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.


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