Widgets Magazine


A response to “CS+X-traordinary” (May 15)

While I am grateful for Liam Kinney’s interest in the “CS+X” initiative (“CS+X –traordinary,” The Stanford Daily, May 15), a number of things troubled me about his op-ed. To go through all the problems his piece raises would take too much space. Instead, I will mention just a couple of points, one large and one small.

First, Kinney characterizes the Symbolic Systems program as “the next best thing to Computer Science.” This is a statement which is plainly wrong-headed — these two great and very popular Stanford majors have quite distinct aims and different intellectual foci. To speak of one as if it were the inferior fallback of the other is, to put it mildly, a disservice to both.

Second, Kinney blankly describes me as “directing” the CS+X initiative. That’s misleading. CS+X, building on an idea first suggested by CS professor Eric Roberts, is a collective project on which very many faculty and staff have collaborated intensively over the last year or so. While I direct the initiative within VPUE, each of the ten CS+X Joint Majors approved by the Faculty Senate is housed inside two partnering departments and is shaped, steered and administered by the faculty in these departments, not by me.

Nicholas Jenkins
Associate Professor, Department of English

Contact Nicholas Jenkins at njenkins “at” stanford.edu.

  • Disappointed English Alum

    I’m very troubled by this response by Professor Jenkins of the English Department. Liam Kinney’s original article convincingly describes how Computer Science can be used to better understand the Classics. He gives an introduction to the CS+X program and shows how it could help enrich students’ lives while also preparing them for practical jobs. It’s clear that Kinney is advocating this program and even hints that it would have been a good fit for him, had it been introduced earlier. His article is well-written and overwhelmingly positive towards this new program.

    Professor Jenkins’ rebuttal could not be more different in tone. It’s difficult to see a faculty member of a humanities department (let alone one of the central faculty members responsible for directing this program) blatantly attack a supporter. Language such as “To go through all the problems his piece raises would take too much space” is frankly shocking and inappropriate. What problems does this piece raise that Professor Jenkins cannot be troubled to go through? Would any student want to join a department where student writing is shot down as “plainly wrong-headed?”

    I have never been more disappointed with the English department. Professor Jenkins owes Mr. Kinney an apology for attacking him in a public forum. Even if Professor Jenkins cannot deign to discuss “all the problems his piece raises,” he could at least give a background as to what this program is and praise students who are already taking the initiative to integrate science and humanities while encouraging them to seek out these new opportunities. The Stanford English Department faces dwindling enrollment and perhaps they should look to their faculty for the source. Would anyone be comfortable enrolling in the CS+X program knowing that any “interest” they have in the program could potentially “trouble” Professor Jenkins? Would anyone even want to study English or the Humanities in general with people like Professor Jenkins?

    I urge Professor Jenkins to seriously reevaluate his article as it reflects poorly not only on him, but on the Stanford Humanities community as a whole.

  • Student

    While I appreciate your concern for Liam Kinney, I also appreciate Jenkins’ honesty.
    By posting his article on the daily, Liam is bravely exposing himself to the internet, and thus, many opinions.

    Jenkins has that one snarky line you mentioned. Aside from that, though, I’m glad someone strongly corrected Kinney for trivializing Symbolic Systems.

    Also, I think Jenkins was trying to show that he’s not the one in charge of everything and wanted to point that out. It probably bothered him that so many sources are pointing to just him as the one leading this initiative.

    Anyway, all in all, just adding some more perspective. Jenkins probably should’ve addressed Kinney’s concerns about the Classics, but Jenkins wanted to address other stuff.

    Have a good day.

  • Clarification

    Professor Jenkins is going to have a hard time debunking the rumor that he is the director of the initiative when the program’s website clearly lists him as so: https://undergrad.stanford.edu/academic-planning/majors-minors/joint-majors-csx

  • S.

    Jenkins’ response is really off the mark. As another poster noted below, Jenkins is listed as “Director of the CS+X Initiative” on the site actually announcing this program to undergraduates. This seems to justify Kinney’s “blankly describing [Jenkins] as ‘directing’ the CS+X initiative.” And then there’s the excessive degree of hostility of the letter as a whole. I’m disappointed in Jenkins for writing this.


  • WhatADick

    This Jenkins guy sure sounds like an asshole.

  • lol

    Wow, it looks like CS+X is off to a great start! The “director” is claiming no responsibility and quashing student support. Let’s see how many more students Jenkins can attack! Get ready to watch this whole thing blow up next year!

  • Guest

    “Director” implies a heirarchy with Professor Jenkins at the top. He is trying to dispel that “misleading” notion. In actuality, he is only directing the coordinating effort; he manages a decentralized academic program.

    As such, he is right to criticize Liam for using the term “heading” the initiative. If Liam did a bit more research, he would have realized that Professor Jenkins is just one cog in the puzzle.