A computer science professor within the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) is receiving backlash for his response to a student’s email which was posted to social media on Feb. 27.
In the Reddit post, user “jojoannacakes” uploaded a set of images to the r/UCI subreddit displaying a thread of emails exchanged between themselves and two professors within the department of computer science.
The student initially addressed the email to Alexandru Nicolau, the former department chair, under the impression that he was the current chair due to a website error. Nicolau then forwarded the email to the current department chair Tony Givargis who responded directly to the student instead. In doing so, a thread of emails included in his response showed private comments made by Nicolau to Givargis regarding the student’s original email.
“Sorry to spoil your weekend w this…it came to me, but it’s meant for you…our students are truly pathetic,” Nicolau wrote to Givargis.
Following the incident, Givargis sent a follow-up email to the student apologizing for the mishap, citing there was a typo and asked to meet the student in-person so he could “explain” the situation.
The New University reached out to “jojoannacakes” for further comment.
The student, who asked to remain anonymous, said they reached out to Nicolau with concerns regarding an instructor of ICS 6D and voiced that they were dissatisfied with the way the course was being taught. When asked about their initial reaction to the situation, the student shared that they weren’t aware that someone else had responded to their email, nor that there was a private message attached to the response that they received.
“[At first], I was confused … After I realized what he was talking about, I was in shock, like, why is he calling students pathetic? What is his reasoning behind this? And then, after a moment of processing this, I felt I needed to share that with our community because I feel like people should know what professors are saying behind our backs,” the student said.
As for the community’s reaction, the post, which as of March 2 has over 900 upvotes, has opened up many discussions regarding professionalism within the entire situation, as well as speculations of what else professors may be stating about students behind their backs.
“… Pathetic?! An eight-word letter is no typo. That he felt free to use this kind of disparaging language suggests to me that this is normal talk,” one user commented on the post.
Alternatively, some criticized the tone of the student’s original email and described it as “very unprofessional and “a little mean.” Some also noted that it isn’t uncommon for educators to talk about their students without their knowledge.
Others, however, argued that it still does not justify the response, calling it “a symptom of [a much] grander issue.”
“I think the bigger issue here is that this [is] more so a symptom of the grander issue of faculty simply not caring about students’ concerns … If a former chair held these beliefs and is openly sharing them with the current chair, is that not cause for concern where the current chair’s priorities may be? If so, I don’t think they deserve to be holding the position they’re in,” another user commented.
Associate professor of teaching and vice chair of the computer sciences department Jennifer Wong-Ma reached out to the student and offered to set up a personal Zoom meeting to diffuse the situation and aid them with their original concerns. To address the situation in its entirety, and offer some transparency, Givargis sent out an ICS-wide email responding to the situation on March 2.
“I would like to address the recent issue involving a student sending an email to a former department chair that was forwarded to me with an inappropriate comment. I begin by apologizing to that student as well as all of you for that forwarded comment, which was hurtful and unacceptable. I also take full responsibility for not being careful in my email correspondence,” the email reads.
Givargis goes on to discuss the importance of creating an “inclusive and top-quality academic environment” and offered three solutions that the department plans to implement to work towards this goal including open office hours, monthly student-faculty forums, and the inclusion of student representation regarding academic decisions and affairs.
“CS@UCI is an outstanding institution, and I don’t want this incident to define it otherwise,” Givargis said.
The student emphasized that they never intended to get any professor fired with their post, but to instead bring awareness.
“I just think that awareness is the first step to change. Even if I can’t help make that change, I just wanted to [initiate] it … I just wish that professors, having been students before, would have a little bit of sympathy for us,” the student said.
The New University has also reached out to Nicolau for a response. He has yet to comment.
Makyla McLeod is a Campus News Apprentice for the winter 2023 quarter. She can be reached at email@example.com.