Our History

Computing came to the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the early 1960s, as a result of the needs of the Chemistry Department. What had started as a departmental operation became formalized as the Research Computing Center (RCC), under the Directorship of Robert Rowell, and with crucial guidance from the Computer Committee, chaired by Richard Stein of Chemistry. In addition to the computing services a center could provide, it was necessary to establish an academic program to provide students with a deeper knowledge of the computer than basic programming. In 1963 the Computer Committee recommended to the Dean of the Graduate School (then Edward C. Moore) that a search for a Program Head be undertaken. As a result of that search, J.A.N. Lee was appointed Program Head in September of 1964. He was also asked to direct the RCC and to undertake the selection and installation of a new computer system. In 1964, there were four faculty: J.A.N. Lee (CS), John Goda, Sidney Rubenstein (joint appointment with RCC), and Fred Stockton (Dept. of Civil Engineering). Susan Stidham joined in 1966.

"The CS program at UMass Amherst was one of the first separated programs in the United States"  

Lee continues, "at that time, programming was being taught in classes in Chemistry, Mathematics, and Civil Engineering at UMass Amherst primarily as graduate courses. The prime mover for creating a unified institute was Moore, with the support of those departments."  

In June 1965, the Board of Trustees approved an M.S. program in Computer Science (after receiving unanimous approval by the campus Curriculum Committee in May). In September of 1965, the Program moved to new quarters and admitted its first graduate student. Lee stepped down as Director of the RCC, so that he could focus on program development. Caxton C. Foster joined the program and became Director of the RCC. At this stage, the Program and the Center became formally distinct entities within the Graduate School despite the joint appointments. "Besides trying to coordinate the various departmental courses to maintain some level of achievement, the primary tasks of the group were to develop new courses that would allow for fulfilling the requirements for the M.S. degree that had been approved," notes Lee.

"The first two approved courses were Numerical Analysis and Compilers."  

"There was no lack of candidates for the M.S. program, and many students supplemented their undergraduate curriculum with CS courses, though at that time it was not an approved minor."   

Conrad Wogrin was recruited from Yale to become the Director of the renamed University Computing Center (UCC), succeeding Foster in 1967, and also held a professorship in the Program. In 1967, James Bouhana became the first M.S. graduate. A major factor in putting the University of Massachusetts on the map in the computer world was the development, under Foster's guidance, of a timesharing system acronymically known as UMASS (Unlimited Machine Access from Scattered Sites). Along with Foster, David Stemple and Bob Hambleton were instrumental in getting the first timesharing system operational in 1967. With the increasing demands on RCC computer time, however, it became clear that the students could not get sufficient "hands-on" experience using the RCC machines. To this end, a Computer Science Laboratory was established in 1968, as a facility run jointly with the Computer Systems Engineering faculty in the Department of Electrical Engineering. The PDP-lB of those early days was soon replaced by three PDP-11s and a PDP-l5 with a graphics system.

In November 1969, Lee stepped down as Head of the M.S. Program, having directed the creation of a first-rate, highly practical, industry-oriented M.S. Program in Computer Science. "Those first five years did set the base for a developing activity which eventually led to departmental status and new degree programs," says Lee. "Our reputation in the industry and academia was excellent."

The time seemed ripe to push for approval of a Ph.D. Program, but the first proposal failed to gain approval because of an insufficient emphasis on doctoral level research. Wogrin assumed the Acting Headship, and the responsibility for the search for a new Chair to oversee a successful second try. He recruited Michael Arbib from Stanford, where Arbib was then an Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering.

Arbib became Chair of the Program in September 1970. He met with all faculty members interested in computer science across campus to chart their interests. Then, he structured the Ph.D. proposal around three themes: Systems (building on the strengths of Lee and Foster), Theory of Computation, and Cybernetics (Brain Theory and Artificial Intelligence). With the help of Mort Appley, Dean of the Graduate School, and Wogrin, the proposal moved up through the UMass administration in Amherst before going to the UMass Board of Trustees in Boston, where Councilor Troy proved a strong supporter. The Ph.D. proposal was approved in January of 1972 along with an upgrading from an M.S. Program in Computer Science in the Graduate School to a Department of  Computer and Information Science (COINS) offering both M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

In 1972, there were nine COINS faculty:  Michael Arbib, Richard Eckhouse, Caxton Foster, William Kilmer, J.A.N. Lee, Edward Riseman, Susan.N. Stidham, Robert Taylor, and Conrad Wogrin. Grant activity in FY73 was $169,588. A letter to grad students described the housing costs in 1972: "Generally, apartments are very expensive -- $150 for a one bedroom apartment is a typical price."

