UMass celebrates start-up of $125 million computer science building

Amherst – The University of Massachusetts on Thursday celebrated the launch of a $125 million facility for its computer science program that officials say will position the university to be a leader in education and research at the digital frontier.

“This is an important day in the continuing evolution of the Commonwealth,” said UMass Advisor Kumble Subbaswamy.

The possibility of thunderstorms pushed matters further, making the groundbreaking ceremony more symbolic than realistic.

Governor Charlie Baker, Lieutenant Governor Karen Polito and UMass President Martin Meehan joined Subbaswamy, campus leaders and local lawmakers at the ceremony.

The new facility, a 90,000-square-foot building, has been driven by growth in UMass’s computer and information science program over the past few years.

The state contributed $75 million in construction costs.

The new building, which will be located on an empty plot along Governor Drive east of the current building, is expected to be ready by 2025.

An artist’s presentation of the $125 million new information and computer science being created at UMass. The building will be attached to the existing Computer Science building off Governor Drive.

In addition to the state contribution, the project was aided by a donation of $18 million from UMass Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Manning and his wife Donna Manning.

The $18 million was part of a $50 million donation Mannings made to the UMass system last year, the largest donation in UMass history.

The college’s name was changed to Manning College of Information and Computer Science.

Through Manning’s generosity, Spaswami said, “We will further strengthen Manning College’s position as an evolutionary force in the industry by attracting senior faculty by increasing access to the program.”

“Today we launch the next chapter for New England’s number one computer science program,” said Trish Sirio, UMass Vice President and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs.

The college already has 1,700 undergraduate students, 400 master’s students, and 280 doctoral students. With enrollment growing in the past five years, the college has hired 40 new faculty members during that time, bringing the total to 74.

Since its inception, Sirio said, the college has worked closely with industry and has been a leader in the areas of artificial intelligence, search engines, and networking. In fiscal year 2021, the college brought in $21 million in research grants from government and industry sources.

But while UMass officials have talked about the campus’ readiness to be part of the digital frontier, both Baker and Manning caution that the college needs to teach more than just technology.

“Everything is going digital. Part of me finds it incredibly exciting, and part of me finds it super terrifying,” Becker said.

He said it was critical for colleges to be able to “teach, research, and understand the consequences of both.”

Baker cited the example of social media’s rise in the past decade from the promise of a global medium for sharing information to an instant medium for sharing misinformation, insults, and lies.

He said that this meant not only teaching technology, but ethics.

He noted that the college’s motto is “Computing for the Common Good,” and that part of that is teaching right and wrong. “We’re going to do a great job here, but we need to prepare people to take a hard look at what we mean when we say ‘the common good,'” Baker said.

Manning did not attend the ceremony in person but appeared from a distance.

MFS Financial Services CEO Manning said he knows from experience that advances in computers will continue to move forward. He said, and like Baker, that scares him.

He said he used the power of computers to achieve success in business, “but I’ve also seen the devastation they can cause.”

Technology without an ethical basis for controlling it, Manning said, is a problem. “And I’m really worried about that.”

He said that quantum computing has the potential to reshape society in ways that people cannot imagine, and it is important that schools emphasize morality.

“Computer power is on the cusp of the next decade,” he said.

“We’re in big trouble,” said without training today’s students on potential dangers.

Subaswamy Baker, who is stepping down in January after not seeking re-election, has been hailed as a true friend of UMass for the past eight years. He said Baker is no small part of the campus’s successes during that time.

When it was Baker’s turn to speak, the governor reciprocated the flattery.

“I’m right back to you,” he said to Subaswamy. “You are the gold standard that will judge all advisors.”

Subbaswamy, appointed 10 years ago, has announced that he will retire in June.

Speaking of the UMass system as a whole, Baker said, “My dad used to say there are people who want to get a job and there are people who want to do the job, and there’s a big difference.” Throughout the UMass system, from Meehan and Subbaswamy onwards, he said, “There is a long line of people doing it.”

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