by Mary Ellen Flannery
The first victims of the Florida legislature’s wicked $300 million cuts to higher education appear to be students in the flagship university’s highly acclaimed computer science department.
What, Florida legislators? You figure you won’t need computer scientists in the 21st century?
Gov. Rick Scott, who recently told reporters that state universities need to focus on job-producing programs, signed into law yesterday a state budget that will devastate Florida’s public colleges and universities – but leaves intact more than $500 million worth of corporate tax loopholes. In response, University of Florida officials issued a plan to dismantle its research-based, grant-winning Computer & Information Sciences & Engineering department.
“Once the public is aware of the damage being done to our universities… these decisions can not prevail,” said Tom Auxter, a philosophy professor at the university and president of the United Faculty of Florida. (Hear more from Auxter in this video, taken yesterday at a protect on the university’s Gainesville campus.)
In the meantime, students and faculty are doing all they can to protest the cuts. On Tuesday, hundreds of students, faculty, graduate assistants, and community supporters formed a protective “human chain” around the computer science’s department. One told the local newspaper, “This is murder.”
Supporters also have launched a website, where visitors can sign a petition, urging the dean to save the department. Already, they have received support from colleagues across the country. “This is the time for forward-looking research universities to invest scarce resources in computer science/computing,” wrote the dean of computing at Georgia Tech. “This most certainly is not the time to scale back on computer science research and education.”
State legislators hope the cuts are temporary, and that funding eventually can be restored, they said. But they didn’t have to make these cuts at all. They chose to slash at public education instead of cutting the corporate tax loopholes that cost Florida at least $500 million a year.
Closing tax loopholes for just one company—Miami-based Dosal, which currently manufactures 20 percent of the cigarettes sold in Florida—could add between $50 and $200 million to the tax base, according to the Consumer Federation of the Southeast.
“This would be a win for taxpayers and for public health,” wrote Andy Opel, a Florida State University professor, in a recent editorial, “but the option was off the table because our Republican leadership is ideologically committed to policies that put corporate tax breaks above students, prisoners and the public good.”
Late last year, Gov. Scott told reporters that he wouldn’t mind seeing some of his higher-education programs cut. “If I’m going to take money from a citizen to put into education then I’m going to take money to create jobs,” Scott said. “So I want the money to go to a degree where people can get jobs in this state. Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.”
But computer science degrees do lead directly to much-needed jobs. At Georgia Tech, for example, a recent report showed that graduates of that school’s College of Computing had the highest job placement rate and highest starting salaries of any of the university’s majors.
Want to help increase education funding in your state? Sign the petition to close corporate tax loopholes and stand up for the middle class!