Computer science classes cancelled, unavailable due to lack of instructors

Upper-year computer science students expressed alarm online two weeks ago after receiving an email that a well-enrolled course had been cancelled due to a lack of available instructors.

In a post on the UBC subreddit, several people complained about the cancellation of CPSC 311 and that other upper-year courses — CPSC 415, 417 and 427 — were unavailable this year.

The department has since attempted to support students registered for CPSC 311 by offering them the opportunity to take other courses that fulfill similar requirements, although waitlisted students don’t have the same opportunity.

Dr. Steve Wolfman, the associate head of undergraduate operations in the computer science department, said he regretted the cancellation of 311, but that the department could not find enough instructors to fill the sections in a comment in the Reddit thread. This was also the reason CPSC 427 — which had a waitlist but no associated section on the Student Services Centre (SSC) — was not available.

Wolfman also wrote that CPSC 415 would be replaced with CPSC 436A, an equivalent course that the department hopes provides a “revitalized” alternative.

In an interview with The Ubyssey, Wolfman cited the departure of former faculty and the competitive job market for computer science professionals as reasons for the department’s staff shortage. He also noted that the number of computer science majors has increased by 45 per cent from 2018 to 2020 which “places a lot of strain on us to find teaching resources.”

Although CPSC 311 was the only cancelled course, the loss of courses from previous years and CPSC 427 remained concerning for many.

Ray Hua, the vice-president academic of the Computer Science Students Society, said in an email that he recognized the department’s unique difficulties, but that the cancellation or lack of availability of multiple CPSC courses close to the start of term could “erode the ability for students to be confident that the courses they register in will actually be held, to plan their upper year courses for timely graduation, and to explore more diverse CS topics.”

While some students agreed that the department’s options were limited, many expressed dissatisfaction with its communication. The department had only posted advanced notifications on the SSC stating that some courses had been affected by staffing shortages or were only tentatively on offer.

Bryce Wilson, a fourth-year student who was registered on the waitlist for CPSC 427, said he only found out the class was not being offered through Wolfman’s Reddit comment. He said he wished the computer science department did more to inform students that some courses might not be offered at all.

Michael Tuntang, a fourth-year computer science student, seconded this sentiment.

“I just wished that they had told us before registration,” he said. “I wish they would just say in an email like ‘Hey we couldn’t find enough instructors for this term so these are the courses that are affected so please adjust your schedule.’”

Tuntang added that some courses no longer being offered could also impact students’ job prospects by limiting their ability to learn certain skills.

“Not being able to take [these classes] bummed me out. I have to resort to other learning sources … and learning things on my own.”

Wolfman said in his interview that he felt the department had made sufficient efforts to inform students about staffing difficulties, he thought that the SSC notifications could have been made more prominent or the department could have emailed the students on the waitlist.

“I did think that there was no section attached to [the waitlist] was a very, very strong flag for students to investigate what was going on and … I figured the likely place they would go would be those section comments,” he said.

Still he acknowledged that the SSC notifications could have been made more prominent or the department could have sent out an email.

“Given there seems to have been a misunderstanding for some of the students, it’s certainly in the future something I would change formally after registration, we would send an email to everybody on the waitlist.”

Hua said that students may have assumed that the warnings were only temporary and would not affect their ability to take the courses they registered for.

“The department was doing their best with what they had, but they absolutely could have communicated more. I’ve certainly heard this from most students.”

This article was updated on Friday, August 19, 2022 at 11:20 a.m. A previous version said Dr. Steve Wolfman was the acting head of the CS department and that Ray Hua is the only vice president of the Computer Science Student Society.