Pilot CS+X joint major program concludes second year


This spring marks the end of the second year of CS+X, Stanford’s six-year pilot program aimed at integrating the humanities and computer science (CS). CS+X allows students to pursue a joint degree in both CS and the humanities, and eventually graduate with a Bachelor of Arts and Science. Currently, the CS+X joint degree is offered in 14 different departments.

Student interest in CS is growing, and, for some, this has caused concern for the future of the humanities at Stanford. However, CS+X has become one of several options available to students who wish to pursue both CS and the humanities.

“With the rise of CS, there have been a lot more people coming to talk about English+CS or the digital humanities,” said Alex Torres ’17, an English department peer adviser, who has worked with students in the CS+X program.

Dylan Hunn ’18 is majoring in CS+Music. He appreciates the joint degree because it provides him with the opportunity to pursue his two passions.

“I am glad that I arrived at Stanford when I did and was able to sign up for this,” said Hunn. “I came into Stanford having two interests that, while I was enthusiastic about incorporating them, were essentially discrete interests. I was a musician and I was interested in computer science and I sort of wanted to be able to do both.”

As a joint degree, CS+X reduces the units required for the major to 180. This makes it more feasible for students to study both CS and the humanities.

Though students appreciate the joint degree, some are not sure it is the best option for a complete education program.

“It is not totally clear to me that CS+English is the right move, but it is convenient just as far as it trims down both of the majors and makes it something you can actually do in four years,” said Dan McFalls ’18, who is majoring in CS+English.

While the unit reduction is convenient, students in CS+X have criticized the joint degree program for the lack of organization between the two departments.

“When I was declaring, it was not very clear who I was supposed to talk to, even what paperwork I was supposed to get into both departments, how I was supposed to coordinate everything,” said McFalls.

Hunn had a similar experience when trying to choose his concentration in the music department.

“Last I checked, there was no course listing for concentrations in the music major for CS+Music, just because it hadn’t been designed,” said Hunn.

Liz Fischer ’17 initially planned on pursuing a degree in CS+English but decided not to, in part citing the lack of advisement and leadership within the joint degree program.

In an email to The Daily, Fischer explained the difficulties collaborating between two different programs.

“As it stands now, the humanities and CS sides don’t understand what the other departments are doing. There is no core leadership.”  

She added, “No one knows enough about both sides’ requirements to be helpful.”

Fischer also criticized the breadth of the School of Engineering requirements for CS+X.

“If it were truly the case that all the School of Engineering requirements are necessary to a student’s understanding and development in the field, I would have no problem. However, I don’t see why I ought to waste a precious three to five units taking a geology class in order to further my study of digital tools for medieval studies,” she said.

Torres has been hesitant to advise students to pursue the joint degree, in part due to the commitment required because of the breadth of the core requirements.

“I think it is a very feasible program when you have AP credits, if you have calculus out of the way when you come in and you have your physics out of the way,” Torres said. “And I think it is feasible without that, but students who have that have a leg up, because they can focus on the computer science versus the engineering requirements.”

McFalls has further criticized the School of Engineering requirements for reducing the depth he is able to achieve in CS.

“The engineering requirements are really annoying,” McFalls said. “[They are] not something that is prohibitively annoying, but it is just another thing that eliminates exploring depth in CS, which is the real thing I want to do.”

“For me, the whole interest of doing the joint major is that I want depth in both departments, and for me the barrier to that is requirements,” she added.

McFalls continued, saying that it is difficult to explore both departments fully.

“I feel like there are so many interesting topics that I am not going to be able to explore in both realms just because … I have pretty much spent all of this year checking boxes, and I will still have more on the CS side to check next year,” she said.

As CS+X enters its third year, it is unclear whether the joint-degree program will remain as it is, or change into something different.   

McFalls hopes the changes address the criticisms in the CS+X major and allow students to achieve more depth in both fields.

“In an ideal world, CS+English would be something where you have a core that … [is] at least a logical progression of classes that are structured so that you feel like you are gaining knowledge every step of the way in both departments,” said McFalls.

Hunn agrees that going forward CS+X should allow students to achieve more depth in both fields, and supports doing so by moving the major away from an emphasis on the synthesis of the humanities and CS.

I feel like CS+X enables people to study multiple disciplines and I think that that in and of itself is valuable, even if the program is not as committed to interdisciplinary synergy,” he said.

Hunn emphasized that the greatest benefit of CS+X is that students can continue to explore a variety of disciplines.

“I think that the more important part is enabling people to pursue multiple things that they are interested in and understanding that this is not necessarily any less valid than a single major.”


Contact Blanca Andrei at bandrei ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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