Does Not Compute

Steven Salzberg from Forbes is right about this:

Wow, no one saw this coming.  The University of Florida announced this past week that it was dropping its computer science department, which will allow it to save about $1.7 million.  The school is eliminating all funding for teaching assistants in computer science, cutting the graduate and research programs entirely, and moving the tattered remnants into other departments.

Let’s get this straight: in the midst of a technology revolution, with a shortage of engineers and computer scientists, UF decides to cut computer science completely?

Salzberg, however, is critical of Florida Governor Rick Scott for cutting university funding overall (Scott famously decried anthropology degrees in favor of STEM). Salzberg also finds it “unintentionally ironic” that in announcing a new polytechnic just two day ago Gov. Scott said:

“At a time when the number of graduates of Florida’s universities in the STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] fields is not projected to meet workforce needs, the establishment of Florida Polytechnic University will help us move the needle in the right direction.”

Rather than ironic I see this as illustrating how university incentives are not always aligned with those of the Governor or with the social interest. As Governor, Scott can more easily direct new funds towards STEM than tell entrenched university bureaucracies how to reallocate funds among existing programs. In particular Scott wants to promote STEM and computer science graduates for the externalities they produce but universities don’t get paid for producing externalities they get paid based on student enrollment. Thus, this is not surprising:

…Meanwhile, the athletic budget for the current year is $99 million, an increase of more than $2 million from last year.  The increase alone would more than offset the savings supposedly gained by cutting computer science.


The Governor of Florida never had the story of the Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs read to him when he was a child?

Pretty sure the athletic department is the goose in this scenario.

+ another 1

What this country truly excels at is entertainment.

All dying powers excel at entertainment. What micro incentives would convince us to do anything else?

I should probably elaborate.

- Athletics is big money obviously. $1.7 million is probably about what the football coaching staff alone gets paid.

- Outside of a fairly small number of schools, the prestige of a college is closely related to the prestige of the athletic program. See the rise (and slight fall) of Duke.

- Outside of a fairly small number of schools, the alumni relationship to a college, and therefore alumni donations, is closely related to the prestige of the athletic program.

- Most 18 year olds (and more parents of said 18 year olds than you might think) care more about the prestige of a school's athletic program than academic rigor.

- Upper middle class BosNyWash-ers have a lot of trouble understanding how passionate the rest of the country gets about college sports- not just as in March Madness brackets, but as in female liberal arts majors who go to college in Chicago and don't even watch professional sports going "HOOK 'EM HORNS!" just because they're originally from Texas.

A) the coach of Florida gets more then $1.7, let alone his whole staff, looks like they paid about $8.5 million in 2009 to the coaches,

B) the football program grossed $66 million in 2007, for example. It pays for itself several times over and provides most of the funding for the entire athletic department.

As a former FL resident, football is big money for all of these universities. Booster donations to the football program are incredible, and they are able to get 90,000+ in the stadium for each game. However, there is a genuine decline in education funding, particularly in the STEM fields in FL universities. I think Duke is a poor example, as it is generally a top 10 undergrad program, medical and law school, and top 30 engineering program. Basketball is a big deal at Duke, but the academic prestige leads the way. I believe you're correct though about college choice. I had many friends who chose the University of FL because of football glory (see Tebow). Major research dollars have and will continue to be clustered at major research institutions (Stanford, Harvard, Duke, MIT, U. Chicago, Berkeley, etc.). This lack of investment in STEM is what ultimately helped me decide to leave the state. Sad news, but not terribly surprising.

Athletics, really? Has anyone really looked at athletic budgets? For example, I think sports that make money should be exempt from Title 9 comparisons. But that's way too complicated for the hoodie crowd. To put a fine point on it, you have to have the money-making sports. With title 9 you have to match female scholarships which are a cost. The money-makers subsidize the athletic department and the university which subsidizes the money losers. I admit I don't understand all the ways this system doesn't work.

The "hoodie crowd"? Really?

He trollin'.

It's my current nickname for the people who don't understand how anything works and yet vocalize it forcefully. I'll have a new one next week. It's ironic that it is the one time I've heard Geraldo Rivera make sense.

