CISE – a “Virtual” Ph.D.

Introduction

A recent Bulletin [1] of the College of Natural Sciences of the Río Piedras Campus of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR-RP) (distributed in early 2003) lists among “its” achievements the “approval” of a joint doctoral program in Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering (CISE) in conjunction with the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. This is not the only public reference to the existence of this program ([2], [3], [5], [4]). A 2003 Brochure of Graduate Programs of the College of Natural Sciences [2] states that the CISE Ph.D. Program is now enrolling students at UPR-RP. Since there is no existing Ph.D. degree in CISE at UPR-RP, some portion of the course work would have to be taken over the Internet, or by means of other virtual media, from Mayagüez or other campuses. However, the degree will be conferred by UPR-RP. The CISE degree program can apparently be offered not only by different campuses but also by different departments and units within the same campus.

It is of grave concern that this multi-campus, multi-disciplinary, virtual degree which has for some time been proclaimed as an achievement of the College of Natural Sciences of UPR-RP, and which is already accepting students, has not yet passed through the regulatory channels of the UPR-RP, as specified by Certification 93-113 (Council for Higher Education, CES). In particular, it has not been formally evaluated or approved by the UPR-RP Academic Senate or the College of Natural Sciences, let alone by the Department of Mathematics whose interests are affected. This situation constitutes an alarming precedent.

The implications of allowing academic programs to be institutionalized in the UPR-RP without passing through official channels as specified by Certification 93-113 will be examined at the end of this document. They include issues such as the autonomy of the Departments and Campuses involved, the allocation of budget and resources, quality of degree offerings, academic level and rigor, as well as different and/or competing visions and missions. The implications are so serious that in its September 18, 2003 meeting, the UPR-RP Academic Senate requested that its Rules and University Law Committee investigate cases of academic programs whose approval procedures may have been in violation of university regulations (Certification No. 13, Academic year 2003-2004)[7]. Both the CISE doctoral program and the BS in Mathematics were brought to the attention of this Committee in a November 13 2003 letter [6] signed by a group of concerned UPR-RP professors, who requested that these cases be part of its inquiry. This request was brought to the Committee’s attention again in the Senate’s February 19, 2004 meeting.

We now provide a brief description of the sequence of events leading up to the creation of the multi-campus CISE doctoral degree.

CISE Proposal

In June 1994, a Proposal entitled Infrastructure for Computer Science Research in Puerto Rico (CISE II), was submitted to the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering of the National Science Foundation (NSF) by the UPR-RP Gauss Laboratory, with Dr. Oscar Moreno as Principal Investigator. The first version of this Proposal requested NSF funding amounting to $858,937 plus $1,090,000 in UPR cost sharing, spread over three years, to upgrade the Paragon supercomputer and to “provide the infrastructure necessary to support the level of research required to permit the joint Río Piedras-Mayagüez Ph.D. program in Computational Mathematics and Computer Science to become a reality.” A later Addendum [14], which we discuss below, stated that the joint Ph.D would actually be in Computer Science and Engineering.

At the time of submission, the CISE II Proposal had not been evaluated by the UPR-RP Mathematics Department. In fact, few members of the Department were aware of its existence, let alone its serious implications. Moreover, the names and credentials of some professors had been used in the Proposal without their knowledge or consent. The newly appointed and interim Chairman, Dr. Iván Cardona, had not been adequately informed about the nature of this proposal. In July 1994, the NSF recommended that the instrumentation section of CISE II be submitted as a separate proposal, and that the Ph.D. Proposal be a collaborative effort with the Department of Electrical Engineering at Mayagüez. Since it had long been the intention of the Mathematics Department to develop a Ph.D. program which included an option in Pure Mathematics, the omission of such an option in the proposed Ph.D. and the change in direction explicitly referred to in the Proposal came as an unpleasant surprise to many in the Mathematics Department. In an August 3, 1994 Review Analysis [15], Dr. Tse-yun Feng, Program Director of the NSF Computer and Information Science and Engineering program, stated that the NSF site visit team had “recommended the establishment of an advisory committee, (reporting to the President’s office), to serve during the process of planning and implementation of the proposed joint doctoral program in Computer Science and Engineering“. He also indicated that the NSF team had found a very high level of motivation among the faculty and students at the Río Piedras Campus. As far as we know, the NSF site visit team did not actually visit the Mathematics Department, only the Gauss Laboratory. Subsequent events indicate that if it had visited the Mathematics Department, it would not have found much enthusiasm for the type of Ph.D proposal mentioned in CISE II.

