Computer Science department plans to increase program admissions by 10 per cent

Plans revealed at Computer Science Student Union mental health town hall

Computer Science department plans to increase program admissions by 10 per cent

Content warning: discussions of suicide.

Following a student death by suicide at the Bahen Centre for Information Technology earlier this month, the Computer Science Student Union and the Department of Computer Science held a town hall on March 27 to address mental health issues within the department, as well as the competitive program of study (POSt) requirements that many in the computer science community believe to be a contributing factor to poor mental health among students. It was announced at the town hall that the department is planning to increase space in the program by 10 per cent for the coming school year, with a new system for admitting students into the program expected to be ready for the 2020–2021 academic year.

The Chair and the Associate Chair of the Undergraduate Studies section of the department — Ravin Balakrishnan and Michelle Craig — were on the panel to address concerns from the students.

Melanie Woodin, the incoming Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science; Deborah Robinson, Faculty Registrar and Director of Undergraduate Academic Services; and Caroline Rabbatt, Director of Critical Incidents, Safety and Health Awareness were also in attendance.

Changes to POSt

Balakrishnan announced that the department is planning to increase space in the program and move to a new admissions process. The new system, similar to the admission process for Rotman Commerce, would admit half of the program’s students directly from high school — requiring them to apply with a supplemental application and maintain certain grades in required courses — with the other half made up of out-of-stream students.

Another change to the POSt system for the coming academic year, Craig explained, is that in-stream and out-of-stream students will not be differentiated for program admissions.

“Students are in the same courses, taking the same midterms, the same final exams, and we’ll use the grades in those courses without regard for the student stream,” Craig said. “I think that that’s fair to all students.”

In response to a question about the ratio of direct-from-high school students and non-stream students, Craig said that the decision was made in order to avoid advantaging students who have advanced computer science programs available during their secondary education. She added that while the plan is still required to go through the faculty’s governance process, the whole panel is hopeful that the new system will pass.

When asked about how the department could ensure mental health of students in a competitive program like computer science, Balakrishnan said that the department will be expanding staff and hopes that the new POSt system will also benefit students.

However, Balakrishnan also said that he could not pretend that computer science would be a less competitive or difficult program but does want to make the program “more palatable” for students.

Discussion also came up about the possibility of separating the department from the faculty, to which Balakrishnan responded by saying that “all options are on the table.”

Woodin also commented on the issue, saying that the faculty acknowledges that computer science is a rapidly changing field of study but did encourage computer science students who do not make POSt to pursue a minor.

Responding to another question about how to create a more welcoming environment in the program, Balakrishnan said that in the short term, open spaces that come out of Bahen Centre renovations could be used by computer science students, and in the long term, he proposed having a building dedicated to computer science.


If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call:

  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566
  • Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454
  • Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600
  • Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200
  • U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030.

Warning signs of suicide include:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you should talk to them, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

Disorder in Computer Science Student Union amid resignations, dissolution of General Council

Unaffiliated system of “committees” also operating parallel to course union

Disorder in Computer Science Student Union amid resignations, dissolution of General Council

In recent months, the Computer Science Student Union (CSSU) has been affected by multiple executive resignations, the dissolution of its General Council due to an alleged lack of involvement and communication, and the creation of an unregulated, loosely-organized system of “committees” operating parallel to the course union.

The CSSU is a course union that represents over 1,200 students who are taking a Computer Science (CS) course or are enrolled in the CS programs of study. Its executives are elected each spring for the next academic year.

Resignations

The first resignation to hit the union came on November 16, when CS student Ignas Panero Armoska left his role as the Director of Social Events.

“I worked really hard on frosh over the summer and then a bunch of social events, but it actually turned out that I was also doing a lot of infrastructure-related tasks that were not under my purview at all,” he said in an interview with The Varsity.

Panero Armoska noted that these tasks included onboarding people to manage office-related assignments and helping run academic events.

Panero Armoska’s departure was followed by that of President David Ansermino, who left his position effective December 21.

Explaining his resignation, Ansermino said that he had to leave since he is working full-time at a startup. “We’ve certainly got a lot on our plates right now, and I’m kind of an integral part of that… Trying to manage my responsibilities became difficult.”

Ansermino was replaced by Vice-President Calvin Luo, who in turn hired Panero Armoska as the Acting Vice-President in order “to provide a more stable leadership team,” given the departures. The Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU), which oversees course unions such as the CSSU, suggested that the CSSU hold a by-election to replace Ansermino or have Luo take over in an interim capacity.

Treasurer Taylor Stinson also departed in December, according to a statement from Luo.

“[Stinson] and I agreed that at this moment, the Executive Council of the CSSU should be filled with people involved with the community and dedicated to improving it,” Luo wrote.

Stinson was replaced by Borna Salman, the former CSSU community store manager. Stinson could not be reached for comment.

Dissolution of the CSSU General Council

In the same statement announcing Ansermino’s resignation, Luo said that the course union was dissolving its General Council and seeking applications for new members to serve. According to Panero Armoska, members of the council were generally inactive.

Members of the council are appointed by the CSSU executive in the fall and are comprised of people “who want to take an active role in helping make decisions for the CSSU and organizing CSSU initiatives,” according to Panero Armoska.

The reasoning behind the dissolution was to have a smaller team that facilitated better communication.

Following the dissolution of the old council, the current executive interviewed new applicants and hired six people, including some who were re-hired from the previous council.

According to ASSU President Haseeb Hassaan, ASSU did not know about the dissolution of the council until reached by The Varsity in early February.

Since then, ASSU has spoken with the CSSU and was “informed that the Council was not active,” wrote Hassaan. He added, “This council is appointed/hired by the Executive as per their Constitution so it is up to them to make that decision.”

A system of “committees”

Aside from the wave of resignations and the dissolution of General Council, the CSSU has also been affected by the appearance of a system of loosely-organized “committees.” Unaffiliated with the union, they were started independently by CS student Aniket Sengupta-Kali early last semester and “formally launched” in January.

The committees are meant to be “a very simple way of getting involved” with the community because there hasn’t historically been a way to do that, said Sengupta-Kali.

“It’s kind of a loose organization,” he said. “We’re not trying to formalize too too much because we’re still trying to work things out with the CSSU, because most of the people involved do want this to be officialized as part of the union.”

He added, “It’s just that it has to be on terms that everyone finds reasonable and that will facilitate more involvement in the future.”

The committees are organized through Slack, a professional messaging platform, and cover topics such as coding events, mental health, and socials.

Despite not formally being part of the CSSU and operating in parallel to it, Panero Armoska said the committees organized by Sengupta-Kali were trying to advertise at U of T Hacks, an annual hackathon where Panero Armoska was serving as an executive.

He also said that the committees “were communicating with the department” on behalf of the CSSU, despite not being an official representative of the CSSU.

“We’re not opposed to them — like 100 per cent student involvement is great and in fact we’re going to be working on making more opportunities available within the CSSU,” Panero Armoska remarked. “But… we literally are trying to get the CSSU more organized and have a better structure and stability right now and we can’t endorse events that we literally did not organize or are at or anything like that because it can really poorly reflect on us.”

According to him, the CSSU has met with representatives of the committees, including Sengupta-Kali.

However, Sengupta-Kali denied claims that the committees were passing themselves off as representatives of the CSSU.

“Constantly, we’ve been trying to assert that no, we’re not trying to be a rival CSSU or usurp the CSSU,” he said, “but we do want to see CSSU change a bit in terms of how it accepts community involvement and how can get involved.”

Despite these leadership shuffles, Panero Armoska noted that the CSSU is continuing to operate and hold events.