Pretty much no college sports, including men's sports, make money except football and men's basketball. I would suspect that even many football programs don't make money, as smaller programs in mid-major conferences (your MACs, Sun Belts) try to keep up with powerhouses like Florida. This isn't to say that Title IX doesn't play a role, but boosters don't donate to Alabama football or buy tickets to watch Alabama crush UAB at Bryant-Denny Stadium in order to pay for Crimson Tide women's tennis. They donate money to keep Saban happy and buy tickets so they can proudly shout "ROLL TAHD!" at random people in Tuscaloosa. In other words, Florida football would be flush with cash even if Title IX was repealed.

Makes sense to me. UF is the state's party school. Works great for careers where building your college network is key. In computer science, not so much. Let a specialized polytechnic school handle the geeks, so the partiers can party on.

Who told you that geeks don't party? The two are not mutually exclusive.

Ain't no party like a CS party 'cause the LAN game party don't stop.


Do you attend UF? I'm in the College of Engineering and myself and everyone else that I know in this college works almost non-stop in order to earn decent grades. Parties? What parties?


Sampling bias. You are in engineering, therefore you don't know anyone.

UF Is "the state's party school"? Not FSU, USF, UCF?UF is the closest thing to a respectable university that Florida has.

FSU is generally thought of as Florida's party school. Or hell, Miami. UF is the only school in Florida, public or private, with membership in the AAU.

a) I always thought that Florida State was the party school.
b) either way... what's the 'not party school' in Florida? University of Miami?

It sounds more like restructuring than cuts. Only research is being cut from the "Computer & Information Science and Engineering" and moved to the "Electrical and Computer Engineering" and allied departments.

They are still retaining the Comp. Sci Department actually but merely asking faculty to focus on teaching only. May not be a bad move for the quality of undergrad education, provided they can get the faculty to stay, that is.

Yeah, but the truth makes for a much less interesting headline. Imagine how many fewer hits and shares Forbes would get if they'd (more accurately) called the story "U of Florida to *Restructure* CS Department"!

> They are still retaining the Comp. Sci Department actually but merely asking faculty to focus on teaching only.

"Merely"? This changes the character and the evaluation criteria of the department completely. Any faculty still interested in doing research would leave at that point.

I doubt they were stellar in research. Yet I think some way of getting faculty to spend more effort on teaching is required.

What's the average hours faculty spends on lecturing? In my experience, rarely more than 6 hours a week, and often just 3 or 4. Assuming a 40-hour-week this is a very cursory commitment to their teaching functions (even adjusting for all the excuses about prep-time etc.). And this is ignoring the large term-breaks, vacations, exam-periods etc.

A uncomfortably large fraction of teaching duties have been transferred to TA's, Post-docs, Instructional Staff and other assorted employees. I'd guess professors devote at most 20% of their annual worktime to teaching and related duties. Maybe the situation is different in the humanities?

Depends on your definition of stellar, of course, but it is a top 50 CS department in the US.
If you do not expect them to do research, how many research departments should there be?

As far as the lecturing is concerned, each lecture hour typically comes with an overhead of at least that much if not more for office hours/ lecture preparation/replying to e-mails/preparing tests and materials, etc.
6 hours of lectures per week is barely compatible with research and 9 hours per week makes research nearly impossible.

You can argue that the role of research should be down-weighted at major institutions, but is that really the way to go?
In addition, this is not how professors and departments are evaluated at this point.

Even with your liberal estimations of overhead , 9 hours of lecturing per week (not that anyone does that!) leaves you with 22 hours per week of research assuming a 40 hour week (again, low for a professor). It's a stretch to argue this makes research "impossible".

My point is that If you exclusively want to do research without the annoying distractions of teaching there's always Government Labs, Research Centers, NIH, NSF, DoE and a whole lot of other options. The fundamental job of a Professor is to teach; and there's nothing wrong with even a 50-50 split but when you tend towards 1 hour of teaching for every 10 hours of research, something's wrong with the system.

It's useless to worry about this. CS is well served in the private sector with research. They can't very well support research that evidently doesn't pay for itself, can they? I'm all for funding education to the nth degree, but nothing is lost to society here. Overfunding computer research if it doesn't enrich the university in some way is still stupid. Education should be the purpose, and if basic research flows from that, so much the better. But these public universities shouldn't fund research just for fun. And professors good at research can't focus on better teaching. They're competing goals, not complementary.

