying Wu’s departments are hiring at least one new lecturer for the upcoming fall semester. The Department of Computer Science is expected to hire three new lecturers. Pavlick finds the prospect of running twelve more classes “super exciting.” He hopes that with enough instructors, the college can change the way that their introductory programming courses are run. Right now, introductory courses such as CS 113, Introduction to Computer Science, are taught with combined lecture and split lab. Students in these courses are taught material in relatively large groups by one lecturer, and they work on lab assignments in smaller lab classes taught by teacher’s assistants. Pavlick said, “If we had three times as many people, we could have separate classes…instead of a gigantic lecture.” 

The college has a set plan to continue growing their instructing staff “as quickly as we can,” said Pavlick. Although Pavlick isn’t privy to the specifics of the plan, he says that a minimum one full-time instructor per department per year “is a safe bet.”  

In the meantime, Ying Wu’s advisors are working to ensure that computer science students graduate on time. In some cases, advisors will overfill sections to allow students to register for classes they need. If too many students need to take a single course in a single semester, the Teaching Allotment Committee will incur a debt to a faculty member to host more classes. A faculty member asked to teach additional courses one semester is allowed to teach fewer courses a following semester.  

Pavlick encourages computing students with issues registering to make themselves heard. “It really partly depends on students advocating and saying ‘Hey, I’m here, I need this class.’” 

About The Author

Karim Gueye

Gueye (Computer Science '22) is part of the Vector writing and copy editing teams.

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