You should read this great article by PhD student Joon Chuah at the University of Florida about the baffling plan to save money at UF by taking the Computer Science department apart while increasing the budget for sports. He explains the place of computer science in a university and society wonderfully. I’m reminded of a great line from a commercial (for BASF apparently) that relates to what he’s trying to say about why Computer Science is important, the tagline goes:
We don’t make the products you use everyday; we make the products you use everyday better.
Computer science is sort of like that. We don’t work out how the universe works, or how genes cause disease, or how to build stronger materials or how to manage the economy; we work out how to turn questions into computations, how to solve huge, complex problems efficiently, we invent the tools that scientists, engineers, economists and anyone else can use to solve their problems.
Sometimes in CS we assume everyone else knows this, that everyone understands the deal we have. I think of CS as a kind of meta-science, like mathematics that investigates common patterns that underlie every other field of inquiry. We look at the problem of how to solve problems, the answers we find usually turn out to be quite useful to someone, even if it’s not always clear at the beginning quite how they will be useful. But sometimes I wonder if maybe everyone doesn’t really get it. Maybe the reason people ask you to fix your computer is they don’t think about the difference between engineering, information technology and computer science. Maybe, this is something the field of computer science needs to work on making more clear to everyone who doesn’t know us that well as a field.
But that’s a big problem to solve, one step at a time.
If you want to help reverse this move at UF support this student protest site and let people know how crazy you think this is.