Tim Davis has written sparse matrix linear algebra libraries widely used in stats and numerical computing , e.g. CSparse.

Research that easily fits into another department's work. The cuts came to the CS department research, which as far as I could tell when I was in college, is mostly meaningless research profs do to get tenure. The real research was always hardware related or joint research with another department. I'm sure that pure CS research can be justified at some level, but I'd agree that most universities would be better served in the same fashion

To reply to your post below:
1. 1 hour overhead per hour of teaching is a basic minimum, which assumes no curriculum development.
2. 9-12 hours of teaching per week is the full teaching load at primarily teaching colleges, where little research is expected from faculty.
3. Do you count work with graduate students as research or teaching? There are elements of both. Most professors (at least in CS) spend significant time every day working with RA's. In contrast, researchers at industrial / government labs typically do not train students.

The athletic budget is controlled by a separate, not-for-profit corporation that has nothing to do with the academic budget. The only way that the Athletic program affects students directly is if student fees are given to the Athletic program. At Florida, I believe that the Athletic program makes enough money from donations, ticket sales, the selling of rights, etc that it does not require a subsidy from the students.

+1 UF athletics are profitable on their own. And a lot of athletic programs create a buzz that helps fund-raising.

I wonder if Universities would allow, say, Engineering Departments to declare themselves as separate profit centers?

"The athletic budget is controlled by a separate, not-for-profit corporation that has nothing to do with the academic budget"

And why is that? It's exactly so they can play money games.

(don't get me wrong, in this particular case I'm on the side of the athletic department that creates a fundamentally valuable product)

Why do athletic departments still tack on the goodwill (?) of the "University" brand-name if their products are self-sustaining and independently valuable?

And vice-versa, right?

The athletic program benefits enormously in that it's most important asset works for free. College athletes should be paid IMO. The NCAA is essentially a cartel.

They should be paid if they generate revenue.

The sports teams benefit and the university benefits from the relationship. The books are intermingled versus kept separate when it behooves them, as in when you are arguing with social science professors over funding.

"Why do athletic departments still tack on the goodwill (?) of the “University” brand-name if their products are self-sustaining and independently valuable?"

They don't in the case of Baseball. Baseball has a minor league independent of the University system. And university baseball is a money loser. So it's quite probable that the University system needs Football and Basketball more than the sports need the University system.

Should UF create a separate, nfp corp to buy the Miami Heat? How about McDonalds? They could get rid of health care benefits and pay cashiers a $5000/year stipend just like postdocs.

Is UF a research university that has activities to enrich students' lives (what they would claim they are doing) or should UF be a company involved in private industry (whether entertainment, or the restaurant business, or anything else for that matter) that uses it not for profit status and low cost labor as a competitive advantage while educating students on the side (what they are actually doing).

Thanks for bringing this some attention Alex. I'm an alumnus of the CISE department at UF (and a long-time reader of this blog) and we've been working to bring more exposure to these cuts. Please consider signing our petition at

This merger will end all research into core computer science disciplines at the University of Florida. Research which is closer to EE norms will stay but algorithms, graphics, databases, vision and artificial intelligence will all suffer. Turning tenured researchers into "teaching-only" faculty is also a fantasy. These professors will simply go elsewhere rather than give up their graduate students and life's work.

What's a credible ranking of Florida-CISE's research program? The NRC rankings are a bit useless due to their wide ranges but they show a 10-60 rank range.

Somewhere in the 30s is reasonable. I did grad school at UIUC so I have some perspective. UF has some problems with dead weight but they have improved greatly in the last 10 years (since UF because a Research 1 institute) and have many young scholars with NSF CAREER grants. Now it seems they are set to unroll all that progress.

Some of the stuff in that petition is a bit of a stretch. e.g. "PhD advisors selected by the Dean will be moved to one of three unrelated departments (BME, ISE, ECE) "

Here's a list of research areas from CISE's website and I find it hard to believe these are unrelated to BME / ECE. Most of these areas are indeed a great fit into BME / ECE. This seems more like a turf war.

