The University of Florida announced this week that it plans to eliminate its computer science department to save about $1.7 million, in a move that has infuriated both students and faculty.
The university, which is facing $38 million in budget cuts, decided last week to cut from the Computer & Information Science and Engineering (CISE) department by moving computer engineering programs and about half of the faculty into other departments. CISE would also lose support for teaching assistants and research.
The controversial decision has sparked an uproar among students — who formed a human chain around the CISE department to protest the cuts — and computer science professionals, who say that the cuts run counter to UF’s stated goal of using research to help Florida emerge as “a technological and economic leader in the 21st century.”
“This step has shocking implications,” Indian Institute of Techonlogy Delhi computer science professor S.N. Maheshwari wrote to UF President Bernie Machen. “As the President of a major research university you should know that by doing that the university is effectively getting out of CS teaching and research. No self respecting academician will remain in just a teaching department.”
Zvi Galil, the Dean of Georgia Tech University’s College of Computing, wrote to President Machem that “I am amazed, shocked, and angered by the proposal to dismantle CISE…It is unbelievable that a major AAU university would even contemplate such an action in the information age we live in today—an age fueled in great part by computer science!”
Florida Governor Rick Scott’s position on the cuts is unclear. As Scott-approved budget cuts force Florida’s flagship university to cut a major department, Scott recently opened a brand-new public university — Florida Polytechnic University — and claimed that
“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.”
Furthermore, right after the decision to cut the CISE department, Scott pressured Carlos Alfonso — chairman of the board of trustees that decided the cuts — to step down from his post. It is unknown whether or not his decision was related to the cuts, but it is clear that the governor is keeping a firm hand on education in Florida.
“The major research university of tomorrow is going to look very different than the major research university of yesterday,” sad Alan Levine, a Scott-appointed trustee and longtime political ally told the Gainesville Sun. “I think Gov. Scott is trying very hard to put his fingerprints on how our higher education institutions are going to function in the future.”
If this is what Scott’s fingerprints look like, then it’s no wonder that his approval rating is stuck at a lowly 34 percent.