University of Maryland officials have restricted registration for coveted computer science courses to students with B grade averages, prompting student complaints the policy may prevent a higher percentage of blacks from getting the classes.
While College Park students with lower grades can attempt to get computer courses in later stages of fall registration, their chances will be diminished as the courses fill up.
Some black computer science students said they believe blacks have lower grade averages than other minority and white students and will be disproportionately interrupted or blocked in their pursuit of computer science degrees because of the new standard.
"It's not easy to keep up a 3.0 B average," said Steve M. Weekes, a junior computer science major and member of the Black Student Union. "We could understand if they changed that from the start, but not in our junior and senior years. . . .
"What they are trying to tell C-students is all the money they have spent and all these years are wasted. It doesn't make sense. They got under pressure and couldn't handle it, so they took it out on us and changed the rules."
The campus Office of Institutional Studies had no breakdown of grade averages by race, director Marilyn Brown said. But she said statistics show that twice as many black as white students are dismissed for academic deficiencies during their first three years at the school, indicating their grades tend to be lower. The percentage of blacks who graduate in four years is less than half that of whites.
The new registration policy, departing from a first-come, first-served method, is a way of coping with an onslaught of students requesting computer courses from a state institution that is short on teachers of computer science and slow in getting new computers, said Victor Basili, chairman of the Computer Science Department.
He stressed that although "hundreds" of students who want classes won't get them, minority students wouldn't be more severely affected. Any student facing hardships can ask the department for special arrangements, Basili said.
"It may take passing students with less than a 3.0 average an extra year or two to get through the program just because we don't have the kind of faculty to meet the explosion" of interest, said William Wockenfuss, assistant provost of the Mathematical and Physical Sciences and Engineering Division.
He noted the department has grown from 365 majors in 1976 to 1,765 last fall. For the same period, black enrollment has remained at 8 1/2 percent.
The department has 30 faculty members and serves nearly 8 percent of the campus' 35,000 graduate and undergraduate students, Basili said.
Joseph Samuels, director of the campus Office of Minority Student Education, said he will investigate to ensure the new policy doesn't raise the academic requirements that students understood they needed to meet when they enrolled as computer science majors.
"The requirements under which a student comes into the university are a contract for how he will get out of this university," Samuels said.
"The problem is we've already violated the contract at the very beginning by letting them take this major when we know we can't handle them," Basili said. "The fair thing to do would have been to say, 'We can't take you.' But the major isn't restricted, and we can't say that."
Basili said he is trying to get restrictive standards set on entering the major, but even if they are approved immediately, the restrictions wouldn't take effect until fall 1984, he said.
With his 2.7 grade-point average, Weekes would be eligible for a second phase of sign-up and, according to Basili, "will definitely get his class" during preregistration later this spring.
Graduating seniors with respective averages of 2.7 and 2.0 are eligible in the first and second phases of registration, he said. The rest must compete for remaining spaces during regular registration as the fall semester begins, with priority going to those with the most academic credits, he said.
Only junior and senior-level computer science courses will be restricted, Wockenfuss said.
Basili said the department will make exceptions and intends no discrimination. But he said there will be "hundreds" of computer science majors excluded from the courses they need--not counting other majors trying to take computer courses.
"We stuff every class full of students, even more than they will hold, hoping that some will drop out to make room," Basili said. "These are real problems, not just something the students are imagining."