“Computer Science at Rice,” 1966

I got some questions in the comments to yesterday’s post about John Alan Robinson and the possibility that arose in 1966 of starting a Department of Computer Science–so here’s what I know. In the fall of 1966 President Pitzer brought in an external review committee to take an objective look at the state of computer science at Rice. They were kept incredibly busy, meeting with what seemed like half the campus at fifteen minute intervals during the entire day of  September 26th and the morning of the 27th, with most meals taken with small groups at Cohen House. Here’s a look at the schedule, which seems to be a bit on the demanding side:

They did not dawdle in their work. By October 6th Rice Dean of Engineering and Science Bill Gordon sent out a memo relaying their advice to the concerned members of the Rice community. I am told that this was very good advice but how much (if any) of it was followed is unclear to me. I’m hoping someone will have something to say about this.

Bonus: When I saw this on the way in I just assumed someone was getting ready to take pictures for a wedding or quinceañera.

So it was surprising to come out and see a man in a suit.

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7 Responses to “Computer Science at Rice,” 1966

  1. Richard Schafer says:

    As I remember (and those memories are now nearly 50 years old), there was still disagreement about whether to start a computer science department when I started as an undergraduate in the fall of 1969. So my degrees refer to the department of Mathematical Sciences, which no one ever understands.

    • Richard Miller, BA 1975, MEE 1976 says:

      As indicated in the previous reply I started taking computer courses in my junior year starting off with the inaugural ELEC220. I was a BIOC major and my uncle recommended that I should take some computer courses since that was becoming important for research. I discovered I much preferred computers over wet lab but I already was a 2nd semester junior and was not going to throw those courses away (at the time the three courses considered to be the most challenging were BIOC360, CHEM310 (physical chemistry) and Physics 301 (mechanics) and the BIOC major got to take two of the three usually in the same semester. Having survived that I kept the BIOC major and satisfied the computer science with a double in MATHSCI. I was able to get my MEE in the 5th year program but it also was really computer science

  2. Keith Cooper says:

    The visitors themselves were exceptional. The list of young people whom they suggested as potential hires was equally incredible. Had Rice followed their advice and hired several of them, we would have created an amazing department, almost two decades before the founding of RIce’s Computer Science Department in 1984.

  3. Sigsby Rusk says:

    Marty Graham had left Rice in late 1965 over his frustration in getting the administration to accept the idea of a computer science department. He was quickly installed in computer science at Berkeley, and Walter Orvedahl became director of the Rice Computer Project. I didn’t get to talk with him about his feelings in the matter. It was interesting for me to read the notes above as I was very busy adding core memory and other things to the R1 and Walter never had much to say about the meetings with the visitors.

    • Bill Peebles, Hanszen '70 says:

      Core memory. Ferrite donuts strung on criss-crossing wires. So primitive, but it worked. There was a time when I couldn’t do anything unless:


  4. I was hired in the Spring of 1968 in Electrical Engineering and never shown any of the material from that meeting. Nor did I know that a Professor of Computer Science position had existed at Rice.

  5. Bill LeFebvre says:

    The name “Dr. Hobcroft” listed as potential faculty in automata theory is likely to be a typographical error. I am not aware of any such individual in the field, but one of the most prominent names in automata theory is Dr. John Hopcroft, a Stanford PhD who was at Princeton in 1966 and who moved to Cornell shortly thereafter.

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