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Students band together to save professor’s job

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Posted: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 12:02 am

Imagine you’re a teacher at UF.

You teach what are considered to be some of the hardest courses in your college. Now, picture your students making tens of thousands dollars more than you when they graduate.

Why would you stay in that career?

Dave Small has one answer:

“I teach.”

But come the end of this semester, he won’t be able to do that at UF anymore.

As a lecturer for the Department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering, Small’s teaching contract was not renewed like it had been in the past 11 years.

He didn’t understand. He said he would have understood if it had been the last few years when money was tight in the college.

“Mathematically, it does not add up to me,” he said.

Sartaj Sahni, the department chairman for the college, said it has nothing to do with finances.

According to him, there were 1,700 undergraduates in 2000 and now there are fewer than 570 in the college.

When Sahni was asked who would replace the six classes Small teaches in the fall and spring terms, he said that the graduate-level professors would take over.

He said that the $49,694 that makes up Small’s salary and one other unidentified faculty member will be used to hire one graduate-level professor.

He did not explain why Small and the other were selected to be dismissed.

Tarif Kayali,  a second-year digital arts and science major,  said he doesn’t know where he’d be without Small.

“I thought it was just a rumor,” Kayali said. “I was completely shocked when it wasn’t.”

So he and a few others started the movement known as “Save Dave!” The student-run organization is trying to keep their professor at UF.

A website, savedaveuf.org, is open for anyone who has been taught or inspired by Small to tell their story.

Kayali said it’s hard to explain what Small means to the college, but can’t imagine what it would be like without him.

“Dave has a huge fan base,” Kayali said.

Since he was very young,  Small has been around technology. His father was a physicist, so he was able to have an innovated and technologically driven childhood. 

“One of the cool things about computers is they are always changing,” he said. “You’re continually learning.”

After teaching at UF for a few years, the programming team asked him to be their coach.

“I had no idea there was even a programming team,” he said jokingly.

This year, the team was first in the Western Hemisphere and 14th in the world in the IEEEXtreme 4.0 competition, a 24-hour programming marathon.

Small said it’s a great experience for the students to have fun and do what they are passionate about.

“As corny as it sounds, you have to do what you love,” he said.

Throughout his life, Small heard that there are people who are naturally born to teach. He always enjoyed helping others work on projects in high school and college.

As a graduate student, he became a teaching assistant.

He remembered throwing the “naturally born to teach” phrase around once.

On of his advisers replied, “You sound like one of them.”

Matthew Carroll is a first-year graduate student, but is taking undergraduate classes with Small because he considers them to be more valuable and harder than his graduate courses.

Carroll said Small holds his students to high standards and puts them in real-life situations with deadlines and problem solving.

“The way Dave teaches the class makes you want to work for it,” he said.

While Kayali and Carroll agree that the college won’t fall apart without Small, they insist he is still an integral part of it.

“Nothing is based on one man,” Carroll said. “But this might be the exception to the rule.”

When Small found out that he would no longer be teaching at UF, he was stunned.

So were many of his students when word spread of his soon-to-be departure.

Kayali heard from Carroll, who had recently graduated.

They decided to band together and try and stop what seemed inevitable.

As of Tuesday night, there are 99 Facebook RSVPs to “Save Dave!” and dozens of testimonials on both that group and the website that explain how Small has made an impact on their life.

“[The show of support is] personally touching that there are students who care so much,” he said.

There are those who think his teaching style is hard, but most say they benefited from it.

But in the end, there is still just a disbelief in what is going to happen.

So, from programming basics in his intro to programming class to the digital arts class where students create video games, he is thanked for his hard work and patience.

“It’s very difficult to put into words — “

He paused and thought for a moment. “Extraordinarily humbling. It’s extraordinarily humbling. It blows my mind.”

But Small said he has slowly come to terms and has begun looking toward the future.

He doesn’t know what he’ll do if he can’t teach at UF or another university.

When asked why, he gave a similar answer:

“Because, I teach.”

Welcome to the discussion.

3 comments:

  • mcindafizzy posted at 1:53 pm on Tue, Jan 25, 2011.

    mcindafizzy Posts: 4

    @Plant Doc - If you're interested, the reason Dave Small cannot apply for the new teaching position is that it is a tenure-track position - requiring a PhD. Dave Small does not have a PhD and is therefore ineligible.

     
  • Plant Doc posted at 10:08 am on Tue, Jan 25, 2011.

    Plant Doc Posts: 1

    It would have been nice if the author had questioned Mr. Small as to why he is not able to apply for the new position. If it is a teaching position as stated by the Dept. Chair, he should be qualified.

    Also a typo (on instead of one) - tighten up editor.

     
  • tkkayali posted at 3:42 am on Tue, Jan 25, 2011.

    tkkayali Posts: 1

    I know I'm not the most objective reader here, but what kind of message is being sent by letting go of someone, a professor or lecturer, who places a huge emphasis on teaching? Isn't that what we come to expect out of this great institution?