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A budgetary bind is no excuse for the University of Florida

The University of Florida announced last week it would make significant cuts to its computer science program. Looking to save face rather than future, the university protested to Forbes, which first broke the story, this was reorganization and not a direct cut. The Computer & Information Science and Engineering Department (CISE) will be removed and a portion of its resources distributed among other engineering departments within the College of Engineering. Nearly half of the 30 CISE faculty will move to other engineering departments, and the remainder will be demoted to non-research positions. The teaching assistants from CISE will have to leave. The university will save $1.4 million.

The research formerly carried out by CISE will be lost in the shuffle. Moreover, the practical importance of computer science research - for both the advancement of the field and the reputation of the college - cannot be overstated. No one would deny computers are on the frontlines of relevance, but so is much else in engineering. At least the university's decision to retain some of the CISE faculty will enable them to carry out associated research in related departments. Given the cuts the university itself faces in state appropriations - the Florida budget reduced funding for the university by $36.4 million - its position is precarious and unenviable.

But it didn't have to be like this. The proposed cut saves, in budgetary terms, a negligible amount of money but deprives the university of much more, including stability. For faculty, who may be engaged in long-term research projects and deserve a fair warning of cuts, such a sudden move may throw their lives and careers into chaos. For students, attending university is a multi-year commitment, and although the computer science and computer engineering degrees will remain, the same quality and opportunities may not.

Though the state legislature has withdrawn support, groups closer to home have recognized the university's difficulties. Florida Athletics is one of the twenty-something athletic departments which post a profit on an annual basis, and $36 million of its $99 million budget for next year will come from Gator Boosters. The University Athletic Association, led by the Board of Directors which drafts the athletic department's independent, self-sufficient budget, has been generous to the university and often gives donations to academic programs, including $6 million last year. Rather than indirectly contribute money to the university, donors to the athletics department such as the Gator Boosters could consider directly paying back their alma mater to assist their favorite teams in the classroom.

At the athletic, university and state level, budgetary concerns play out slowly in deliberations and meetings. But in an instant the CISE department is gone, without foresight or warning. Had the university expressed the dire condition in the College of Engineering, and announced the possibility of these cuts, alternative sources of funding such as the Gator Boosters could have been more open to providing the needed revenue. By making a more gradual, tempered decision the university could have saved, if not money or jobs, at least the prospects of its students and faculty.