Dr. Zvi Galil’s and Dr. Peter Freeman’s Letters to Dr. Machen In Support of CISE

The following emails are from Dr. Zvi Galil, the Dean of the College of Computing at Georgia Tech, and Peter A. Freeman, fomer Assistant Director of NSF for Computer & Information Science & Engineering (CISE), to UF’s president Dr. Machen.

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From: Galil, Zvi
Sent: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 6:32 AM
To: ‘hjbmachen@ufl.edu‘; ‘president@ufl.edu
Cc: Galil, Zvi
Subject: CISE Concerns from Dean of Computing, Georgia Tech, Member NAE, Fellow ACM and American Academy of Arts and Sciences

President Bernard Machen

University of Florida,

Gainesville Florida

Dear President Machen,

Let me begin by introducing myself as the Dean of the Georgia Tech College of Computing, a member of the NAE, and a Fellow of ACM and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. I am also a former Dean of the School of Engineering at Columbia University and past President of Tel Aviv University.

I am writing to express, in the strongest possible terms, my concerns about the reckless proposal to dismantle the Department of Computing and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) at the University of Florida. Of course, having served as both a Dean and a university President, I fully understand that budget realities sometimes dictate that painful cuts be made. Such cuts notwithstanding, I am amazed, shocked, and angered by the proposal to dismantle CISE. And I am by no means alone—the entire computer science/computing community is dumbfounded by the news coming out of Florida. It is unbelievable that a major AAU university would even contemplate such an action in the information age we live in today—an age fueled in great part by computer science!

First, although this is being billed as a merger of two departments, any proposal that splits one unit into four cannot be termed a “merger.” On a programmatic level, the proposal shows a complete lack of understanding and appreciation for computer science and its role in our society and economy. This is evidenced by details such as moving databases (a core area of computer science) to Industrial and Systems Engineering, where it is not regarded as even a peripheral component; and designating about half of CISE faculty “teaching only and with no TAs,” thus allowing them to continue teaching UF students while effectively barring them from the research that probably drew them to UF in the first place. Further, the idea that the BS and MS Computer Science programs left in CISE will “grow both in size and excellence” if housed in a teaching-only department goes against the well-established fact that research-active faculty make better teachers and that they make the programs more attractive to quality prospective students.

Second, the unprecedented conversion of a research department to a teaching department will seriously impact the University of Florida’s ability to recruit faculty and certainly merits a University-wide and possibly national debate. Virtually every academic discipline today touches on computing, and the absence of a strong research-oriented CISE department will be felt throughout your University. It’s also safe to assume the quality of your computing student pool is about to drop immediately and dramatically.

Third, I can personally attest to the fact that CISE at the University of Florida, as it stands today, is a strong, vibrant, productive, and highly respected academic enterprise with many excellent—some world-class—researchers, and is therefore extremely well positioned to capitalize on the extraordinary growth in computer science and computing that we are experiencing today. This is the time for forward-looking research universities to invest scarce resources in computer science/computing—even at the expense of other engineering disciplines, if necessary—in order to ensure a vibrant, cohesive, and prominent computer science/computing presence and identity. This most certainly is not the time to scale back on computer science research and education.

Georgia Tech was one of the first U.S. universities to develop a comprehensive College of Computing to capitalize on the growth and pervasiveness of computer science and computing; the return on this investment, in terms of our meteoric rise in academic reputation and benefits to the State of Georgia, has been very significant. If UF now decides to move in the opposite direction, by fragmenting the strong, cohesive unit of faculty in CISE that has taken so many years and resources to develop, it would be looked upon as an unprecedented strategic error within the computer science/computing community—and by just about everyone else—that will significantly hurt both the University and the State of Florida. I’m told that Orlando’s modeling and simulation industry alone is a $500M/year economy, and if those companies can’t recruit from and partner with UF for their needs, they will certainly turn elsewhere. I also know that computer science/computing department chairs at other research universities (including those in our own College!) are eager to take advantage of this situation by recruiting CISE faculty members.

Please let me know that you have received this message, and feel free to contact me to discuss any aspects of my concerns. I would be happy to advise further in any way I can. It should be evident that I feel very strongly about this, and I intend to share my concerns directly with Gov. Scott if necessary, as I believe the potential consequences of following through with the current College of Engineering plan would be catastrophic for UF and the State of Florida.

Sincerely,

Zvi Galil

Dean, College of Computing

Georgia Tech

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April 16, 2012, VIA EMAIL

President James Bernard Machen
University of Florida, Office of the President
Gainesville, FL 32611

Dear President Machen,

I am writing to you as one seriously concerned about the proposed action(s) that would seriously compromise, if not completely destroy, the excellent and highly productive CISE Department at the University of Florida. On the basis of the information I have seen, while the cost reduction imperative
you face is truly serious, dispersing a group of faculty that are very successful at getting NSF grants and Career Awards – a mark of their reputation with national peers – and thereby breaking up a productive and very important group seems to be ill-advised.

Such a move goes against the trends of consolidating computer-related disciplines into a larger unit, better integrating research and education, and strengthening computer science as a discipline because of its fundamental and growing importance to almost all fields of enquiry at a university. In addition, the collateral and immediate damage to current students and existing research efforts is bound to be substantial.

I have been in academic computer science for almost 50 years and was Founding Dean of the College of Computing at Georgia Tech in 1990 and head of the CISE Directorate at NSF from 2002-2007. Although I currently spend some of my time advising a variety of universities at the senior level on strategic issues,
I am at liberty to engage in pro bono work and would be glad to offer some of my time to you on an expenses-only basis if that would be helpful in dealing with this situation. This is not something that I routinely offer, but almost my entire professional career has been spent helping the field of computer
science and the institutions in which it is represented grow and fulfill their potential. In closing, let me note that merging duplicate programs and reducing administrative overhead are not only obvious, but sometimes, empowering moves. At the same time, they should not eviscerate the intellectual values of the educational and research programs that are impacted. For these reasons, I hope that you will decide against any hasty and ill-advised moves.

Sincerely,

Peter A. Freeman
(Former) Assistant Director of NSF for
Computer & Information Science & Engineering (CISE)
Member, Advisory Group at Huron
(formerly Washington Advisory Group)
Emeritus Founding Dean & Professor, Georgia Tech

3 Responses to “Dr. Zvi Galil’s and Dr. Peter Freeman’s Letters to Dr. Machen In Support of CISE”

  1. Jason (BS CISE 2003, MS CISE 2009) Reply April 18, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    What a well-written letter! I hope it has its intended effect. Props to Dean Galil for restraining from using accurate terms like “ass-hattery” to describe the proposal.

  2. Great work, all. This makes me even more proud to be a graduate of the CoC at Georgia Tech.

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  1. Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » U. of Florida CS department: let it be destroyed by rising sea levels 100 years from now, not reckless administrators today - April 23, 2012

    [...] by killing computer science. (For more, see Lance’s blog, or letters from Eric Grimson and Zvi Galil. Also, click here to add your name to the already 7000+ petitioning UF to [...]

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