[Published originally in the March 2003 edition of Computing Research News, Vol. 15/No. 2, p. 5.]
The State of CRA - An Update
By Jim Foley, CRA Chairman
In September 2001, I provided our members an update on CRA activities. Even then we were concerned about how the economic slowdown might affect CRA. I can report that the effect has, in fact, been fairly modest.
On the one hand, academic membership has continued to climb, from 182 then to 224 now. We have lost a few industrial labs, but several government labs have joined, so our lab membership is remaining steady at around 25. We have six affiliate members-ACM, AAAI, CACS/AIC (Canadian Association of Computer Science/Association Informatique Canadienne), IEEE Computer Society, SIAM, and USENIX. We appreciate the support of all our members.
On the other hand, total revenues have decreased. Job advertising in CRN is down. Fewer corporate labs are renewing at the sponsoring ($50K), sustaining ($30K), or supporting ($12K) levels. As a consequence, we are cutting some costs, dipping into reserves, and requesting labs that are financially able to increase their levels of support.1
At Snowbird in July we bid farewell to Bill Aspray as our Executive Director, and welcomed Andrew Bernat. Bill and Andy worked very well together to ensure a smooth transition, and Andy has already launched new initiatives to continue moving the organization forward.
On the programmatic front, we are moving ahead at full speed. Recall that the mission of CRA is to strengthen research and advanced education in computing and allied fields. We do this by working to influence policy that impacts computing research, encouraging the development of human resources, contributing to the cohesiveness of the professional community, and collecting and disseminating information about the importance and the state of computing research. Please browse http://www.cra.org to learn about our many programs in these areas--I think you'll be quite impressed!
One activity I would like to highlight is our Grand Challenges conference series. The first conference, on Computer Systems, was conceived by Anita Jones and Bill Wulf as a way to define and articulate major new research challenges (see CRN, September 2002, p. 3). A summary of their findings will be published shortly, even as plans are being made for a second conference on information privacy and computer security.
Two years ago we decided to place increased emphasis on three key areas: human resources, research funding, and communications. Here's what is happening in each of these areas.
1. Human Resources
Let there be no mistake--while the temporary economic slowdown may be giving a bit of breathing room to the demand for Ph.D. computing professionals, our output is still low. In fact, our most recent Taulbee Survey (see "Survey Results Show Better Balance in Supply and Demand" elsewhere in this issue) found that Ph.D. production actually decreased this past year. The good news is that the pipeline is filling up, with an increase of 11% over last year in students passing their qualifying exams.
CRA's report, "The Recruitment and Retention of Faculty in Computer Science and Engineering" is in press and should be published in March. An NSF-funded study, its goal was to collect data and information on the perceived difficulties that departments are facing in the recruitment and retention of both graduate students and faculty. This report was initiated because of concern about the effect that departures of faculty to industry might have on the ability of universities to carry out their research and teaching missions. The report identifies significant problems in the faculty recruitment process and makes several key recommendations. A group of 13 experts was convened to conduct the study, chaired by CRA's Treasurer, Jack Stankovic.
A CRA-W study funded by NSF is currently examining the recruitment and retention policies, practices, and programs at institutions with graduate computer science and computer engineering programs, particularly with regard to female graduate students. The seven-person committee is led by CRA's Vice Chair, Jan Cuny.
The first Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference, an activity of the Coalition to Diversify Computing (a joint committee of ACM, CRA, and IEEE-CS) was held in Houston, under ACM sponsorship and with partial financial support from CRA. The second conference in Atlanta later this year will be co-sponsored by CRA and ACM, and we hope that IEEE-CS as well will join in sponsoring future conferences.
2. Funding for Computing Research
Our major activity is providing information to the legislative and executive branches of our government. We have been called on by federal policymakers for advice on structuring the federal IT R&D portfolio, what a new initiative for cyber security research and development should look like, and the shape of a new research agency within the newly created Department of Homeland Security. We like to think that we helped (along with many other groups) to increase federal funding for computing research by more than 15 percent for this current fiscal year. CRA was one of only six groups asked to participate in the press conference announcing the introduction of the NSF doubling bill that was subsequently signed into law by President Bush. This authorization bill, when followed by yearly appropriations, will double NSF funding over the next five years. The Senate version of the FY 03 Omnibus Appropriations includes an $81 million addition to NSF CISE in FY 03, or 15.8 percent over FY 02, increasing the directorate's budget to $596 million for the year.
CRA was also asked for input on legislation that would authorize a large increase in cyber security R&D at NSF and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. CRA Board Member Eugene Spafford joined Bill Wulf in testifying before the House Science Committee and providing advice as the bill moved through the legislative process. At the press conference celebrating final passage, CRA was one of only two groups recognized by Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert as having been critical to the bill's success. The bill, authorizing $900 million in new research opportunities over the next five years, was signed by the President in December.
Jeff Vitter, co-chair of the government affairs committee, has re-energized CRAN (the Computing Research Advocacy Network) and used it to help move the NSF doubling bill forward and to mitigate proposed cuts to IT research at DARPA. Thanks to all of you who participated by writing your senators and representatives.
We are looking to develop ways to further engage the computing community with the very important computer-intensive research activities at NIH. Your suggestions and initiatives are most welcome!
CRA's ability to have an impact depends in part on the overall awareness of CRA among those whom we seek to influence and serve. We intend to help the newly revitalized communications committee to increase CRA's visibility and make it better known.
The communications committee, chaired by CRA's Vice Chair, Jan Cuny, is developing new ways to build CRA's visibility among our constituencies, starting with advanced Ph.D. students. This year CRA will institute a program that will offer welcome packages to students who have passed their thesis exams (or the equivalent). These packages will include a CRA tee shirt, a bookmark with information for graduate students, a copy of CRN, and other materials explaining CRA's mission. Also, go to http://www.cra.org and select "CRA For …" for pages designed to inform specific CRA constituencies.
Peter Harsha, our Director of Government Affairs, is stepping up his already active communications program to include several industry groups and the government relations offices of major corporations.
Please let us hear from you with thoughts on how CRA can continue to best serve the computing research community.
Jim Foley (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Professor and Stephen Fleming Chair in Telecommunications at Georgia Tech.
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