Vision, Graphics and Medical Imaging(CVGMI), bioinformatics, e-learning, RFID middleware, and sensor networks, Mobile and Pervasive Computing, ground-penetrating radar, hyperspectral imagery, metal detector response, sythentic apeture radar, infrared, and acoustic data.

Does Scott think that by reducing the number anthropology classes that the kids will go to a mathematics class instead of a Poly Sci class?

Maybe we need a paper testing this hypothesis.

Cross elasticity of course offerings where Scott reduces supply of one offering.

Amusing to juxtapose this post with Tyler's recent posts about how independence from the state helped American universities be so much better than others.

Colleges are like prisons.

You locate new ones in your supporters districts. To cause the migration of students from an existing school to your new school, you cut the existing schools programs that compete with the new school, located where students don't want to otherwise go.

Thread winner. Further comment is superfluous.

Also building a new college makes more money making opportunities, both legal and illegal. Sorry but with Rick Scott reputation...

This explains it all.

Call me when you get 90,000 to pay good money to watch a computer science lecture on a Saturday.

Call me when those athletes you pay to watch get paid a living wage.

"Living wage?" Drama queen much?

Call me when you see reports of UF athletes living under bridges or starving to death

Yeah, as long as the players don't starve to death, it's really a pretty good system. Not hypocritical or exploitative at all.

Hypocritical and exploitative, yes. So call it that. Don't claim the athletes aren't getting paid a "living wage," which does indeed imply that they're in danger of starving to death.

Scholarship athletes usually get free food and a housing stipend in addition to their FREE COLLEGE EDUCATION, which 99.9% of athletes use to get a job afterwards.

If it were such a terrible situation, athletes simply wouldn't go to college. Or possibly, someone would launch a profitable football/basketball minor leauge.

And speaking of profitability, licensing revenue constitutes most of the pecuniary benefit from athletics, and it usually accrues directly to the university foundation, not the athletic department.

But then, if the liberal arts professors who complain about this stuff understood how the world actually works, they wouldn't be liberal arts professors.

What I found funny is that American universities actually recruit students for athletic abilities and channel them into easy majors (mostly).

My understanding is that in most other nations students get recruited for academics and the ones who happen to be good athletes end up voluntarily playing on university teams.

If it were such a terrible situation, athletes simply wouldn’t go to college

Just because the choice not to go to college is an even crappier option does not make NCAA athletics a great option. Even Steve Spurrier thinks athletes should be paid.

Re: Lou

Always find it surprised that the most ardent defenders of the NCAA cartels are rightwingers. You would think the same people who insist that union members get paid a market wage and defend CEO salaries just keep yelling that college athletes should just take what they get and LOVE IT. Why not let the market decide?

Maybe they consider these athletes part of the "hoodie crowd" and therefore it doesn't give them as much of a rise as injustice against some CEO.

AK, I'm not surprised that left-wingers don't understand what a free market is (and even less surprised that they chalk everything up to racism). The government is not involved at all in negotiations between players and schools. The market DOES decide. Only a liberal could come to the conclusion that the government needs to set a minimum wage to make it a free market.

And yes, it IS a market. In the case of basketball, the NBA, the NBA Developmental League and foreign professional basketball teams all compete for the same talent as universities. For baseball, MLB farm systems offer paying positions to high school graduates. Professional soccer teams are free to recruit high schoolers. The NFL refuses to recruit athletes until they've been out of high school for 3 years, but there is absolutely no requirement that they play in college. For other sports, there is no professional opportunity anyway. There is nothing anticompetitive or unfree about college athletics. If you consider the loss of tax exemption that would likely result from paying college athletes, there's absolutely no demand from universities individually or collectively via the NCAA to offer wages/salaries to athletes.

To expand on my previous point: if you understood how the world works, you wouldn't be a left-winger.

Okay, fine. Call me when they're paid anything approaching their market value vs. being controlled by the NCAA cartel. To his credit, Steve Spurrier has proposed that players get paid and that the money come out of the coach's salary.

A clear majority of UF athletes are getting 'paid' well above their market value. A select few are getting paid many orders of magnitude less than their market value.

None of this is even remotely relevant to UF's computer science program, although college athletics provides a nice scapegoat for people who are unwilling to address the real issues in higher education. It's actually not all the football team's fault, but they are so visible they make for an easy target.

A few get paid, but not ouf of that $90 million budget.

