Letters from Luminaries

The following letters have been received from key players in the realm of Computer Science. We are very grateful for their willingness to offer their insight into this situation and to take action to support the CISE department.(So far) We have received letters from the following distinguished people:

  • Dr. Zvi Galil, the Dean of the College of Computing at Georgia Tech
  • Peter A. Freeman, fomer Assistant Director of NSF for Computer & Information Science & Engineering (CISE)
  • Professor Carl De Boor,  Member of National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineers, National Medal of Science Winner of 2003
  • Professor S.N. Maheshwari, Former Dean at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi
  • Michael Thorpe, Foundation Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University

April 17,  2012, VIA EMAIL

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.


Zvi Galil

Dean, College of Computing

Georgia Tech
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April 16, 2012, VIA EMAILPresident James Bernard Machen
University of Florida, Office of the President
Gainesville, FL 32611Dear 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
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April 17,  2012, VIA EMAILDear Dr. Machen,

I have just learned that your school of engineering is in the process of dismantling a research department with national standing, developed and nurtured over many years, that brings in over 1M* [* the actual figure is closer to $5M] per year in research money and whose subject and results are absolutely vital to modern engineering, disrupting the careers of good people and interrupting, perhaps critically, the training of future professionals.

What were you thinking?

With much concern,
respectfully yours,

Carl de Boor
prof.emer. Department of Computer Sciences
University of Wisconson-Madison
member: Nat.Acad.Eng., Nat.Acad.Sci., et al.
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April 17,  2012, VIA EMAILDear President:

I have come to know that due to budget cuts there is a move by the Dean of College of Engineering Dr Abernathy to convert the Computer Information Science and Engineering Department at University of Florida into just a teaching department. This step has shocking implications. As the President of a major research university you should know that by doing that the university is effectively getting out of CS teaching and research. No self respecting academician will remain in just a teaching department. While some may be retained by shifting them to some other research unit of the university in the short term, the long term prognosis is that they will all leave. Part of CS research is interdisciplinary. But there is a core which is now so well established that in many ways strengths in it play a dominant role in attracting quality faculty and research students. Once that strength is frittered away it is only a matter of time when even those that have been offered the sop of shift to some research department will leave. Teaching in the so called teaching department will progressively be done by people of lower and lower competence. The damage done by being taught by poor faculty who would not be role models to the future generations of students will be enormous. Can the university afford it in the long run. All this does not require extreme intelligence to figure out. As a president of a major university this writing on the wall should be absolutely clear to you. Should issues which are clearly personality oriented be allowed to define potentially irreversible academic policy is something that you should be loosing some sleep over. My suggestion and advice to you is to have this matter looked at by a group that is a bit detached from local politics and has the acceptance by the community at large for its wisdom and foresight.

Computer Information Science and Engineering Department was not created yesterday. Over the years it has attracted academicians of very high standing, and by all available statistics is pulling more than its weight. That itself forces a rethink of what is being attempted. I am not suggesting a solution to you to the problem of budget cuts. That is something you have to work out. But the current proposed solution is outrageously wrong.


S.N. Maheshwari
Professor of Computer Science and Engineering and Ex Dean
Indian Institute of Technology Delhi
New Delhi
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From Michael Thorpe, commenting on our petition:

“To say that one of the most important technological areas (computer science) at the flagship university in Florida is to become a ‘teaching unit’ certainly sends a message. Unless you think that Florida can survive by selling oranges, this is probably not the right message to be sending around the world.”

21 Responses to “Letters from Luminaries”

  1. Boy, if I had a child at UF I would pull them immediately. You are obviously NOT interested in the future of your students.

  2. Obiously UF has to be blamed for their actions, however we are missing the real issue and the real responsible party here: Governer Rick Scott……and further we should blame ourselves for electing such people who have no value for education….!

  3. Tricky – it seems that UF is test driving a new alternative to public education where basic long term research is sidelined in favor of more short term practical one. On taxpayer dime it may not be a bad idea – UF is never going to be CMU/MIT in CS nor would it under the best circumstances produce research that other universities could not. Not all universities are created equal and invention of internet to support it is not a sound argument for UF (it is for Berkley however as chances of better schools missing out of the next big thing that UF could invent is precisely 0%). The truth is that the school wastes tax payer money because most state school diplomas are not worth all that much in the real world (when was the last time any real research came out from a 2nd tier university). They had their time to get better and now it is time to get practical. I think it is a signal for many other universities to wise up as well.

    • You say UF degrees are not worth much in the real world. Well, you seem to have overlooked the fact that several big companies like Bloomberg, Microsoft, Nvidia, Intel, Amazon, EBay, Google, Yahoo and many others regularly employ UF students. UF PhD graduates are working in top class research labs like Siemens, IBM, GE, Phillips, HP and many others. These organizations certainly value the degrees from UF.

      You also seem oblivious of the fact that CISE @UF has people whose textbooks on algorithms and data structures are used all over the world, and who have published numerous algorithms useful for applications ranging from computer networking to administering radiation doses to patients. There are people whose contributions in some field of computer science have given rise to sub-fields.
      Just because inventions like the internet don’t come from a “so called” 2nd tier university, does not mean that the computer science department of that university has to be dismantled. The research papers written by UF faculty are widely cited. It takes many steps to create a big invention, and merely paying attention to tags like 1st or 2nd tier is an activity for the small-minded.

      A diploma course that teaches students some software courses cannot replace the quality of education imparted at CISE@UF. It may be easy to learn programming, but learning key concepts pertaining to operating systems, algorithms or databases is hard. None of this will be “practical” and I doubt it will even offer any short-term advantages.

  4. unconventionalideas Reply April 23, 2012 at 10:20 am

    The whole edifice of higher educatijon is in the downward spiral. The late Peter Drucker predicted the university system as we know it will be defunct by 2027 or so.

    Wishing away this developing reality is futile.

  5. Idiots….

  6. I received a BSCS from Cal State in 1985 and have worked steadily in high tech ever since. I’ve watched it grow from an obscure field, mostly used in science and academia, to a major player in world economies. I’m absolutely appalled that this university is disbanding their students’ lifeline to actual employment. What’s the bigger draw for enrollment? A large football program or a high rate of employment among graduates?

  7. Clearly, they will be going to the newly formed and non-accredited Florida Polytechnic University. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/article1226125.ece

  8. Dear Machen,

    Honestly, I hate your guts as president, but until now I was willing to put that aside when I contributed to the alumni association. Now, it’s safe to say that I will NEVER give a penny to UF again. This is truly not the same university from which I earned my degree. Shame on you!


  9. When I saw the headline on Forbes I had thought I had accidentally clicked on The Onion. Suddenly much less embarrassing to be from Alabama! Who’re the rednecks now?


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