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Updated 10:00 AM April 4, 2005
 

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Get involved to change science funding, congressman says

University faculty, staff and students should participate in the political process to help secure more funding for the sciences, according to a congressman with a unique perspective.
U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) conducts a seminar during his visit to campus March 25. Ehlers told faculty, staff and students how Congress makes funding decisions, and encouraged them to get involved in the political process. (Photo by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services)

U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) is serving his sixth consecutive term in the U.S. House of Representatives for the Michigan 3rd congressional district. He holds a doctorate in nuclear physics from the University of California, Berkeley, and taught physics at Calvin College (Mich.) for 16 years.

Ehlers spent March 25 meeting with College of Engineering leadership and touring the facilities. During his visit, Ehlers conducted the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences seminar, "A Physicist's Perspective: Is Capital Hill Another Planet?"

"Being a research physicist in Congress can be difficult," said Ehlers, who represents Barry, Ionia and Kent counties. "Almost everyone in Congress will say science is good, and that we should support it. After that, the disagreements start. They approve of science, in general, but not all areas of science."

Ehlers said there is not a lot of intersection between public policy and science. He cited funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), which dipped last year to $5.47 billion. He said a record $8.52 billion has been authorized for Fiscal Year 2006, but President George W. Bush has requested a lower $5.61 billion. Ehlers said he hopes the final figure at least will be near $6.1 billion.

"I fight very hard for NSF funding every year," he said. "I was very disappointed last year when it went down."

Ehlers said entering the political discussion is important. He referenced the current Social Security debate, which he said will be decided by older Americans that vote. Yet, younger generations will be most affected by changes in the system, he noted.

Ehlers told the students that earning a degree is not the end of education, but rather a learner's permit to continue learning. He added that the jobs of the future will require a working knowledge of the basic principles of math and science.

"The University of Michigan has been a major contributor to the sciences," he said. "We must continue to prepare children for a technical workplace and to produce needed scientists and researchers."

He encouraged those in attendance to lobby their congressmen and senators and to run for any political position—including school board, state legislature and Congress.

"But, not if you are from my district," he joked.

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