In an article celebrating the program's 25th anniversary, Wogrin noted, "We had an identity even back in our early years. When the ACM was celebrating their 25th anniversary in the early 70s, Cax Foster and Michael Arbib had articles in the anniversary issue of the ACM Communications journal. This was a strong showing as there were only a very select group of invited articles."

In 1972, the University opened the (Lederle) Graduate Research Center, and the new Department became an anchor tenant of the low rise building, along with the Graduate School, the Science Library, and the University Computing Center. The Department graduated its first Ph.D. student, Suad Alagic, in February of 1974. In 1978, the undergraduate major in COINS was established under the leadership of Robert M. Graham, who succeeded Arbib as Chair in September of 1975.

The department developed not only as a center of excellence in computer science ("one of the 20 departments in the top 10," as Arbib put it) but also as a nexus for interdisciplinary research, with a Center for Systems Neuroscience, the Laboratory for Perceptual Robotics, and the Cognitive Science Program. In addition, it started to grow expertise in computer systems, adding faculty in networking, distributed systems, databases, information retrieval, and software engineering, and in theory, adding faculty in complexity theory and algorithms. 

By 1980, there were 90 graduate students, 80 undergraduates, 12 faculty, and a Research Computing Facility based on Digital Equipment Corporation's VAX 11/780. Enrollment in COINS courses was 2180 in FY80 and grant income was $665,608. Under the leadership of Edward Riseman (Chair from 1981-1985), the Department had phenomenal growth during the 1980s. Riseman's strategy for recruiting new faculty whose research overlapped with the research of others in the Department had tremendous bearing on the success and camaraderie that CS enjoys today. Wogrin became Acting Chair in 1985 until Rick Adrion was recruited in 1986 to become the next COINS Chair, a position that he held until 1994.

Highlights of 1990s and 2000s

In 1990, COINS, in collaboration with the computer science departments of all the State colleges and universities, formed the Massachusetts Computer Science Education Consortium (MCSEC) to improve computer science education throughout the Commonwealth. Also in 1990, the first Issue of the Department's newsletter, Loose Change, was published.  

In 1991-1992, over $23 million in federal/state/industry support was secured for a number of programs:  the Center for Intelligent Information Retrieval (CIIR), the Center for Autonomous, Real-Time Systems (CARTS), Project Pilgrim, and a DoD/URI Center of Excellence in Artificial Intelligence. Each of these projects was initially under the umbrella of the Center for Real-Time and Intelligent Complex Computing Systems (CRICCS), which began with an NSF/CII grant in 1991.

The Computer and Information Science Department changed its name to the Department of Computer Science in March 1992. In 1997, the Sidney Topol Distinguished Lecturer Series was started, and the following year, the Department initiated the Bay State Fellows program.

In Fall 1999, the Department of Computer Science moved to its current home, the Computer Science Research Center, located at 140 Governors Drive. At the time of the move, the Department had 37 faculty (tenure track plus research), 164 graduate students, 403 undergraduates, and 97 technical and administrative staff. Grant activity was $13 million in FY2000.

In 2000, the Board of Higher Education funded the Commonwealth Information Technology Initiative (CITI) with UMass Amherst in the lead. CITI works to improve IT education across MA public higher education and promote "IT across the curriculum." That same year, The UMass IT Program was established with the IT minor as its major education program.

The Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science became an official program in Fall 2010.

In Fall 2012, the Department of Computer Science became the School of Computer Science, signaling the recognition by the campus both of the excellence of the computer science faculty as well as the increasingly central role that computer science plays within UMass, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the nation.

In 2014, there are 42 faculty (tenure track plus research), 244 graduate students (including 63 MS- only), 601 undergraduates, and 62 technical and administrative staff. Five of the faculty are University Distinguished Professors. Our grant activity was over $17.6 million in FY2013.

On April 8, 2015, the UMass Board of Trustees approved the change from the School of Computer Science to the College of Information and Computer Sciences.


The following faculty have been Program, Department, School, and, now, College Chairs and Deans:

J.A.N. Lee

1964 - 1969

Conrad Wogrin

1969 - 1970 (Acting Chair)

Michael Arbib

1970 - 1975

Robert Graham

1975 - 1981

Edward Riseman

1981 - 1985

Conrad Wogrin

1985 - 1986 (Acting Chair)

W. Richards Adrion

1986 - 1994

Arnold Rosenberg

1992 - 1993 (Acting Chair)

David Stemple

1994 - 1998

James Kurose

1998 - 2001

W. Bruce Croft

2001 - 2007

Andrew Barto

2004 (Acting Chair - Fall)

Andrew Barto

2007 - 2011

Lori Clarke

2011 - 2015

James Allan (Chair) 

2015 - Present

W. Bruce Croft (Dean) 

2015 - Present