Friday, February 05, 2021

Support research in the Foundations of Computing at the University of Leicester!

In an ideal world, university administrators would support the work of the top-class academics employed by their institution, especially if they attract students, have a high research standing within their communities and bring in substantial funding from competitive research funds. After all, to quote Isidor Isaac Rabi, "the faculty are the university" and the most valuable currency for an academic institution is reputation. 

Unfortunately, university administrations the world over repeatedly surprise me by making structural changes that affect some of their very best academics and actually reduce the reputation of their institutions in the eyes of the community at large.

The latest example comes from the University of Leicester, where, as stated here,

[the] University VC proposes to merge Informatics and Mathematics into a combined school focussed exclusively on AI, data science, computational modelling and "digitalisation". This includes the proposal to cease research in Foundations of Computer Science (FoCo) where research is "highly theoretical and not directly linked with applications", retaining staff only if the research they have published in the past (!) aligns well with the new desired focus on foundations of AI, computational modelling, data science and digitalisation. Staff have been given no opportunity to alter their research to fit with the proposed new direction. The plan is to make redundant (in the middle of a pandemic) all (up to 10) staff in foundations of computer science whose past research is deemed not to be a good enough fit with the new strategic priorities.

See also this statement by the University and College Union of the University of Leicester. 

I might be biased, but I find it inconceivable that one can think of building a world-class research programme in AI, data science and computational modelling without building on existing strengths in the Foundations of Computer Science and Mathematics. What my crystal ball tells me is that the strong Leicester academics who might be affected by the planned restructuring will find positions elsewhere and that the University of Leicester is shooting itself in the foot. Which high-profile academic would be enticed to join a university that has shown so little consideration for its existing areas of strength and where one's job might be in danger when the buzzwords du jour change, as they undoubtedly will? 

I encourage you to sign the petition in support of our Leicester colleagues. Kudos to Isobel Armstrong, FBA, for returning her honorary doctorate to the University of Leicester upon hearing of their plans!

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