Alarmed by the situation, on July 28, 1994, Dr. Cardona wrote a letter [11] to the then Chancellor Dr. Efraín González Tejera requesting that certain parts of the Proposal be corrected and eliminated. He reiterated that this Proposal did not have the endorsement of the Mathematics Department. Despite this fact, in September 1994, and without the knowledge or consent of the Mathematics Department, an Addendum to CISE II [14] was submitted to the NSF by the Gauss Laboratory. This proposal sought to “provide the infrastructure necessary to support the level of research necessary to permit the joint Río Piedras-Mayagüez Ph.D. Program in Computer Science and Engineering to become a reality”. Moreover, the Addendum misleadingly implied that the twelve researchers involved were from the Río Piedras Campus. Actually, only six were from UPR-RP. Of these six, two (Dr. A. Kelmans and Dr. R. Varadarajan) had no desire to participate. Another (Dr. A. Cruz) held only a temporary contract with the Department and a fourth (Dr. Zinoviev) had already resigned his tenure track position on March 7, 1994 and was preparing to return to Russia. Dr. Varadarajan also resigned from the UPR later in 1994. In April 1994, Dr. Moreno had actually opposed the Department’s offer of a tenure track position to Dr. Kelmans and, from that time onwards, denied him access to Gauss Laboratory equipment.

On September 12, 1994, the Director of the Resource Center for Science and Engineering, Dr. Manuel Gómez, sent a letter [8] to the then College of Natural Sciences Dean Dr. Gladys Escalona in which he suggested that if the CISE Proposal did not have the collaboration of the Mathematics faculty and its administrative leadership, NSF funding should not be accepted. It is quite revealing that Dr. Gómez’ letter, which very much concerned the Mathematics Department, was sent to the Dean, with copies to Dr. Pablo Negrón and Dr. Oscar Moreno of the Gauss Laboratory, but not to the Chairman of the Mathematics Department. Incredibly, a copy of the controversial Addendum to CISE II [14] was not received by the Mathematics Department until an October 6 meeting between Dr. Gómez and the Discrete Mathematics Group of the Department. For the first time the Mathematics faculty as a whole became aware of the plan for a Ph.D. in Computer and Information Science and Electrical Engineering (CISE) which omitted any reference to Pure Mathematics. Only on October 18, 1994, after a five week delay, did Dr. Escalona forward a copy of Dr. Gómez’ September 12 letter to Dr. Cardona. Given the urgency of this matter and the fact that NSF funding was involved, this delay was crass negligence.

Concerned by the preceding events, on October 26, 1994, 22 faculty members (a significant majority) of the Mathematics Department stated in a letter [10] to the Dean that the CISE II Proposal could not be supported by the Department. The letter complained about the lack of consultation and the use of the names and credentials of professors without their knowledge or consent. Dr. Cardona further clarified this situation in a letter [12] to Chancellor Dr. Efraín González Tejera dated November 1, 1994. At a Departmental meeting of November 22, 1994, the Mathematics Department unanimously approved a letter [13] dated November 29 to the then UPR President Dr. Norman Maldonado reiterating its opposition to the CISE II Proposal and complaining about the ethical violations surrounding the proposal. On December 13, 1994, this letter, together with supporting documents (including letters [10] and [8] above), were sent to the President via the Dean Dr. Escalona and the Chancellor Dr. González Tejera. Sometime during February 1995 it became public knowledge that some of the above material had been sent to the NSF by a person or persons unknown. Apparently, this material reached the Director of the NSF who referred it to the Office of the NSF Inspector General. As a result, NSF funding to the UPR was briefly suspended while an investigation ensued. In view of the urgency of the situation, the President, Dr. Norman Maldonado, called a meeting on March 6, 1995 to discuss the CISE II Proposal. Surprisingly, none of the 22 faculty members who signed the letter of October 26, 1994 concerning CISE II were invited. In this meeting [16], Dr. Manuel Gómez pointed out that the letter of November 29 [13] was an internal matter of the UPR and should not have been sent to the NSF. This was debatable given that more than $800,000 in NSF funding was involved. Moreover, Dr. Gómez himself, in his September 12, 1994 letter [8] to Dr. Escalona, had previously stated that funds should not be accepted if the Mathematics Department did not support CISE II. Since funds were accepted and since the Mathematics Department really did not support CISE II, then, by Dr. Gómez own reasoning, the funds should have been returned to the NSF. Since the funds were not returned to the NSF it is not, therefore, entirely surprising that a person or persons unknown felt that the NSF had a right to be informed. From some of these comments it seems that the main point of the meeting was not to address the issues raised by the Mathematics Department, but to ensure that future communications on this matter remain within the University.

