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University of Florida Eliminates Computer Science Department (forbes.com)
149 points by goldensaucer 1859 days ago | hide | past | web | 58 comments | favorite

As someone who works for a university, I can say that in some cases the athletics budget is completely separate from the educational side of things. They are independently funded and draw no resources from education.

I do not know if this is how UF handles its budgets.

Via the referenced article on the athletics budget, the athletics side ("Athletic Association") returns $6 million to the university in profit.

There has to be a connection between them. The athletics draw no resources from education, but how can this be so? Instead of increasing the budget of athletics, why can't the education budget be increased instead?

I went to UF. The athletic department is completely self-funded through donations, sponsorships, media rights deals, ticket sales, etc., and actually contributes about $5mm per year back to academics.

While that's true I don't think it is actually as compelling of an argument as it sounds on first blush.

I went to UF and I used to receive weekly emails asking for donations to the athletic program that I wasn't able to unsubscribe from without telling them that it was illegal to spam without any way of unsubscribing. I never to my memory got email asking for donations for anything educational.

A significant portion of alum just want to donate $X and it goes to the athletics department because of how the university is choosing to allocate it's fundraising, not because that is how individuals actually care to donate.

The education budget is set by the state (mostly).

Athletics gets money from donors, ticket revenues and private funding. This allows them to spend as they see fit.

At some schools the athletics program gets considerable tuition revenue as well (in the form of a tacked-on "athletics fee"). UF seems to have one of the lower fees ($57/yr), though when multiplied by 50,000 students, that still works out to a bit under $3m/yr. It appears (see sibling comment) that athletics contributes back some surplus to academics, though, so may be a net positive at UF. Not true at all schools, some of which have much higher than $57/yr charges (e.g. UVA's $650).

The "athletics fee" at UF covers student athletic facilities - gyms, tennis courts, etcetera - rather than sports teams.

Last I heard, LSU and Nebraska were the only two schools with athletic programs that were both financially and nominally self-sufficient. This was in 2009, I think. This link gives some financial stats on athletics programs starting with the 2004-2005 academic and ending with the 2009-2010 academic year.


I believe most state universities are the same.

In other words, the difference between the athletics budget and the academic budget represents the priorities of Americans in general, not any specific group such as a universities administrators.

Is that the case, or it sounds like from the other commentors here that it also represents the effectiveness and focus on fundraising? If instead people were given a single fundraising plea form with 2 checkboxes (one for academics, one for athletics) -- which way would most people go?

> The athletics draw no resources from education, but how can this be so?

Because athletics raises its own money.

> Instead of increasing the budget of athletics, why can't the education budget be increased instead?

The increased budget for athletics is coming from the money that athletics raises.

Where is the money for the education budget coming from?

because it MAKES A PROFIT

I live in Gainesville and many students are very upset about this and have shown it online and in protests.

I'm not 100% certain, but I do believe the athletics budget is separate from academics.

Here's the email that Georgia Tech College of Computing dean Zvi Galil sent to the president of UF:


I don't really understand the structure of the different departments teaching computer science and engineering at UF, but it certainly sounds like a bit of a mess and over-due for a reorganization.

Even Georgia Tech, the first school with a College of Computing, still has a split with Computer Engineering still part of the College of Engineering but traditional Computer Science and everything else in the College of Computing. USF (Tampa) has both Computer Science and Computer Engineering in a single department within the College of Engineering, which seems to me to be about the most efficient structure. UCF (Orlando) had a Computer Science department in the College of Arts and Sciences and a Computer Engineering department in the College of Engineering but merged them together into one school a few years ago.

UCF has School of Electrical Engineering and Computer science which falls under College and Engineering and Computer Science.

There's more to it. See HN's previous discussion, ten days ago: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3832685

All that seems to indicate, to me, is that the entire college is run terribly.

This article misses the reason behind closing the CS department. Was it completely due to budgetary concerns? Or was the University having difficulty competing with other CS schools. The article mentions the Florida Polytechnical University, has the creation of this school meant that their aren't enough CS students to fill classrooms at both colleges?

Though I, like most, was initially shocked that a CS school would be closing, maybe their is more to it than just budgetary cuts.

I think Georgia Institute of Technology only being a few hours away would be the bigger issue. GIT has a pretty significant ranking usually popping in and out of the bottom of the top 10 slot. Being from FL I know a lot of people that want to remain somewhat close to home and that are looking for a good program tend to apply there over UF. What is strange is that UF was generally in the upper ranks of Florida CS programs after FIT fell off the map in the early 90's. As well UCF's program has been getting better and better over the years. I don't know where they rank but I do know they have been improving maybe UCF siphoned off a bit of their Central Florida recruits, which I would imagine contributed quite a few in head count. USF did not have a great program when I was in Tampa but things could have changed, as that has been over 15 years ago.

I don't think GT has any real effect on UF. Different states, different budgets, and really, a different level. UF is the big public engineering school in the state. Every other public university in the state is always fighting for the budget scraps after UF gets theirs. USF does have a decent program, but not great. It could benefit tremendously from more investment by the state. Faculty salaries are not competitive and make it difficult to attract and retain top talent.

