As measured by publishing productivity in the most selective venues across computer science for the past five years, UMass Amherst is currently #20 (we are also #20 per US News). UMass is #12 in AI and #9 in (software) Systems. (See csrankings.org. Full disclosure: I created and maintain this site.)
The department is supremely egalitarian: assistant professors can serve on any committee and vote on any issue but tenure cases. Graduate student representatives are also present at all of our faculty meetings and have two votes. A pair of undergrad representatives also attend.
We are the friendliest and most collaborative department ever. Instead of quals, our grad students do synthesis research projects that must include two professors across areas. These often result in publications, grants, and long-term collaborations.
The area – Amherst/Northampton – is beautiful, cosmopolitan, and liberal (and cited as among the top 10 college towns in the USA!). We are in the midst of a sea of some of the top academic institutions in the world: Amherst College, Hampshire College, Smith College, and Mount Holyoke College – together with UMass, these are The Five Colleges. The surrounding area is gorgeous (woods and hills, not far from the Berkshires). It’s the bluest city in the bluest state in America, with almost the highest percentage of Obama voters in the US (86.5% — more than NYC). The area is also full of educated folks: 42% have graduate degrees — nearly the highest in America.
The restaurant scene is unusually strong. Thai, African, serious Chinese (the owners run an organic Chinese vegetable farm, which is the source of their numerous vegetable dishes), the best ice cream known to man (including a shop run by Steve Herrell, the guy who invented the gourmet ice cream biz, as well as mixins, and Flayvors, which makes their ice cream from milk from their own cows!), French, Indian, Korean, Mexican, Argentinean, Moroccan, Tibetan, Vietnamese, plus a ridiculous (the New York Times says “unsustainable”) number of sushi restaurants. Here’s a recent round-up of other great stuff from HuffPo.
Great college town means great coffee shops! Rao’s (now Share Coffee, which roasts its own and distributes it throughout the Boston area), Esselon (ditto), Amherst Coffee, Haymarket Cafe, The Roost (coffee from Ithaca’s Gimme Coffee), and the Woodstar Cafe. And a branch of Peet’s Coffee conveniently located on campus and one that serves Peet’s in the CS building itself!
The culture part: the presence of a large university, four major colleges, plus institutions like the National Yiddish Book Center means there is a wealth of cultural activity of every stripe: art, music, theater, and fascinating speakers. The educated crowd also supports four screens of independent and art films at Amherst Cinema right in downtown Amherst.