Letters from Organizations

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 professional organizations:


Office of the President
226 Tigert Hall
PO Box 113150
Gainesville, FL 32611

April 18, 2012

Dear President Machen:

We are writing to express our concern about the recent news that the University of Florida plans to restructure its CISE department in a way that eliminates graduate studies and research in computer science. We understand the very significant economic pressures facing public universities today, and we realize each university must make difficult decisions about how to manage its resources. We also realize that we may not be cognizant of all the details behind the decision. But as board members of the Computing Research Association, we feel it essential to share with you the reasons we view this proposal with uzzlement and concern.First, and most importantly, you have a strong computer science program at Florida. Your faculty members include Fellows of the ACM and the IEEE, the leading professional organizations in the field. Your faculty compete successfully for NSF grant funding. Your faculty include individuals with international reputations in their respective subdisciplines. While we all view rankings with appropriate skepticism, it is also worth noting that US News and World Report ranks your department in the top 40 nationally.If you dismantle the research and graduate teaching components of the CISE department, you will almost certainly lose your strongest faculty members, and you will definitely lose your stature in this critical field. And that’s important for multiple reasons. Not only will you lose the ability to compete for a significant amount of research funding in computer science proper, but you will also be at a huge disadvantage in competing for funding across a range of other areas that require the computing expertise. As you know, problems in engineering and science, including social science, increasingly require interdisciplinary strengths, and in a vast number of cases, that includes computational expertise. Consider that fully eight of the fourteen Grand Challenge problems highlighted by the National Academy of Engineering require computer science as a key element of the research necessary for advancement. Without a strong computing group, you will not be positioned for research in, e.g., securing cyberspace, advancing personalized learning, engineering the tools for scientific discovery, advancing health informatics, engineering better medicines enhancing virtual reality, preventing nuclear terror or reverse-engineering the brain. This is a subset, the list of problems requiring core computer science is extensive; indeed, it is difficult to find difficult national priority problems which do not involve computer science in a fundamental way.As one additional concrete example, consider the recently announced Big Data Initiative with computer science as the core for a broad spectrum of fundamental research activities. Without high quality computer science researchers, research in big data and the mechanisms by which it continues to change how we work, play, do business and conduct research is closed off to University of Florida researchers.

Computer science is a key driver of the nation’s economy, and is critical to many national priorities, notably including national security, healthcare, and energy. With a weak computer science program, the University of Florida will be unable to contribute fully to advancing these national goals.

As members of the academy, we appreciate and support the argument that a strong research program actually results in a strong undergraduate program; the ability to bring research into the classroom to excite students about the field creates a stronger rather than weaker undergraduate program. Without strong research programs, undergraduate research becomes undergraduate projects. And it is well known how valuable an undergraduate research experience is in a student’s experience and career.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that in the current fragile economy, there are very few college degrees that are as likely to lead to good, high-paying jobs as degrees in computer science. This is true at the bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degree levels. A strong computer science department will attract strong students who will go on to make a difference. A weakened computer science department will be seen as less prestigious by the very students who can do the most to re-invigorate the state’s economy after they graduate.

For all these reasons, we seriously question the decision to restructure the CISE
department.

Very respectfully yours,

Eric Grimson
CRA Board Chair

See their website for a pdf copy of the letter.

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April 26, 2012

Office of the President
226 Tigert Hall
PO Box 113150
Gainesville, FL 32611

Dear President Machen:

ACM is encouraged by your statement yesterday to the University of Florida’s community that a new proposal is under consideration to address the university’s budget constraints while preserving the university’s quest for continued excellence in computer science education and research. We hope that the discussions between the departments of Computer and Information Science and Engineering and Electrical and Computer Engineering will result in a framework that supports and preserves strong computer science research and graduate programs.

The Association for Computing Machinery – the leading society for computing professionals worldwide – understands and sympathizes with the university’s difficult choices when faced with deep budget cuts from the state. We, however, were concerned with initial proposal to transfer much of your existing Computer and Information Science Department into the other department and significantly reduce graduate and research activity in this area. Given the huge and growing demand for computing jobs nationally and in Florida, the crucial role that computing research plays for our economy and for multidisciplinary research in so many important fields, we support strengthening, not weakening, University of Florida’s strong computer science research base.
We are witnessing historic growth in the computing industry and multiple sectors of the economy that rely on computing-enabled discovery. Computing is driving economic growth, discovery and jobs across our nation. It is the research enterprise that lies at the heart of this engine. Even in difficult budgetary times, the federal government has continued to support fundamental computer science research. ACM strongly encourages governments and universities at all levels to robustly support funding and programs to support computer science research.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released its projections for job growth through the end of the decade. Computing occupations are projected to be among the 10 fastest growing major occupations in the United States, outpacing overall job growth in the economy. The State of Florida’s data tell a similar story. According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s projections, computing occupations will average more than 6,500 job openings annually over the next decade.
The best undergraduate programs in computing are those that engage in both teaching and research, with these functions tightly coupled and mutually reinforcing. The University of Florida is already established in both areas – as a top 40 computer science program nationally and one that boasts several fellows of the ACM, which is one of our highest honors that we bestow on individuals from the field.

Further, a strong computer science research base supports the growing intersection of computing with multiple disciplines and the nurturing of multidisciplinary academic collaborations in new scientific frontiers. Computer science research serves as an important avenue for novel discoveries with real-life applications essential to many industries, including medical, biotechnology, alternative energy, manufacturing, and transportation logistics management and to the “big data” analytics of the healthcare, insurance, and real estate industries. A strong computer science research base also is increasingly crucial to obtaining many of the multidisciplinary grants, particularly in the scientific, engineering, and medical fields.

We look forward to learning the details of the new proposal and applaud the decision to engage the broad range of stakeholders, including your students, faculty, staff, alumni, and industry partners, in the process. We hope the process will result in a decision that strengthens both the teaching and research of computer science. Your continued attention to maintaining excellence in computer science education, research, and outreach will give Florida’s students better opportunities not only to fill but also to create new jobs underpinned by this critical discipline.

Sincerely,

Alain Chesnais
ACM President

Please see the original letter here.

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  1. University cutting computer science dept.? An insider's view - April 24, 2012

    [...] on that site I discovered a letter from Eric Grimson, the president of the Computing Research Association, who happened to mention that Florida’s [...]

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