Field of Science

University of Florida eliminates Computer Science Department. At least they still have football.


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 $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?"

(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.)

Meanwhile, the athletic budget for the current year is $99 $97.7 million, an increase of more than $2 million from last year.  The increase alone would more than offset the savings supposedly gained by cutting computer science.

Now, I'm not saying that UF has chosen football over science. Actually, 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.

[Update 25 April 8:30pm: After my Forbes blog post on this topic went viral, UF President Bernie Machen announced that they are dropping their plan to eliminate Computer Science.  See my followup post here for details and a link.]


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