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Wait, What?! University of Florida Kills Computer Science Dept While Increasing Athletic Budgets

April 24th, 2012 by - 4,739 views

I couldn’t resist providing some commentary on a Forbes article that came across my desk yesterday titled “University of Florida Eliminates Computer Science Department, Increases Athletic Budgets. Hmm.” Hmmm, indeed! First, let me get right out and say it, it’s important to have athletics in higher education. I was shocked when last year, UC Berkeley (which is right across the San Francisco Bay from the GoGrid HQ), decided to eliminate several sports from their athletics roundup including men’s and women’s gymnastics, baseball and women’s lacrosse, as well as demoting men’s rugby to a “varsity club sport.”

But what the University of Florida is doing has left my jaw on the ground. From my understanding, last week they announced that they would be killing off the Computer & Information Science & Engineering (CISE) department by dropping all funding for teaching assistants as well as stopping graduate and research programs completely, all to save the University $1.4 million.

At the same time, the $97.7 million athletic budget (which is a budget separate from the University of Florida) would be increased by more than $2 million.

Wait, What?!

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Have the powers that be just been tackled a few too many times and are suffering concussions?

Obviously, this story is ripe for heated discussion, especially as the University of Florida (UF) has responded to the plans to cut the computer science department. Having read both sides, the true state of this is a bit murky – cloudy if you will. According to the director of public affairs at UF, undergrad and grad curriculum “would remain the same” and while much of the savings would come from the elimination of graduate teaching assistants, there are no plans to lay off tenure-track faculty.

Still, the thing that leaves me scratching my head is still this juxtaposition of technology education versus university athletics. It’s a tricky balancing act.

The IT economy is growing, if not booming. Facebook is not only going IPO, for example, they just picked up Instagram for a cool $1 billion (stock and cash). 2011 showed IPOs from Groupon, Zynga (who is buying OMGPOP – makers of Draw Something for $200 million) and LinkedIn, in fact, there were 44 U.S. tech IPOs last year (double the number of offerings of any other sector – source: thestreet.com). Let’s see, on the sports side, probably the biggest “sale” as of late was the acquisition of the LA Dodgers for $2 billion (and that’s a big sale actually).

Those are a lot of zeros. But let’s look back to my original “big sigh” at the beginning of this article – the computer science department is being dissolved because of “measly” $1.4 million that needs to be cut. So, just think if a handful of engineers from the University of Florida were to strike it rich because of a technology company that was bought or went public and those students/alumnae were to donate just a fraction of the money back to the computer science department. They could probably save the department and even have some “pocket change” lying around to give to the athletics department (or not).

My point here is, we need to invest in technology and in training students and future technology leaders to be competitive in the global IT market. By pouring more money into athletics and not into engineering or computer science means that we are short-changing our future generations. Obviously, my goal is to spread the gospel of cloud computing to business and technology leaders across the globe. Those students currently pursuing computer science degrees could be the next Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, Larry Page or Jeff Bezos, as well as possible cloud computing innovators. If you take the winds out of their sails, they will go elsewhere to have an environment to build their success and the institutions they leave will lose a legacy.

As the cloud is obviously becoming THE technology to follow as of late with a huge untapped potential, I firmly believe that its critical to support the science and computer departments within higher education. Heck, perhaps a great compromise would be Sports Technology as an emerging career path. It’s a know problem that there is a shortage of engineers in the US.

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(source: CNN iReport)

Hey University of Florida, I hope that you are not just walking through the clouds but actually embracing them and other technology initiatives taking place in the world around you. Personally, I think you made a mistake, even if the actual cuts & changes are not as dramatic as originally outlined in the 1st Forbes article. We all should pursue a healthy body, but we should be sure to promote healthy minds in the process.

Obviously, this is just my personal opinion (and may not reflect other opinions of those at GoGrid).

However, I would love to find out from the cloud users, technology pundits and sports aficionados out there though. Where is the balance? Where should educational monies be spent: technical education or athletics? Or elsewhere?

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Michael Sheehan

Michael Sheehan, formerly the Technology Evangelist for GoGrid, is a recognized technology, social media, and cloud computing pundit and blogger who writes regularly about technology news and trends.

One Response to “Wait, What?! University of Florida Kills Computer Science Dept While Increasing Athletic Budgets”

  1. Jakob Bohm says:

    Universities should prioritize financially independent (not paid, sponsored, for profit etc.) academic education and pursuits over supplemental activities such as athletics, marketing, fund raising, internal management goals, selling research to the highest bidder and other such distractions.

    Now every university in every city cannot be the star of every particular field, decrepit or me-too departments that don’t have the talent to be better than the University two towns over isn’t doing anything good, at best they turn out unskilled candidates with worthless diplomas, at worst they draw talented students away from the place where they could learn to excel. Universities need to focus on the areas where they have the best professors in the vicinity. If Turing award winners (or at least candidates) are teachers, you should give them a CS department to pass on their skills. If Pulitzer winners (or at least candidates) are teachers, you should give them a literature or journalism department. If you already have a century long tradition in a field (or at least as close as can be expected in younger sciences), then you should try to keep up the proud tradition and attract geniuses in that field.

    Great CS departments like the ones at MIT and UCB are key national assets that should not be thrown away. Historically significant CS departments like the ones that people like Knuth and Gries call home should be kept alive unless they have run out of talent (being out of fashion or having no recent breakthroughs is not out of talent in any science, they could be preparing the next big thing).

    But the time when every little University would slap a CS department onto their campus just to be hip are hopefully over. I really have no respect for places that hand out CS Masters degrees for knowing how to create a simple database front end in C# or Java. That should only result in a low level “skilled craftsman” diploma, one needs to know the science and tech from top to bottom and across the board to get a CS degree.

    As for Florida, maybe they are better at space science and need room for all those NASA scientist that are in danger of being lost in short term budget cuts.

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