"I see this as illustrating how university incentives are not always aligned with those of the Governor or with the social interest"

who pays for the classes? if young people are being educated for the purposes of the governor or society, then society should be paying for it...

This is a bluff - the academic equivalent of when local governments threaten to cut police and firefighters if the voters don't approve a tax increase.
The CISE department will probably remain intact. The question is who will blink first - the governor by restoring funding, or the university by finding the money somewhere else.

Contending thread winner.

There is no shortage of software developers. It makes sense for UF to cut this program - it's not like this is Stanford or MIT these graduates would have been considered unacceptable by most companies today.

Would you elaborate, please? I'm curious, what makes UF-CISE graduates unacceptable?

It's cbbb, he projects his inability to get the job he wants onto everyone else.

I don't know if their graduates are "unacceptable" but the department is so far from meeting the expected standards that their degree is not accredited by ABET (which is a fairly low threshold).

As far as rankings and worth of schools in general goes, the world's 4 best CS programs are at Stanford, U.C. Berkeley, CMU and MIT. The others are so far below these that no one can agree on which might be #5, etc. and it's entirely unclear to me there's much value in getting a *CS* degree from any but these 4; as others have indicated in this thread, the market is actually pretty lousy for all but the very best in the field.

One of my roommates at UF was a Phd candidate in UF's CompSci department. He wasn't able to turn his google-internship into google-employment, but that program got him in the door (And his BS degree was not from a R1 university).

Ah, I should have been more clear that I was talking only about undergraduate programs and degrees. The value of a Ph.D. is more easily assessed by the quality or lack thereof of the thesis and there are certainly many top notch professors to server as thesis advisers in below R1 universities. And since you get paid to do graduate CS study, the risk/reward is much more favorable.

The governor says the state needs to be providing more technology education, then proposes to cut the non-teaching obligations of those who are charged with providing more technology education so they will have more time to do just that. There may be reasons why that's an ill-advised solution, but it is not inane.
As an academic physician who has watched our protected time for research more or less disappear over the past 20 years, I do admit that it is painful, though.

While this book is somewhat dated (published in 2001), "The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values" by James Shulman and William Bowen has a lot to say about universities that pursue college sports aggressively. And a lot of the stats spouted about the "benefits" of being a college sports super power are overblown if I remember correctly. Don't worry, data junkies. While the information is from a decade ago, the authors researched the crap out of their subject. I suspect trends they outline in their book have only worsened with time.

It should also be noted that a lot of the "technology revolution" has little or nothing to do with CS degrees; Florida might be better off pioneering a programming vocational education system than Computer Science degrees, if that's the goal.

(It's useful if you're going to be, say, doing CPU design or doing computing research, but it's not like a CS degree is "a programming degree", even though it includes some. And a lot more of the "technology revolution" we have now is programming, not designing niftier CPUs. I mean, there's a lot of that, but there just aren't that many jobs around, and making more CS degrees isn't a great use of resources if the idea is to prepare people for "technology revolution" jobs as such.

Perhaps a useful analogy for those not in the industry might be the difference between a BA in painting and a chemistry degree for developing new paints; if you want more painters because you need a lot more pictures made, you don't need to push degrees in pigment chemistry, so much as fine arts training. A few people can handle all the paint-development needs of the entire industry, but a single person can only do so much painting in a day.

CS degrees are a very useful thing, but they're not job prep for programming - anecdotally there's even suspicion that they're worse than nothing, as the Real World Of Writing Software For Money works very, very differently.

Full disclosure: I'm a professional software developer with the first half of a CS degree - and saw enough of the second half to know it's basically irrelevant to most jobs writing software. I'm not sure any of the professional programmers I know have CS degrees, though I'm sure some of them probably do.)

I can vouch (more or less) for this. If you are not working at Oracle, Microsoft, Google, IBM, Apple, Red Hat, or a hardware manufacturer, then there's little chance that you need classes in operating systems, compiler design, digital logic design, database management system design, or network programming (you do need to study your data structures and alogirhtms, though, as these are the bread and butter of software engineering). Maybe computer graphics would be nice, but most practical programming invovles moving data in and out of a database through a user interface. It amazes me how little time CS students spend writing SQL or on UI design.