At the same meeting, it was claimed by Dr. Moreno that CISE II was merely a continuation of a prior Proposal CISE I which had been approved by the Mathematics Department. This is actually not true. The CISE I Proposal was, in fact, logically consistent with the plan of the Mathematics Department to develop a Ph.D. which included Pure Mathematics. On the other hand, page 1 of CISE II states that “this proposal seeks to redirect our mathematical and scientific research strength towards the areas of more practical interest… ”. Indeed, such was the magnitude of this redirection that the Addendum to CISE II mentioned only a Ph.D. in computer science and engineering. If CISE II were really a logical continuation of CISE I, which was indeed a proposal endorsed by the Mathematics Department, then the Mathematics Department should have been properly consulted about this change of direction. Dr. Gómez’ September 12, 1994 letter [8] to the Dean, asking whether or not there was proactive support for CISE II, indicates clearly that he suspected that CISE II might be controversial. In reality, CISE II was a proposal of the Gauss Laboratory, backed by top UPR Administrators. It did not pass through, nor have the endorsement of, the Mathematics Department. If it had had such endorsement, then Dr. Gómez’ letter [8] to the Dean would have been unnecessary.

An outcome of the March 6, 1995 meeting with the President was the appointment of a committee, consisting of Dr. Escalona, Dr. Cardona and the then Sub-director of EPSCoR, Dr. Brad Weiner. This Committee was supposed to examine the issues raised in the Mathematics Department letters concerning CISE II and to restructure mechanisms of communication with the Department. A meeting was held with the Mathematics Department on April 18, 1995 at which the Department once again refused to endorse the proposal CISE II. Eventually, the Committee produced a “report” which failed totally to address the main issues raised in the various documents which the Department had forwarded to the President. As far as we know, Dr. Cardona refused to sign this report. It is rather ironical that a Committee, whose raison d’être was in part to restructure mechanisms of communication, did not even make public its final report. Instead of contributing to an improved climate of communication, the President’s Committee merely added to the general climate of secrecy prevalent in the UPR Administration. In fact, on June 7, 1995, the President reiterated in a letter [17] to the Mathematics Department that CISE II was an internal matter and that any concerns should be brought to the Committee via the Department Chairman Dr. Iván Cardona. The Committee was clearly more interested in finding support for CISE II than in solving more fundamentally ethical problems.

What exactly happened to the NSF Inspector General’s investigation is not known to us. Funding to the UPR that had been briefly in jeopardy was quickly resumed and life returned to “normal”. Some members of the NSF’s CISE Advisory Committee (Anil Nerode, Neil Sloane, John Feo, Erich Kaltofen and Robert Scholtz) made a site visit to the UPR on July 19-20, 1995. In their July 26, 1995 Report [18], they claimed to have found evidence of what they called an “attitude problem” with respect to the practical fields of computer science and engineering among the younger faculty of the Mathematics Department. They also claimed to have found no ethical problems with CISE II. How they arrived at these rather biased conclusions is most unclear since they did not visit the Mathematics Department, did not meet with its Chairman, and, as far as we are aware, did not interview any of the 22 professors who signed the October 26, 1994 letter alleging ethical problems with CISE II! It is hardly surprising, therefore, that they found no evidence of ethical problems. What is surprising is that they did find evidence of a so called “attitude problem” towards CISE since they apparently only interviewed supporters of CISE. In reality, the NSF is also responsible for some of the unfortunate events described herein. It seems likely, judging from the defensive tone of their Report, that the idea for a joint Ph.D. in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering may have been an NSF suggestion.

