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University of Florida drops plans to axe CompSci for sports

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A plan by the University of Florida (UF) to axe most of its computer science department while increasing sports funding is being reconsidered after the news went viral.

In the last six years the Florida state government has cut funding to the university by nearly 25 per cent, and in an effort to save $1.4m UF decided to eliminate all funding to the department for teaching assistants, axe all graduate and research programs, and shift what was left of the team into the engineering department.

At the same time the budget would increase funding for the athletics department by $2m, bringing its budget for 2013 to $97.7m.

Outraged students set up a website to defend their department and call for a rethink, and the academic community joined in with statements of its own.

Professor Carl De Boor, a member of National Academy of Sciences and 2003 National Medal of Science winner was brief but scathing in his criticism of the move.

"I have just learned that your school of engineering is in the process of dismantling a research department with national standing, developed and nurtured over many years, that brings in over $1m* [* the actual figure is closer to $5m] per year in research money and whose subject and results are absolutely vital to modern engineering, disrupting the careers of good people and interrupting, perhaps critically, the training of future professionals," he wrote. "What were you thinking?"

While there's no suggestion of a direct link between the budgets of computer science and athletics, the timing of the announcement from UF was redolent with irony. Just days before the state's governor Rick Scott announced the creation of a new school - Florida Polytechnic University – that will devote around half its efforts to science, technology, engineering and mathematics - or STEM - programs.

"At a time when the number of graduates of Florida's universities in the STEM fields is not projected to meet workforce needs, the establishment of Florida Polytechnic University will help us move the needle in the right direction," Scott said, the Palm Beach Post reports.

Now Bernie Machen, the president of UF, has backed down and issued a statement explaining the university's position and saying that the university ran a deficit of $30m last year, which it had to cover from its own reserves. A new plan was being formulated that would keep the Computer Science department's non-teaching assets while merging it with engineering, and would be submitted in a few weeks he said.

"We are currently working on a plan for a joint organization of these two departments into a larger unit. I feel strongly that this is the best opportunity for the two departments moving forward," said Gerhard Ritter, interim chair of computer and information science and engineering departments. ®

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