Having gone through the CS degree, I think it depends on your perspective. The theoretical stuff you learn the last two years of study is important for understanding what computers can do (i.e. which problems are computable, which are not, and how to tell the difference) and how computing systems in general work but are less useful for any one individual system.

If I want to learn how to code for a new language or operating system, I buy the O'Reilly book, read the tech manuals and get to work. But there is a huge difference between the quality of a programmer who has been forced to understand the theoretical stuff, and a self trained (or Vo-Tech trained) script monkey who may not (and most likely doesn't) have the knowledge or skill set to do anything outside of simple debugging and is unable to solve the problems that may crop up from complex interlocking software layers. You can usually tell which is which by the quality of the code you have to fix.

I want to preface this comment by admitting that I know nothing about Florida universities.

That said: I went to a SUNY school. The way the SUNY system is structured, while every campus offers pretty much everything major, some campuses are just way better than others in terms of rankings, research opportunities, professors, etc. SUNY Stony Brook was where most students went for STEM, SUNY Purchase for the arts, maybe Binghamton for business, etc.

So I don't think supporting Florida Poly/talking about the need for STEM in that context is in conflict with also supporting restructuring the program at U Florida. It may be that Florida Poly simply has a much better program, or that CS at UF is a second-class program and its resources would be better spent if diverted elsewhere...

Perhaps we should be encouraging state schools to specialize.

Microsoft sends a reasonable sized group of recruiters to UF every year for CS majors.

"Florida Poly" lists theses companies as major recruiters: "GEICO, Hertz, Lakeland Regional Medical Center, the Polk County Sheriff's Office and Publix." Publix is a chain of grocery stores in the south east.

I doubt that Florida Poly has a superior program.

US students are ineducable wanna-be gangsta-rappahs, yo'. Tech employment should be outsourced to the developing world where people are intelligent and diligent!

The University of Florida is just facing reality. Really, all of US higher education should just give up.

Actually this makes sense since the real purpose of the computer industry is to import as many Indians as possible into the Fortune 500, get them corporate scholarships for MBAs and take over the managerial elite positions of society before the rest of the parasites have succeeded in bleeding it totally dry.

Now, I'll admit that this is possibly a mere side effect of taxing income rather than net liquidation value of assets -- which would have prevented obscenities like Microsoft from ever arising, but there is a point where these things take on a life of their own. At this point we can be assured that the new cognitive elite in technology will do everything in its power to preserve rent seeking in both the private and public sectors so they can "get theirs" before the house of cards collapses.

The last good thing to come out of UF was the "Don't taze me bro" guy.

It certainly wasn't Steve Addazio's offense.

Are you really claiming that Microsoft is a taxation side effect?

You can't simply hand-wave away network effects in the free market. When a guy like Bill Gates gets to sit on the potential of Moore's Law and trash it for literally decades of 18 month doublings, we aren't dealing with petty theft.

And yes, I do mean THEFT because the tax base is not charging even approximately the costs of maintaining property rights -- such as control of MS-DOS hence Windows -- it is geared around taxing producers via the 16th Amendment.

A rational market tax system would approximate a mutual insurance company for indemnification of loss of property value and guess what that means?

Taxation of net in-place liquidation value at something like the risk free interest rate of modern portfolio theory.

So from your perspective, where Microsoft is a thieving, under-taxed, obscenity, which are the ethical, upstanding, productive firms of America? Any examples?

Because India is the poster child for the Libertarian post-national dream society amirite?

Meh. A quick check of ABET's site shows accredited "Computer Engineering" and Electrical Engineering degree programs but not Computer Science. If the department can't meet that fairly low and not terribly controversial threshold the state and the nation is not losing much by its termination.

I've interviewed at GEICO in their main suburban Maryland location (just across the city line from D.C.). They were surprisingly sophisticated; this was in the late '90s, before Java was solid enough, and they were appropriately using C++. The other entities, well, who knows, but the very best insurance companies like GEICO and USAA are well known for being at the cutting edge or very nearly so.

nuke's just swampland

As a former programmer employee of UF that interacted with a number of C.S. undergrads, I personally wouldn't consider a C.S. degree from UF to be a strong indicator of programming ability.

Also, the UF is really an agriculture institution if you look in to its history.

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