Federal stimulus grants from the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation do not compensate for cuts in state support to the University of Washington or to other colleges and universities. In fact, state budget cuts have limited the state’s premier research university’s ability to pursue these considerable additional research funds.
Headlines such as “Obama Stimulus Plan May Generate $300M Research Windfall, UW Says” (Xconomy, 3/23/09) may mislead some into thinking that these research monies can directly offset cuts in state support. To understand the difference, pretend the UW is a research factory. State funds improve the factory, while federal grants are the raw material for products. When an opportunity like the federal stimulus program comes along, we reap benefits from all the capacity we have available. Federal law requires that the funds in question be used only for research. The money cannot be used to put more professors and teaching assistants into classrooms. None of this money will help alleviate the pain of students who cannot get the classes they need or of students denied admission for lack of room.
State budget cuts (which UW estimates will be between 25 and 30 percent this cycle) have prevented the UW from pursuing an even greater share of these federal grants. Current and anticipated state budget cuts forced many UW departments to postpone hiring research faculty. The UW has let temporary appointments lapse and has left research positions unfilled. Every one of these researchers would now be positioned to bring in grants that far exceed the salaries saved by not hiring. These cuts weren’t good overall economic development strategy for our state.
The federal stimulus research money must be spent within two years, putting pressure on researchers to produce results within that time. Our researchers cannot manufacture graduate students to carry out experiments in this time frame, nor does the UW have time to recruit new faculty members. This shortfall will be lead to “competition for any loose postdocs and scientists out there,” as I was quoted as saying in the Xconomy article.
The University’s need for research scientists could not come at a better time. The economic downturn is causing private industry to cut R&D budgets and lay off researchers. At the same time, the University of Washington’s world-class researchers are bringing significant federal funding to our state and creating jobs. Bringing researchers to the universities and other nonprofit research centers retains our state’s professional workforce. Each of these professional jobs contributes to the state’s economic base and has an additional impact in the goods and services researchers consume as part of our community.
As part of a comprehensive strategy to weather this economic downturn and to revitalize the state economy, we need to sustain our investments in the institutions and programs that will create more jobs, especially for a highly skilled workforce. Investing in the UW now will pay off in the near term, with additional federal funding and additional jobs.
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