It seems to me that UF is starting to focus more on its business school and on engineering anyway.

It appears to me, as a graduate of both, that the difference is largely attributable to the business school receiving larger grants from alumni than the engineering school. The graduate school of business recently received a very large donation from an alumnus, sufficient to build a brand new and extremely modern facility to house its MBA program.

But I wouldn't necessarily say that the university as a whole puts more focus on the business school than engineering - in fact, before the Hough donation, the MBA facilities were located in between two floors of a very old building, and you had to actually duck down to enter, through a very short and narrow doorway, a la Being John Malkovich.

The federal government forces Florida to spend billions on Medicaid. Mandatory Medicaid increases are driving education cuts in budgets in nearly every state.

"Governments’ general support for higher education 25 years ago was nearly 50 percent greater than state spending on Medicaid. That relationship has now flipped: Medicaid spending is about 50 percent greater than support for higher education. If higher education’s share of state budgets had remained constant instead of being crowded out by rising Medicaid costs, it would be getting some $30 billion more than it receives today, or more than $2,000 per student." -- http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/19/opinion/19orszag.html?_r=1

Not so fast. UF has something like 3 or 4 departments that, to an outside observer, would appear to be CS. The College of Engineering has a couple, which appear to differ depending on whether they enphasize hardware or software, and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has one, and I think there's another one out there somewhere.

The one they are cutting seems to be the only one that does non-hardware research and offers graduate degrees, so losing it is a loss. The other (or others) that deal with the non-hardware side of CS seem to be only teaching, not research, and aimed at undergraduates.

Right. So they're cutting the department that has graduate students, researchers with NSF Career Awards and ACM fellowships, and brings in lots of money in research grants.

All the departments share strong overlap in required (undergraduate) coursework however. And the department being cut is the one that is responsible for teaching these courses (OS, Data Structures, etc etc).

> the well-established fact that research-active faculty make better teachers

Does anyone have a citation for this well established fact?

My experience is that they tend to be negatively correlated with a good number of outliers.

Experience: My professors were shit, but I was able to do science in one of their labs and that got me into graduate school. Research faculty give opportunities that are impossible to find elsewhere.

I laughed out loud at this. Faculty can run good research programs and be decent teachers but if they're only measured on research grant dollars, completed graduate degrees, and publications, why spend any extra effort on teaching undergrads?

Seems unlikely. Good researchers care about research, and don't really care about teaching. While people who care a lot about teaching may not care much about research. A lot of profs don't like teaching and prefer spending time in the lab.

There may be some people who are passionate about both (and of course, people who don't give a crap about either)

Hey guys, UF student here.

Here's what was actually sent out to UF students about the decision. The link goes to the budget cut proposal. Currently the president of the University (Bernie Machen) is petitioning the state government to allow for tuition hikes above the already annual limit of 15%.


They can't get by with a 15% annual tuition hike? Jebus.

Back when I was in school, the CS dept was kind of ghetto. We had an old run down kind of grimy building, while the Computer engineering department had this massive new building with great architecture. We also had a research facility that was some kind of interdisciplinary engineering thing - all people did was program but it was part of the engineering dept and probably had as much money as the entire CS department. At least a lot of CS students got to work there. Seems like CS invents all the stuff and engineering gets all the money to actually use it :P ---

"Meanwhile, the athletic budget for the current year is $99 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."

Okay, I'm not a fan of sports but universities spend money on their sports programs because they are PROFIT CENTERS. First of all, they sell tickets to the games, which makes money. Second of all they foster 'school spirit' which helps in getting donations.

If you look at Penn State (before the whole scandal) there's a perfect example of how that plays out. People donate to the school because they are nostalgic for the time they spent going to games and so on. It's stupid, IMO but it is what it is.

So really, saying people Universities should cut sports and focus on academics is like saying the government should save money by cutting the IRS's funding, or that drug companies could save money by cutting advertizing. No, those are the things that make money. If you spend less on them, you have less money overall, not more.

Again, I'm not a sports fan. I'm just pointing out the reality.

disclaimer: This is a political rant from the articles facts.

This is a huge opinion article with a little bit of fact sprinkled over it accusing Gov. Rick Scott of doing the wrong thing.

For anyone that has been to Florida or knows what Florida Economics are currently, I think Rick Scott did a good thing. I think more so, the University staff ought to be to blame.

For some fact. Florida's economy has been hit the hardest out of almost every state except Nevada. But with budget cuts, Nasa employees being laid off, a staggering 18% unemployment, roughly 25% of children homeless/living in motels or living in poverty, and Florida's homestead/business taxes being some of the highest in the country, he is only trying to cut government spending to the levels it should be lowered to. Instead of blaming a governor for his cutting of education, maybe this article should look at how he is trying to rescue a state from over spending so that taxes can be lowered so the economy may rebound a bit.

