Story: CS department ‘pathetic,’ Carlson says

Allison Schlesinger

A representative of Gov. Arne Carlson said recent statements attributed to him regarding the University’s computer science department need to be clarified.
In a story in today’s issue of The American Jewish World, Carlson called the University’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering “pathetic” and said University President Mark Yudof has been slow to make changes to the department. But some University officials and the governor’s spokeswoman said the statements were probably taken out of context.
The newspaper is a Twin Cities weekly publication serving the Jewish community.
“His comments were directed at the past, but certainly he’s very positive about the University now,” said Jackie Renner, Carlson’s spokeswoman.
The article came after a meeting Carlson held with Israeli Midwest Consul General Tzipora Rimon and members of the Jewish and economic community. Mordecai Specktor, the reporter who wrote today’s article, was the only member of the media present at the meeting.
Specktor said Rimon was commenting on the prowess of Israel’s high technology centers when Carlson spoke of the state of the University’s programs. At the end of the meeting, Rimon and Carlson agreed to encourage University officials to visit Israel by the end of the year.
“When I shook his hand as I was leaving, (Carlson) asked me to be discrete in my article,” Specktor said.
Nancy Brown, a member of the Jewish Community Relations Council, attended the meeting with Rimon and the governor. She said she doesn’t remember Carlson using harsh words, but does recall he voiced his disappointment with the University department.
“I think that he felt the professors are very theoretical,” Brown said.
Renner said that Carlson is happy with the direction of the department and has visited campus often. Carlson has said he wants to see faculty from the computer science field develop more global connections.
University administrators, including those who oversee the department, said the governor could have been misunderstood.
H. Ted Davis, dean of the Institute of Technology, said it would be inappropriate to talk about the statement because he does not know its context. He said, however, Carlson is a “proven friend of IT.”
Proof of Carlson’s relationship with the University and IT can be found in his full support of the school’s current capital budget request, Davis said. Carlson has said he supports plans to create a digital technology center in Walter Library.
If Carlson did call the computer science department pathetic, he did because he is misinformed of the current state of the school, said Yousef Saad, director of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.
Saad said any misperceptions might stem from the department’s well-publicized troubles in the 1980s. Throughout that decade, the University’s computer science faculty was beset by internal strife and suffered declining national rankings.
Today, the department is making strides to become a nationally-recognized program. Yousef said members of the department have won numerous grants, including a recently received federal grant for $5 million.
But Carlson’s suggestions about visiting other technology centers can only help the University, Saad said.
“I think there is a lot of potential to be in places like Israel and other countries,” Saad said.
Davis said connections to Israel are already in place. He will visit the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in April to give a series of lectures.