Wednesday, April 25, 2012

University of Florida CISE: Now More Than Ever

By now you've likely heard the proposal that the University of Florida plans to drastically restructure its Computer Science department, CISE.

While the details are not as provocative a picture as the Forbes article paints, the proposal is still bad for the university and its students (read the actual proposal). Also, as an alumnus, the proposal is, frankly, embarrassing.

At a time when the United States needs more STEM graduates than ever, universities ought be doubling down on their Computer Science programs. I encourage you to write to the university. Even if unaffiliated with Florida, this restructuring sets a bad precedent for other institutions.

Today, I sent this email:

President Machen & Dean Abernathy,

I am writing to express my concern with the proposed changes to CISE. Contra more provocative coverage, I understand that the department is to undergo restructure and not outright elimination. I also understand the significant budgetary pressures facing Florida. Nonetheless, the proposed changes to CISE are wrong for the university and wrong for its students. Moreover, they set an ill precedent for other institutions at a time when the world needs not fewer, but more, CS graduates.

The proposed restructuring will irremediably harm the ability of Florida to attract top-caliber CS instructors, researchers, and students. The elimination of graduate and research programs will result in the loss of existing top faculty and place current students, who enrolled in graduate programs in good faith, in an unfortunate and precarious situation.

I am an engineer at Google and sit on a Hiring Committee, responsible for hiring decisions across my office. I am also an engineering manager. While we look for smart, driven individuals of varied and many backgrounds, this proposal will assuredly hurt Florida graduates beginning their careers. Universities with strong software--that is, CS--curricula and deep research programs matriculate students best equipped to excel in today's technology companies--or start the companies of tomorrow.

When the largest, most successful companies in the world are software companies clamoring for more and better engineers, Florida should increase, not decrease, its investment in Computer Science.

I understand these budget cuts were imposed upon you. I wish they were not. Important decisions are rarely easy, but you must revert this proposal.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Love
Staff Software Engineer, Google
BA Math & BS CS, UF '04

Update: Hours after my email becomes the focus of his day, President Machen issued this statement to the university community regarding the budget:

Engineering Dean Abernathy has agreed to set aside the previously announced proposal as the department chairmen of CISE and ECE continue to flesh out details of a new proposal in consultation with students, faculty, staff, alumni and industry partners. The college has no plans to close any departments.

The budgetary issues facing our states and public universities are not over. Nor do I believe that the threat to Florida's CISE department is past. Nonetheless, this is an important victory, a crucial step worthy of celebration.