I’m going to start this article with a little story of my own. Recently (about a month ago) I bought an iPad, loaded it up with a few games for me, and a ton of apps/games for my 2 year old. Her favorite is a counting game that allows her to count up to 20 by touching pictures of random items. The app says the number as it shows it to her and she has been trying to say the words. I woke her up this morning and we did some counting as I got her breakfast ready. To my surprise she is now counting to 20. She also understands how to move the iPad pages around, load games, and is even pretty good at the new Skylanders game that came out for it. She also has a piano game that allows her to play music on the iPad and she is starting to combine notes and creating recognizable sounds, in terrible, terrible songs. While this may seem to be a proud Dad bragging about his kid (and it partly is) it is more about showing the importance of technology on our lives. At 2 years old, my kid is already far ahead of where I was at her age and I blame that on the creative computer scientists that are designing educational tools that engage children in a way that Sesame Street and books never did.
So it comes as a huge blow that the University of Florida felt that their sports department was more important than their computer science department. Now, to be fair, their athletic department budget was at $97M a year and went up to $99M this year, so it can be seen why the $1.7M saved by cutting computer science is so important. Actually, read that again. $99M for the athletic side of things and $1.7M for the science side. Most are already aware of the struggle to keep the arts alive, but if we start valuing sports over science, we, as a people, are in a ton of trouble.
I’m not going to attempt to paraphrase this part from the Forbes piece, and instead just give plenty of info if you would like to join the movement and see how others are reacting.
Students at UF have already organized protests, and have created a website dedicated to saving the CS department. Several distinguished computer scientists have written to the president of UF to express their concerns, in very blunt terms. Prof. Zvi Galil, Dean of Computing at Georgia Tech, is “amazed, shocked, and angered.” Prof. S.N. Maheshwari, former Dean of Engineering at IIT Delhi, calls this move “outrageously wrong.” Computer scientist Carl de Boor, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and winner of the 2003 National Medal of Science, asked the UF president “What were you thinking?”
(Note to the students, if you need more quotes for your site: I think this move is shockingly short-sighted. The University of Florida is moving backwards while the rest of the world moves ahead.)
Now this isn’t all at the fault of the University of Florida, much comes from the state legislature cutting UF’s budget by 30%. Unfortunately, UF decided to cut the computer science department in place of reducing their athletic departments swollen budget. The possible good news about these cuts is that Gov. Rick Scott is pushing for the creation of Florida Polytechnic University.
“At a time when the number of graduates of Florida’s universities in the STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] fields is not projected to meet workforce needs, the establishment of Florida Polytechnic University will help us move the needle in the right direction.”
This is a fine sentiment, but I will take a chance to guess that creating an entirely new University will cost much more than $1.7M. It also won’t happen overnight and that will put many comp science students out of a major. They could attend a tech school, but in general, companies are more interested in traditional degrees over a tech school certification degree. So really, the computer science students are the ones that are getting hit most for this lack of thinking.
Why Gov. Scott is cutting budgets from Universities to create new Universities is a question of politics. Is this just a way to try to cover a bad call and avoid the political fallout, or is there more to the story than is currently available? At some point, Mr. Scott will need someone to help him figure out how best to move forward with his budget, in a creative way, and I don’t see an athletics department training anyone to do that.
Gov. Scott’s legislature is part of the problem that is causing UF to make cuts at all. Hopefully students, and concerned citizens will let him know what they think in one way or another. Hopefully things will change for the students of UF, but as the dice are rolling right now, it seems that the athletics will be pushing away the scientific departments.
An update has been added regarding the situation from UF:
April 23, 2012 | University Relations
A Forbes article by contributing writer Steven Salzberg falsely claims that the University of Florida is eliminating the Computer Science Department. There have been similar claims made by others on other media platforms.
The Dean of the College of Engineering has put on the table for discussion a budget plan to reorganize the Computer & Information Science and Engineering Department.
Under that proposal, all undergraduate and graduate degree curriculum would remain the same and the college would maintain its brainpower and research capacity. The plan calls for no lay-offs of tenure-track faculty. Faculty lay-offs are expected, however, if across-the-board cuts are made in the College of Engineering.
The proposed budget plan would grow the number of graduates from the CISE department because faculty members would be expected to assume a greater teaching responsibility. About $1.4 million in savings would come primarily from the elimination of graduate teaching assistants.
We are aware faculty and students have expressed serious concern with this plan. The Dean and Provost have been meeting with faculty and student groups for the past two weeks. From the comments and suggestions the Dean has received, we are confident that a solution that maintains the quality of the educational programs in the College can be achieved while making the required budget reductions.
Lastly, shared governance takes some time. We ask for everyone’s patience as we work through this process.
This link is also a bit older, from 2011, but shows that the athletic department does donate to the University to help them out. So all in all, my crack reporting saved the Comp Sci department, and worked out for the best, right?