Jon Shuster: Decimation of a department


Published: Monday, February 11, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 8, 2013 at 9:08 p.m.

I applaud the efforts of University of Florida President Bernie Machen and Gov. Rick Scott to lift UF into the top 10 academically.

Over the past 15 years, the Legislature has decimated the funding support for UF's most important graduate programs.

A very good example is the department of statistics, which today has just nine faculty members in tenure or tenure-accruing slots.

Of these, only six are at the associate or higher level, capable of directing graduate students.

In 2010, it was ranked 27th by U.S. News and World Report. That ranking will surely be worse in 2013, since between 2010 and 2013, four of the most senior faculty members were lost, and no senior faculty members have been added.

By comparison, according to the 1998-99 University of Florida catalog, this program once ranked eighth nationally and had 17 tenure or tenure-accruing faculty (14 at the associate level or higher).

To keep the playing field level, the latter count excludes biomedical faculty who now are employed in the health center.

The remaining statistics department faculty members are exceptionally talented, but the current 55 graduate students are being shortchanged when compared to the past.

Excluding service courses to other disciplines, there are 38 specialized masters and Ph.D. courses that require diverse expertise within the discipline. This forces current faculty to teach outside of their comfort zone, overburdens the faculty with too many student Ph.D. committee chairmanships and greatly limits the important choices for students on dissertation topics.

Past graduates of this department are currently employed in top positions in academia, industry and government.

To return this department and others to nationally competitive positions, it will require a substantial investment by the Legislature, comparable to that of 15 years ago. For the statistics department, it means a near doubling.

Jonathan J. Shuster, a former professor of statistics, is now professor of health outcomes and policy in the University of Florida College of Medicine.

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