Response to Dean Abernathy’s Special Announcement

Coalition Lead Coordinator, Nuri Yeralan

Dear Gator Engineering Community,

Background

On March 8, 2012, the Dean of Engineering, Dr. Cammy Abernathy, was formally requested by faculty to release her budget cut proposal and to provide sufficient college budget data by which faculty could suggest viable alternatives. The Dean refused both requests during her town hall meeting on March 12, 2012.

On Wednesday, April 11, 2012, the Dean announced and immediately began to implement a budget cut proposal. The Computer & Information Science and Engineering (CISE) department is to be cut by 20%. This amounts to less than 2% of the College’s budget. No other department in the college is to be cut. The proposal does not disclose the sources of revenue available to the college, provides no clear justification of the specific choices made, nor an analysis of the projected impact on revenue, faculty or students. These result in fatal inadequacies.

The radical cut is to be achieved by removing all current Teaching Assistantships and staff support, except for advising. This is to be accompanied by an incoherent and arbitrary splitting and degradation of the CISE departmental faculty and their academic and research programs.

Specifically, the Dean’s proposal is to move all software-oriented Computer Engineering students (approximately 310 out of a total of 610 CISE  undergraduates; 375  out of a total of 400 masters; and 130 doctoral) from CISE to the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) department. This ignores the key distinction in the departments’ missions: The CISE department focuses on achieving excellence in software-oriented education and research, while ECE’s focus is on hardware-oriented education and research.

All except one of the 61 AAU (American Association of Universities) maintain separate C(I)SE and ECE departments because of this distinction.

Today, Saturday 14, 2012, the Dean released a special announcement in an email titled “Budget.” The new release does not attempt to address the fatal inadequacies of the original proposal, but highlights a few points. Many of these points contain misrepresentations, ungrounded assumptions, or factual errors.

Dean’s Misrepresentations and GAU-CISE Corrections Key Highlights and Clarifications

Key Highlights and Clarifications

  • Since 2007, the state has effected a budget cut on the college totaling $14M including this year
  • Total funds to be cut plus additional resources needed to fund promotion and raises required in FY12-13: $4M
  • The budget cut is permanent rather than temporary

The Florida legislature has stated explicitly that these are one-time cuts being made precisely because UF is not spending its reserves. The Preeminence Bill supported by President Machen, if passed, stands to significantly increase revenue.

  • The cut must be taken from recurring funds, not one-time resources

The Florida legislature explicitly stated that these one-time cuts were made to the University of Florida based on the reserves UF currently possesses. The cuts proposed by the Dean represent a choice on the part of the College which goes against the will of the legislature.

  • Although the Proposed Plan does not include an across the board cut to meet the budget cut, the restructuring of CISE and ECE is not the only measure proposed to meet the budget crisis.
    • Proposed plan also includes:
      • Reduction in EDGE payouts
      • Elimination of teaching assistant funds for EDGE courses
      • Elimination of 2 staff positions in college administration
      • Elimination of college external commitments
      • Elimination of college internal commitments
      • Reduction in support of research

Of the $4.01 million dollar budget cut, effectively $1.69 million directly originate from cuts to the CISE department, $1.52 million dollars from the College Administration, and $0.80 million dollars from fringe rate reductions. No other Engineering department is being asked to absorb any cuts.

  • Non tenure faculty and staff members who may be affected by proposed plan were met with by the administration shortly after the Budget Plan announcement in the interest of transparency and openness

At least seven staff members in CISE have been contacted and told to prepare for termination on July 1st.

  • No individual has been terminated or laid off or given a non-renewal of contract at this time

At least seven staff members in the CISE have been contacted and told to prepare for termination on July 1st, including critical IT Systems staff employees that manage CISE’s substantial mission-critical computer systems.

  • Key considerations regarding proposed CISE restructure:
    • The undergraduate computer engineering degree is already co-administered by both departments, CISE and ECE

Undergraduate computer engineering splits into a software-oriented program (CEN) administered by the CISE and a hardware-oriented program (CEE) administered by ECE. The upper division electives and the capstone design courses clearly delineate the two programs. Roughly 75-80%  (approx. 310) of computer engineering undergraduates   are CISE majors, in the software-oriented (CEN) track.

The entire graduate CE program (approx. 375 masters and 130 PhD’s) currently belongs to the CISE department.