CISE Proposal 1994-2004

Ten years have now passed since the CISE proposal of 1994 was overwhelmingly rejected by the UPR-RP Mathematics Department. The then Dean, Dr. Gladys Escalona, is now UPR-RP Chancellor and Dr. Manuel Gómez is UPR Vice President for Academic Affairs. The CISE Ph.D. was eventually created in UPR-Mayagüez and is now in operation there. However, during these ten years, the Administration never lost sight of its plan of implementing this degree in UPR-RP. More disturbingly, as the following examples illustrate, the University never ceased advertising the existence of this non existent UPR-RP program.

  • In the December 13, 1994 issue of The San Juan Star [3], Dr. Oscar Moreno wrote that “as an undergraduate [in the Gauss Laboratory], you can participate in research projects in Computational Mathematics and Computer Science. As a graduate you can seek the MS and Ph.D. degrees in the same areas.
  • A (circa 1995) EPSCOR pamphlet [4] refers to the “newly-established Ph.D. program in Computational Mathematics and Computer Science”.
  • Since 1995, the Website of the UPR Gauss Laboratory of the UPR-RP [5] has continuously proclaimed the existence of a CISE Ph.D. It states that “As an undergraduate you can participate in research projects in Computational Mathematics and Computer Science. You can pursue quality graduate degrees in Computational Mathematics and Computer Science at the M.S. and Ph.D. levels… For further information about the M.S. Program or the PH.D. Program in Computational Mathematics and Computer Science, contact: Dr. Iván Cardona, Chairperson Department of Mathematics and Computer Science.” This information was taken from the Gauss Laboratory website on February 22, 2004 although Dr. Cardona resigned as Chairman at least four years ago.

This list of misinformation could be easily extended. Thus, over the years, much of the publicity around the CISE degree has not corresponded to reality.

Now, after all these events, it appears that the Mathematics Department will once again be asked to support the CISE Ph.D., which they so strongly opposed in 1994. In his letter [19] of October 30, 2003 to the Graduate Committee of the UPR-RP Mathematics Department, the Chairman Dr. Luis Pericchi has proposed that the Department be incorporated into the CISE Ph.D. consortium thereby permitting UPR-RP students to register in the multi-campus CISE degree and, conversely, allowing Mayagüez students to enroll in the Ph. D. in Mathematics degree offered by the UPR-RP Mathematics Department. In his letter, Dr. Pericchi suggests to the Committee that this proposal be presented to the faculty of the Department of Mathematics in order to obtain their approval. He also pointed out that this recommendation is supported by the Dean Dr. Brad Weiner as well as by the Department of Electrical Engineering in Mayagüez. Four months have now passed and the Mathematics Department faculty has not yet been formally notified of this proposal. As in the case of the previous abortive attempt to implement the CISE Ph.D., the matter seems to be shrouded in secrecy and discussion limited to a small group of supporters. Moreover, the Administration of the College of Natural Sciences is proceeding as if this degree is exempt from the stipulations of CES Certification 93-113 which outlines the regulatory channels for program creation.

Conclusion

This document has examined the history of the CISE multi-campus doctoral degree. We have shown that the CISE Ph.D. degree is being instituted in a regulatory limbo with minimal scrutiny on the part of the Faculty and none by the Senate of UPR-RP. If implemented, the CISE Ph.D. degree will have a detrimental effect on the development of Mathematics at UPR-RP. Whereas CISE is essentially an engineering degree, mathematics research is of a fundamentally different nature from engineering in both its aims and philosophy. At present, the greater part of mathematics research in Puerto Rico is carried out in UPR-RP Mathematics Department which is among the most productive research departments on the Island. A move in the direction of engineering will distract the Department away from its core competencies thereby weakening its teaching and research base. Nor will participation in the CISE Ph.D. lead to good applied mathematics, the practice of which requires a strong basis in Pure Mathematics -not engineering- to sustain it.

The many difficulties associated with attempts to introduce a CISE Ph.D in UPR-RP and the negative effects which these attempts have already had on the Mathematics Department, highlight just some of the potential problems which can arise when an academic program is introduced in a manner which bypasses official UPR-RP regulatory channels. If multi-campus degrees are to be instituted without the necessary regulatory framework in place, a new modality of creating programs becomes possible that may, in fact, circumvent the system of checks and balances that CES Certification 93-113 provides. A degree which for justified reasons is opposed within a given campus, can be created in another campus and imposed by the Administration as a multi-campus degree -perhaps as a virtual degree- in any related department within the “offending” campus, thereby jeopardizing academic autonomy.

