Tuesday, April 24, 2012

University of FLA Cuts Its Computer Science Department? Quick! Blame The GOP!

The University of Florida has taken what many say is an extreme step in cutting the school's budget: school administrators propose to eliminate the computer science department.

Wow, no one saw this coming.  The University of Florida announced this past week that it was dropping its computer science department, which will allow it to save about 
$1.7 million
$1.4 million.  The school is eliminating all funding for teaching assistants in computer science, cutting the graduate and research programs entirely, and moving the tattered remnants into other departments. 
Let’s get this straight: in the midst of a technology revolution, with a shortage of engineers and computer scientists, UF decides to cut computer science completely?
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?”

But, while it's the edu-crats who are doing the cutting, Florida's Republicans, including Gov. Rick Scott, are taking the blame, at least according to Steve Salzburg who is publicizing this mess at Forbes

the real villains here are the Florida state legislators, who have cut the budget for their flagship university by 30% over the past 6 years. 
Meanwhile, just two days ago, Florida governor Rick Scott approved the creation of a brand-new public university, Florida Polytechnic University, to be located near the city of Tampa.  In an unintentionally ironic statement, Gov. Scott said 
“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.” 
Heads up, Gov. Scott: no one is going to believe that you’re supporting technical education when your flagship university is eliminating its Computer Science Department. Since cutting support for universities seems to be a major agenda item for you and the legislature, why stop at 30%?  With just a bit more cutting, you could get rid of those annoying universities entirely.  Let the rest of the country worry about higher education! Florida can focus on orange groves and golf courses. Oh, and football.

Spare me. What this really looks like is a university establishment that couldn't control its spending, and wasn't willing to allocate money to STEM fields, hence Scott's deciding that it would be better to build a whole new tech-based university rather than let the folks at UF screw things up further. But, no liberal can resist writing a "GOP budget cutters = anti-science/engineering" piece, so Salzburg casts blame on the guys trying to solve the problem, rather than on the educational bureaucracy that would rather see STEM die on the vine.

(oh, and Salzburg makes the inevitable comparison between the measly cuts to the CS department and a $2M increase in the athletic budget. As dozens of commentors pointed out, the UF athletic department - like most big-time college athletic departments - has its own budget and funding, makes a profit (a-hem!), and donates millions to the university)

It's no wonder Republicans have trouble making budget cuts at any level. Every line item is someone's sacred rice bowl, after all, and such cuts will inevitably disrupt The Way We Have Always Done Things, which many will find disturbing. Rick Scott can go through the trouble of building a whole new freakin' polytechnic university and still the eggheads will be writing sniffy columns about how he's too dumb to understand technology and science education. Everything is "anti-science," "anti-engineering" "stupid stupid stupid" until even the most dedicated fiscal conservative must be overcome by despair. We can only hope the current crop of Republicans is made of sterner stuff than in previous generations. 


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