A bit of a quibble: Florida has high taxes in some areas because it's one of only 7 states with no income tax. Overall taxation, considering the no-income-tax part, is pretty low, and its state+local spending is roughly in line with that of other states.

Rick Scott is an idiot. He demanded welfare recipients get drug tested, the net result was that hardly any of them failed and it cost more money then it saved - oh and of course he owned the drug testing company - he was basically shoving taxpayer dollars directly into his own company (Oh which he handed off to his wife before he took office, but come on)

What I don't understand about U of F's decision is that computing is like mathematics in that it's a basic competency necessary for competence in many other disciplines. Shouldn't the graduates of the school's "Design, Construction, and Planning" school know something about programming so that they are not entirely intimidated by the idea of customizing the behavior of AutoCAD? The Education school -- how will it produce graduates capable of teaching high school computer science courses? One can easily come up with other examples.

Perhaps it is sufficient to hire a cadre of instructors to teach basic courses? Such a decision historically has been vilified by faculty unions intent on ensuring that research professors with PhD's are not replaced by "lesser" means of instruction. Never mind that many faculty despise teaching introductory courses where much of the workload is administrative and their specialized knowledge is barely put to use.

What I don't understand is how U of F seemingly thinks it acceptable to imply to the public that it taking steps which eventually will make it incapable of teaching basic computer science to any of its students. Surely, U of F's PR department would be horrified to convey parallel messages regarding its math department. Maybe we are all missing some important facts?

While this sounds nice, the truth is that most people do not need — or, in most cases, want — to code, or even to know how their computers work. As time goes on, the levels of abstraction increase, not decrease. And with things like the iPad and Windows 8, we can see that moving ahead for us right now. Computer science is not a "basic competency" — it's an extremely complex,

So I don't think it's weird at all for computer science to be thought of as less important, and certainly less popular. And I also don't think that's a bad thing; while I'd certainly think computers are cool, a computer science degree/programming knowledge is already unnecessary for almost all professions. As time goes on, the need to, say, customize AutoCAD, is only going to decrease: the computer itself will make the task easier.

Among the general public, possibly, but that's also true of mathematics. Among scientists, it looks like it's going the other way to me, approaching math and statistics as something that many people need to know at least a little of. Even over the past decade there's been a significant shift. In the early 2000s, most bioinformatics research was done by biologists in collaboration with computer scientists, with the biologists providing only the biology side of things. Today, it's increasingly common for biologists to be expected to understand and work with the tech side as well. At the very least, if you're a younger researcher working in a data-heavy area (and maybe even if you aren't that young), people expect you to be able to write some Python, interface with SciPy, and navigate matplotlib.

I'll agree with that. The scientific data sets are only going to get bigger.

That's what they've been saying about spreadsheets[1] for my entire adult life.

[1] http://panko.shidler.hawaii.edu/ssr/Mypapers/whatknow.htm

The "brand new" university mentioned is horrible journalism. The "Florida Polytechnic University" has been around for 24 years. It's been part of USF (Tampa) until now, when J.D. Alexander strong-armed it away from USF (threating USF's funding in the process). Now it will be nominally independent but closely affiliated with UF.


I'm surprised that CS doesn't bring in enough funding to justify itself on those grounds alone. I'm a CS grad student, but I'll confess that I don't know much about UF's program.

As for article asking the reader to imagine the outcry if they cut football or other big sports, the ones that would cause an outcry are probably immensely profitable. It's a fair question whether college athletics has gotten too big, but it's almost entirely irrelevant to this article.

It's very relevant to this particular article because it's nerd linkbait.

I, personally, can't see a reason why a CS program would not be a priority for a university. I, personally, am also not an administrator at UF and don't need to have an opinion on it.

I'm sure this will pop up another 10 times this week though, as if there is a war on computer science.

That will do wonders for UF employment/salary stats.

Whoa! $1.7M for a computer science department and $90M+ for football? Whatever the funding sources may be, the comparison of the figures alone shows the general spending priorities pretty clearly. I bet the football team has no shortage of applicants either.

Could it be that such priorities are a contributing factor to the high unemployment rate?

UF's football program's 'budget' is a red herring. It's a profit center for the university. It doesn't "cost" 90M. It pays for itself, and a great bit more.

That may be so but it only proves my point. I was not talking about costs to the university but about the fact that people don't mind paying 90M+ for football but they do mind paying 1.7M for computer science. Whatever the channels for the payments may be.

frankly I could never understand all this sports obsession with US universities. universities are there to teach science, sports deserve their own and separate institutions.

Because money. CS education might make you rich but a successful sports program makes the university rich.

IMO. This is PR stunt, It's standard OP in Florida to threaten to close stuff due to budget constraints. I can't remember a single case where they actually did even if they did not get the budget increese/tax hike that they said they needed.

I'm not sure if you are referring to the state budget or university budget here, but the university closed the nuclear engineering department a year or two ago due to budget reasons, the remnants of that program are in Materials Science now.

Great PR move by the University to draw attention to the cuts. I hope.

If they really want to cut spending, just leave CS alone and just cut football team. :)

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