  • The proposed restructuring allows for elimination of duplication and will allow additional clarity in the skills and career options in the various computer science and computer engineering degrees

Two graduate courses (Embedded Systems and Computer Architecture) are offered in both the CISE and ECE departments. The versions have different emphases and both versions have high enrollment. No undergraduate courses are duplicated.

During recent visits of Engineering accreditors (ABET) there were no issues reported concerning the clarity of any of these degrees. We request any student or employer – who feels there is a lack of clarity – to come forward.

  • The proposal to house computer engineering in ECE is not an uncommon practice. This is already the case in other highly ranked Electrical & Computer Engineering departments, such as Georgia Tech.

We know of no example where the equivalent of CISE’s software-oriented CEN program is housed in an ECE department. At Georgia Tech, it belongs to the College of Computing, NOT to their ECE department.

Out of sixty-one AAU research institutions, thirty-one contain an ECE department. Each of these institutions also has a separate CS or CSE department.
Eight of the sixty-one AAU research institutions have a unified EECS program, while six of them champion separate ECE (hardware-oriented) and C(I)S(E) (software-oriented) divisions or labs.

  • Research activities will continue in computer science related topics

The CISE department will become a teaching only department with no TAs. There will be no research activities.

Researchers chosen by the Dean will be moved to ECE, ISE (Industrial System Engineering) or BME (Biomedical Engineering).

The CISE department’s computer science research includes broad-based investigation in Computer Graphics, Intelligent Systems, Databases, Distributed Computing and Networking, Software systems, Data Mining, Human-Computer Interaction, High Performance Computing and Algorithms, which cannot be sustained in an ECE, ISE or BME department.

  • Post graduate advising and undergraduates degree will not be affected

It is not clear what “Post graduate advising” means.

The CISE department will not be able to provide any serious graduate or undergraduate education without TA support and without any research activity.

Undergraduate and Graduate degrees will be seriously impacted because they will be conferred by a department that is known for awarding hardware-centric degrees.

  • This proposal is still under consideration. Feedback, input and ideas are welcome, please send email to engineeringbudget@eng.ul.edu

The Dean has behaved as though the proposal is final. She has given an impossible deadline of April 18, to solicit and evaluate alternative proposals, and refused transparent disclosure of college budget information. President Machen clearly said in Thursday, April 12 senate meeting that careful deliberation of the merits of various alternatives must be considered and that there is plenty of time to do so. The correct email address is engineeringbudget@eng.ufl.edu.

Conclusions

The Dean must uphold transparency and shared governance. She must immediately cease this repetitive pattern of misrepresentation of the facts about computer science, computer engineering, CISE and ECE at UF and elsewhere. If the Gator Engineering community doubts GAU-CISE’s corrections, we strongly suggest inviting a neutral panel of international experts in these areas to evaluate the merit of the Dean’s statements versus ours.

The current CISE faculty will be severely weakened if this proposal is implemented. The inevitable result would be a drastic degradation of research and education in disciplines whose labor demand is projected to grow 3 times as fast as average (according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report), for example, computer software engineering, and computer science.

The CISE department maintains an international research reputation, and its faculty will not be content to remain in a teaching-only department or be arbitrarily transferred into other units with different quality measures, values and culture. CISE has 2 ACM, 4 IEEE, and 2 AAAS fellows, and 22% of all faculty in the College of Engineering who have received the prestigious NSF Career Award belong to the CISE department. The CISE faculty engages in substantial interdisciplinary research, the majority of which takes place in collaboration with the College of Medicine and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences within and outside UF. The CISE department accounts for less than 10% of the College cost, and has the highest revenue/cost ratio of all the departments in the College.

The planned degradation of the CISE faculty and their inevitable exodus will result in an enormous and nearly irreversible loss of revenue and reputation to both the College of Engineering and the University as a whole.


You can read Dean Abernathy’s Special Announcement here.

You can download a pdf of our response printed above here.

2 Responses to “Response to Dean Abernathy’s Special Announcement”

  1. To essentially rip the heart out of the CISE department can justly be equated to amputating a leg from the entire College of Engineering. To do so without any explanation or faculty and student input is beyond understanding. This is clearly not an action taken to avoid duplication of funds or curriculum and it will absolutely degrade the reputation of the Engineering Department and the University!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Quora - April 24, 2012

    Why is the University of Florida closing its computer science department?…

    The engineering dean, Dr. Cammy Abernathy, announced last month that the computer science department (called the CISE department) would close. The stated reason is a university-wide budget shortage, but CISE is the only department being cut, and the de…

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