Institute to Become the “California Institute of Computer Science and also Some Other Things”

In light of growing enrollment in Caltech’s undergraduate computer science option, the Officers of the Faculty voted yesterday to rename the Institute to the California Institute of Computer Science and also Some Other Things. In his announcement to the Institute, Olivier J. Laliberté, chairman of the faculty and James and Tanya L. Montegue Professor of Chemical Engineering, added that the Institute will use the short name “Cal-CS” in place of the previous “Caltech” moniker in casual text and logos. The new name enters into use just as Caltech is about to welcome the class of 2019, marking a historic change to the Institute’s naming priorities for the first time in decades.

“I’m excited by the new opportunities opened by our new name,” said James MacDouglas, chair of the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Professor of Mechanical Engineering. “Given the growing number of undergraduate students in the CS option, it’s only fair that our name reflects the education we provide.” Current estimates predict that the class of 2019 will be the first to graduate with more than 50% of the class in the computer science option, the largest and fastest growing at the Institute. MacDouglas said that the new name is meant to better serve the majority of students without short-changing those who study areas historically emphasized by Cal-CS’s undergraduate program, like physics, geology, and chemistry. “If you were to ask me: ‘are we disadvantaging non-CS majors?’, I’d answer with a vehement ‘no’,” he added.

Cal-CS was founded in 1891 as Throop University, and since then has been known as Throop Polytechnic Institute, Throop College of Technology, and the California Institute of Technology. Director of Institute Relations Kelly Mitzenmaker said that she feels that the new name “brings Caltech into the 21st century at last,” pointing to Caltech’s peer institutions that have adopted similar vocation-centric names in the past decade. In a decision leaked by the New York Times last year, America’s oldest college announced that it will drop the historic name “Harvard University” in favor of its current name: Harvard Financial College of Prestige. In March, Stanford University announced that it will change its name to the Stanford Academy of Startups sometime next year.

Not everyone is sold on the name, however. The Caltech Alumni Association Facebook page erupted with commentary this afternoon, with William Mayer ’08 proclaiming that the name change “spells the end of the very universe as we know it” and Sarah Hsu ’91 declaring that the new name was “worse than Linus Pauling’s medical advice.” Early reports indicate that the Cal-CS Fund has received numerous threats to cut off non-existent donations from alumni. “I’ve been on the phone all day, listening to alumni threatening to stop the donations that they probably meant to send at some point,” said Caltech Fund representative Arianne Sun.

Unexpectedly, the Cal-CS computer science department also expressed skepticism. Computer Science professor Stephen Goel noted that, “a name change is nice, but we still have fewer than 15 faculty in the department and the highest student-to-faculty ratio on campus.” An investigation conducted by The Torch confirmed that no additional funding will be provided to the department and new faculty will not be hired any faster. Other computer science faculty were more optimistic; “I feel like getting name recognition is the first step to true acceptance as a department,” whispered an anxious faculty member, who asked to remain anonymous.

The undergraduate student opinion appears to be mixed. Shelly Lee, Blacker ’17, said she’s already organizing a protest against what she called an “egregious violation of student rights,” noting that Cal-CS hasn’t changed its name since 1920. Phillip Kingston, Lloyd ’18, was more optimistic, saying “I appreciate that the phrase ‘computer science’ will appear on my diploma even though my degree is in applied physics. It’ll really help when I’m a senior searching for jobs.” Cal-CS students have long noted the growing presence of software engineering firms at the semiannual career fair, many of whom will only talk to students with computer science degrees. “All in all, I think this change is for the better,” said Stanley Anderson, an unaffiliated senior in applied mathematics, adding, “I think it really represents what Caltech, I mean, Cal-CS, is all about.”

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