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The Department of Statistics, 1977 - 1988:

Growth and Maturation

by Richard L. Scheaffer

These reflections on the period 1977-1988 were first written as part of the celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Department of Statistics. Since I was privileged to chair the Department over those years, I took the opportunity to comment on developments during a period I considered to be one of measured growth and maturation. In other words, I chaired the Department during its teenage years, with all that is implied by that statement.

Even though the Department of Statistics was only in its teens in 1977, it had clearly established strengths in teaching and applied research. Our academic home was in the College of Arts and Sciences, but strong ties to agriculture (IFAS) remained from the earliest days and strong ties to the Health Science Center were being built. The College of Arts and Sciences was soon to become a restructured College Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) with a new mission, namely, to strengthen academic scholarship and research across the board. So, with the help of a new Dean, we set out to do our part in this effort. Since the faculty members were still rather young, we developed a plan to add senior faculty as well as junior faculty, with the retention of all positions vacated over the years. During this time, two full professors were hired (Dr. Ghosh and Dr. Randles), and all three divisions of the Department were enlarged. Planned growth in both quantity and quality was being achieved.

By the winter of 1988 the Department had 34 positions for statisticians, 28 for Ph.D. level and 6 for master's level statisticians, to serve in teaching and research roles. Over 50 graduate students were working on degrees and over 3000 students were taking our courses each semester. The clerical and technical staff numbered 13. Seven faculty members were Fellows of the American Statistical Association. Twelve editorial positions for statistical journals and at least 12 positions on important national committees were held by our faculty members. The faculty published over 60 refereed research papers in 1987-88 alone. But, faculty still paid careful attention to teaching, as was demonstrated by the fact that two won teaching awards in 1988.

One mark of research recognition in the profession is success in national research grant competitions. The first major grant of this 11-year period came our way in 1979 when NIH funded the Pediatric Oncology Group Statistics Office. After that, grants to faculty members grew steadily, with the award total in 1988 being approximately $1,200,000. Awards came through NIH, NSF, ONR, EPA, USDA and numerous foundations and industrial groups. In addition to these funds awarded directly to this Department, our faculty played a major collaborative role in grants totaling over $4,000,000 annually that were awarded to other units of the University. The Department's objective to build a strong research program that balanced theory with applications was being fulfilled in part through this external support.

Growth came, but it was not always without struggle, and some pain. "Statistics - any good researcher can do his or her own! Why do we need a big, expensive Department of Statistics?" Variations on that theme rang in my ears often when I first started pushing for increased support. Slowly, others began to realize the importance of statistics to scientific investigations and to understand that statistics was much more than summarization of data. These realizations were aided by granting agencies, by industry, and by some enlightened research faculty members from other departments, all insisting that statistics be taken seriously in research and education.  By 1988, no one seriously questioned the legitimacy of the Statistics Department and I no longer got many calls asking about livestock prices or the population of Okaloosa County. In addition to our faculty, many people contributed to the growth of the Department over these years, but four with special insight and vision were Dean Charles Sidman of CLAS, the late Dean Al Wood and his successor Dean Jim Davidson in IFAS, and the late Associate Vice President Ken Finger of the Health Science Center.

Overall those years, a major concern of the Department was the lack of adequate space for faculty and graduate students. Upon strongly pushing this issue, I was offered views of campus facilities that are not part of the homecoming and parents' weekend tours. I've seen the bowels of Stadium West, the basement and attic of old Anderson and Peabody, and "temporary" metal buildings off Archer Road. All were offered as possible solutions for our space problem ... and all were "gently" refused. With the increasing number and productivity of faculty members, with increasing numbers of graduate majors and with expanding enrollments in service courses, our space needs could not be ignored. A solution to the space problem was moved along more rapidly as a result of two external reviews in 1984 and 1985, both stating that the Department was doing well on limited resources, but could not continue to function without more and better space. In CLAS, this led to a move to Little Hall, a vast improvement over the Nuclear Sciences Center where offices were about the size of walk-in closets and were constructed on top of a nuclear reactor. But the Little Hall move was always thought of by some to be temporary, as old buildings were being renovated rapidly and one of those was just about the right size to house Statistics.

Even in 1988, this was a dynamic campus, as it still is today. As a growing university in a rapidly growing state, the University of Florida has a bright future, as does its Statistics Department. Relying on the skill and diligence of its dedicated faculty and talented students, this Department is building upon the past to become a program of true distinction. We celebrate the past, but look forward to an exciting future. 


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