Cornell Prof to Congress: Don’t Legislate Cybersecurity Education

Washington—As the federal government enlists universities in the battle against computer threats, a Cornell University cybersecurity expert cautioned lawmakers this morning against legislating what professors teach.

More faculty members will be working in computer-system trustworthiness and will be available to teach the subject as more research money becomes available, said Fred B. Schneider, a professor of computer science at Cornell who is chief scientist for a cybersecurity center backed by the National Science Foundation.

“But understand that, like any new discipline, this field is in flux,” Mr. Schneider testified during a House subcommittee hearing on cybersecurity research and development. “There is not yet a widespread agreement on the core. So we would be ill advised to be legislating what gets taught.”

Mr. Schneider’s remarks come as a bill circulates in the Senate that would direct the National Science Foundation to prioritize research that deals with cybersecurity problems (see section 11 of this link). Meanwhile, President Obama is using his bully pulpit to spotlight computer threats. The federal push could have an impact on higher education, one expert told The Chronicle last week, particularly on the workforce-training efforts of community colleges.

The academic experts at today’s hearing came from research universities, but Rep. Paul Tonko, a New York Democrat, questioned witnesses about the potential of community colleges to “develop some earlier investment in cybersecurity professionals.”

One way of achieving that could be an expansion of the NSF program that provides scholarships to those who agree they will later take cybersecurity jobs in the federal government. People who participate in the program, called Scholarship for Service, could fulfill their service obligation by teaching in a community college instead of working in an agency, suggested Seymour E. Goodman, co-director of the Georgia Tech Information Security Center.

“Community colleges, unless they basically use adjuncts from industry to develop curricula and teach the subject, are going to not be able to attract Ph.D.s from the major universities,” Mr. Goodman said in an interview after the hearing, “unless something happens to encourage that.” —Marc Parry

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