What Is This All About? (Updated, May 31)

First plan: Dismembering CISE

On Aptil 11th, 2012, Dean Abernathy announced a restructuring proposal would have destroyed the Computer & Information Science and Engineering (CISE) department at the University of Florida

Thanks to our supporters nationwide and globally who reached out to our decision makers, the Abernathy plan is off the table on Apr. 25.

Second Plan: Hostile Takeover by ECE

However, CISE is still in a perilous situation.  President Machen  favored one alternative proposal that involves some form of conjoining of ECE (Electrical and Computer Engineering) and CISE.

In this climate of anxiety and uncertainity, CISE faculty  worked  hard with ECE faculty to explore the details and hence the feasibility of such a proposal.  They had been forced to arrive at a decision in just 2 days. Their guiding principles include a preservation of CISE’s unity (of faculty, students and programs), core identity, culture and freedom to grow in its chosen direction.

Here is a history of previous attempts at  merging/forming school of ECE and CISE  at UF. Here is an analysis of the structures for these departments at 61 AAU universities.

Because of an attempt by ECE and the Dean to take over the process and force it  into a repeat of  a regressive attempt that was made a year  ago,  the process stalled and  this second Abernathy plan was also set aside.

Third Plan: “Across the Board”

limbo ensued after another pronouncement from Dean Abernathy on Apr. 30.

Fourth Plan:  Go back to Singling out CISE for slow Starvation ….

The plan laid out out by Dean Abernathy on May 10 at a College of Engineering Department chairs meeting claimed to be an “across the board” 2.9% cut.  In the case of CISE, the 2.9% was taken from CISE base budget at the beginning of 2011-2012.  This amounted to $190,000. However, CISE has also been told that at least 2 positions that were included in the above base budget,  but were due to become vacant in 2012-2013 due to retirements etc. will not be replaced. This amounts to an over 8% recurring cut for CISE.  No other department has been slated to lose positions to the best of the knowledge. This is not across the board.  This fourth plan is in line with the Dean’s starvation of CISE all along,  prior to  the Apr. 11 attack.  So we have come full circle.

…. And  not knowing who will be the next Chair on July 1

The current Acting Chair is due to step down on June 30. The Dean told him  to “talk to the Provost” about appointing a new Chair. Provost Joe Glover was asked about this during the Engineering faculty council meeting on May 17th and again by email on May 25th.  Provost Glover replied that he would be talking to the Dean about various issues on May 29th (after the Open Faculty Budget Forum called by the central administration, the day after Memorial Day weekend, during a tropical storm). He wrote back, saying he would only meet with the department if the Dean was present, and asked if  “it was still interested.”  The meeting has been scheduled for June 6 when several faculty will be away on travel. Watch this space for updates.

Alternative Plans

In parallel, CISE faculty are considering other alternative, longer term proposals that have received much stronger encouragement and support from alumni and external stakeholders.

All proposals exist only to address the College of Engineering’s budget cut. President Machen continues to treat the cut as a recurring cut, despite explicit statements from legislators and the Board of Governors to treat the cut as a one time cut and spend UF’s massive reserves.

The CISE department at UF has consistently demonstrated its excellence. In 2010, CISE graduated 25 PhD students,  (3 times more than that number at 2000). We are bringing 5.5 million per year on research funding,  (almost 4 times the amount in 2000). We have 2 ACM Fellows,4 IEEE Fellows and 2 AAAS Fellows; many faculty have won other awards and are on prestigious editorial boards and program committeees. Almost all have active NSF or NIH funded research programs. 12 young faculty won NSF Career Awards, which is 22% of College total, (also 5 times more than 2000).  Over the last 5 years, we have won 11 best paper awards. we teach thousands of nonmajors, and approximately 600 undergraduate majors, 400 masters and 131 PhD’s with 32 tenure track faculty and at this moment, only 3 nontenure track faculty!  CISE is generating 17% of the college’s primary source of income (weighted student credit hours) while only costing only 10% of the college. The Dean herself admitted during her Apr. 12 interview with students that the CISE department has the highest revenue/cost ratio in the college.   CISE faculty are actively collaborating with researchers in almost every UF College, along with many national and international universities, as befits the flagship research institution of the state.

It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of a strong Computer Science and Engineering program in today’s economy. The predicted growth rate for Computer Science positions over the next ten years is 30%, almost 3 times the predicted growth rate for all engineering occupations. Software engineering jobs have consistently achieved high national rankings (#1 in 2011 and 2012).

Gainesville’s technology job sector has exploded in the last three years, with the founding of companies such as Grooveshark, Infinite Energy, and Shadow Learning. MindTree recently selected Gainesville as the site for its US expansion largely due to the presence of the CISE program. The opening of the UF Innovation Hub on January 11th promises to draw even more high-tech companies to Gainesville.

Now is the time for our supporters to   pledge  for  robust support and autonomy  for Computer Science and Engineering at UF.  By doing so, the  University as a whole  will gain significant collaboration opportunities, the City of Gainesville will vastly improve its edge in the competition to become the Silicon Valley of the South-East, and the State of Florida can make a shining example of its flagship Computer Science research institution.

Now is also the time to call for accountability for the damage caused by the proposal of the Abernathy Plan  and for checks to be instituted so that they are not repeated in the future.

Please, join us in these calls.


The following documents provide additional information.

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5 Responses to “What Is This All About? (Updated, May 31)”

  1. Very sad that such a top-notch department is about to be destroyed. In pursuit of monetary “savings”, UFL will lose an enormous, even if intangible, prestige that comes from having a top-notch CISE department. The whole CS academic world is watching.

  2. By implementing this proposal, the administration will set a precedent in effectively eliminating (note that I don’t use the word “firing” – neither will the administration) several excellent faculty from a top public school.

  3. Here is a letter I wrote to the Alligator, to the Governor, and the Dean about why cutting the CISE department affects everyone.

  4. The dean should be fired immediately. The character Mark Law seems to be sleazy, and worthy of being considered as a villain of first order. Further more, it seems like the dean has no sense of responsibility, and hence her associates have the same.

  5. I want to say something but I am speechless. This “proposal” or “plan” is so mind boggling that I cant believe an ENGINEERING DEAN proposed it. That it is being proposed for a state flagship of a world famous university is shocking. I honestly dont know what to say.

    I am curious if somebody can tell me why CS was targeted. Why not say mechanical engineering. Why not economics. Why not english department. Is there something that is going on with CS that made it attractive for this stupid downsizing plan

    Obviously UF can kiss its reputation goodbye if they carry on with this. I doubt any good candidate even in EE or Chemical would consider UF for grad school or faculty position. CS now and who knows what next ?

    WOW

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