With the trend in multi-campus degrees becoming widespread, it is a matter of extreme urgency that formal policies be established to fill the legislative vacuum around these degrees. Questions arise concerning the uniformity of standards to which a multi-campus degree will be held. It could happen that a multi-campus degree created by campus X does not reach the standards of academic rigor acceptable by campus Y. A multiplicity of degrees of less academic rigor could devalue campus Y’s degrees and turn it into a degree mill. Under these circumstances, the multi-campus variant may end up competing with and drawing away students from the more challenging degree. At best, the new degree will compete with the existing degrees for resources.

The legal status and mechanisms for the creation and operation of so called “virtual” Ph.D.’s is another issue which urgently needs clarifying. In 1996, information concerning the UPR’s forthcoming “Virtual Ph.D.” in High Performance Computing appeared on the homepage [20] of the Northeast Parallel Architectures Center at Syracuse University (and can still be seen online), with Dr. Moreno as Principal Investigator. It is unclear which regulatory procedures apply in the development and implementation of such a program.

The CISE multi-campus doctoral program is a case that brings to the fore a series of major issues underlying the creation of academic programs. The Río Piedras Campus has traditionally taken pride in its reputation for a high level of academic rigor. Failure to deal with the issues raised in this document will inevitably lead to a modus operandi where anything is possible, with severe consequences for the Campus, Faculties, Departments, and, primarily, the students involved.


Philip Pennance
2004-02

Bibliography

  • 1. Amicus Scientia Naturalis, Boletín Informativo de la Facultad de Ciencias Naturales, Recinto de Río Piedras, Año 2003, Vol 1.
  • 2. College of Natural Sciences Graduate Programs, Brochure of the Office of the Dean for Graduate Studies and Research of the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, 2003.
  • 3. Letter from Dr. O. Moreno to the StarQuest section of the The San Juan Star, December 13, 1994
  • 4. Brochure: EPSCoR Research in Puerto Rico: Developing Competitive Research in Puerto Rico, Circa 1995.
  • 5. Gauss Laboratory Webpage (https://www.uprr.pr/student.html).
  • 6. Letter from a group of professors to the Academic Senate Committee of Rules and University Law, November 13, 2003.
  • 7. Certification No. 13 of the Academic Senate of the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, Academic Year 2003-2004.
  • 8. Letter from the Director of the Resource Center for Science and Engineering Dr. M. Gómez to the College of Natural Sciences Dean Dr. G. Escalona, September 12, 1994.
  • 9. Letter from the College of Natural Sciences Dean Dr. G. Escalona to the Chairman of the UPR-RP Mathematics Department Dr. I. Cardona, October 18, 1994.
  • 10. Letter to the Dean Dr. G. Escalona signed by 22 professors of the UPR-RP Mathematics Department, October 26, 1994.
  • 11. Letter from the Chairman of the UPR-RP Mathematics Department Dr. I. Cardona to the UPR-RP Chancellor Dr. E. González Tejera, July 28, 1994.
  • 12. Letter from the Chairman of the UPR-RP Mathematics Department Dr. I. Cardona to the UPR-RP Chancellor Dr. E. González Tejera, November 1, 1994.
  • 13. Letter from the UPR-RP Mathematics Department to the UPR President Dr. N. Maldonado, November 29, 1994.
  • 14. O. Moreno et al., Addendum to CISE IIMI Program Proposal: Infrastructure for Computer Science Research in Puerto Rico, 1994.
  • 15. Tse-yun Feng, NSF Review Analysis, Institutional Infrastructure for Minority Institutions Program, August 3, 1994.
  • 16. Acta de la Reunión del Presidente: Propuesta “Infrastructure for Computer Science Research in Puerto Rico”, 6 de marzo de 1995.
  • 17. Letter from the UPR President Dr. N. Maldonado to the Professors of the Mathematics Department, June 7, 1995.
  • 18. NSF-CISE Advisory Committee Report, July 26, 1995.
  • 19. Letter from the Chairman of the UPR-RP Mathematics Department Dr. L. Pericchi to the Mathematics Department’s Graduate Committee, October 30, 2003.
  • 20. Information concerning the UPR Virtual Ph.D., Homepage of the Northeast Parallel Architectures Center at Syracuse University, November 1996. (https://www.npac.syr.edu/users/gcf/PPTcornell/ foilsepfocushtmldir/023HTML.html)