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I am an undergraduate Computer Engineering student at the University of Florida. In response to recent budget cuts to higher education in Florida, my department (Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering, CISE) could be undergoing some restructuring, namely the following:

  • All of the Computer Engineering Degree programs, BS, MS and PhD, would be moved from the Computer & Information Science and Engineering Dept. to the Electrical and Computer Engineering Dept. along with most of the advising staff.
  • Roughly half of the faculty would be offered the opportunity to move to Electrical/Computer Eng. (ECE), Biomedical Eng. (BME), or Industrial/Systems Eng. (ISE).
  • Staff positions in CISE which are currently supporting research and graduate programs would be eliminated.
  • The activities currently covered by TAs would be reassigned to faculty and the TA budget for CISE would be eliminated.
  • Any faculty member who wishes to stay in CISE may do so, but with a revised assignment focused on teaching and advising.

(click here for additional information)

The Dean of our college claims that eliminating research and TA support within the CISE department will have no effect on the quality of the education future students will receive. She also claims that existing research in the department will be unaffected, except that it will be moved to ECE, BME, or ISE.

As an undergrad, I don't feel qualified to challenge these claims. Therefore, I would like to hear your opinions:

  • Will the quality of education in the CISE department be the same after this restructuring?
  • Can software-oriented research take place in a department which, until now, has concentrated solely on hardware/electronics?
  • Since only half of the faculty will be moved to a research department, half must remain in CISE and focus solely on teaching (with no TA support). Do you think these professors will remain at UF given the circumstances?
  • Will the teaching-only CISE department be able to attract quality professors? Top students?
  • Will employers value a UF CISE degree as much as they do now? [thanks for pointing this one out JeffE]

Faculty and graduate students in the department know exactly how these changes will affect them (and they aren't pleased!), however many of the undergrads are a bit uncertain. I (and the rest of us undergrads) would really appreciate any wisdom to help clear things up. Thanks in advance!

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One of my former PhD students works in the CISE department at UF, so my opinion is not exactly objective. But here it is:

  • Will the quality of education in the CISE department be the same after this restructuring? Absolutely not. Teaching computer science well requires serious manpower. Unless CS courses are limited to a very small number of students, which seems incredibly unlikely for a flagship state university, educational quality will plummet. The near-certain increase in faculty teaching loads only makes this worse. If nothing else, with less individual attention on students and more automated grading, cheating will increase dramatically. (Also, in the longer term, educational quality will suffer because the instructors are not themselves active researchers. Computer science changes fast; if the faculty aren't leading that change, they'll fall behind. Obviously. But in the short run, the removal of TA support is a much bigger issue.)

  • Can [CS] research take place in [an ECE] department? Maybe, but probably not at existing levels. If faculty treat the incoming CISE faculty as anything less than full-fledged intellectual peers who should be judged by the standards of their own research communities (as opposed to ECE community standards), then no. Most recent CS-EE mergers have failed for precisely this reason. This has far less to do with the distinction between "software" and "hardware" than cultural differences about intellectual values, publication standards (conferences vs. journals), funding, intellectual property, entrepreneurship, and the like.

  • Do you think [teaching] professors will remain at UF given the circumstances? I expect some faculty will stay, either because they prefer teaching anyway (or even support the restructuring), or because they have eternal constraints that make moving impossible, or because they are close enough to retirement that they're willing hold their nose for a few years, or perhaps because their recent research records are not strong enough for them to land a tenure-track position in a comparable department. But I would expect most CISE faculty—including the research faculty forced into other departments—to leave at their earliest opportunity.

  • Will the teaching-only CISE department be able to attract quality professors? Not as easily, and not as long as the current political players are in power. Setting aside the common assumption that quality is correlated strongly with active research, I expect most strong teaching faculty would have trouble accepting a position from a college with such blatant disregard for academic freedom and shared governance.

  • Top students? Undergrads, yes, although probably in smaller numbers. Because UF is a flagship state school, it attracts a significant fraction of the top high school graduates in the state (at least by STEM standards). The number of such incoming students is unlikely to change very much, but many of those students who would have studied computer science will go into other majors instead. Graduate students, probably not, for the same reasons as faculty.

And one question you didn't ask:

  • Will employers value a UF CISE degree as much as they do now? I doubt the restructuring would have a significant effect on the job prospects of current CISE majors, except possibly if some of the software companies who've recently announced plans to open offices in Gainesville change their mind. But if the quality of education (and the strength of incoming majors) suffer as I expect they will, then a UF CISE degree will be less valuable than it is now, even for the best students.

The flagship state university where I work has attempted a few similar restructuring efforts, and currently faces similarly severe budgetary constraints. Some of the resructuring attempts were successful (for example, our Theoretical and Applied Mechanics department was recently merged into Mechanical Engineering); others were not (for example, our Nuclear Engineering Department survived a proposed closure). In the years leading up to the TAM closure, a significant majority of the TAM faculty moved or retired. Although TAM survives as a degree program within our MSE department, it attracts considerably fewer students and faculty than it did as an independent department.

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    Awesome answer! Now do you have any idea how I can convince the Dean of all this?? :) – Blake Apr 22 '12 at 17:53
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    My impression is that the dean honestly doesn't care. I think the existing replies from the Computing Research Association, the former director of CISE at NSF, and so on already make a solid case. Now, maybe if you could convince Disney to chime in.... – JeffE Apr 22 '12 at 21:10
  • She's been using other universities as examples to support her plan, but you mentioned that most recent CE-EE mergers have failed. Could you provide some examples? – Blake Apr 22 '12 at 22:26

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