The University Record, February 4, 1997

Federal support of research threatened, Neidhardt reports

Frederick Neidhardt photo Several forces are converging to threaten the nation's research enterprise, particularly that portion supported by the federal government, Frederick C. Neidhardt, acting vice president for research, told the Regents at their January meeting.

"In this climate, the U-M must prepare for the possibility that federal investment in university-based research will decline over the next five years and beyond," he added.

One well-documented trend is the widening gap between federal spending and revenues, he said. Citing the Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform, Neidhardt reminded the Regents that current tax law, combined with the growing demands of interest on the national debt and entitlement commitments, "threaten to squeeze all discretionary spending out of the budget, including funding for research."

"In an effort to prevent this scenario, Congress and the President have begun to focus on controlling the federal budget while balancing the government's competing priorities and obligations. Plans being discussed in Washington appear to put significant pressure on existing domestic discretionary programs, including research.

"An analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science of federal non-defense R&D spending projected by both the White House and Congress suggests that commitments to these programs will decline by about 20 percent in constant dollars over the next five years compared to 1995 funding levels," Neidhardt said.

For fiscal year 1996, federal agencies provided $283.7 million for U-M research and scholarship, 64.3 percent of the $441.3 million total research spending. "The precise vulnerability of U-M research programs to federal spending cutbacks is still difficult to quantify," Neidhardt said, "but the U-M is somewhat less dependent on federal funds than most of its peer institutions, which depend on federal support for 70-90 percent of their research efforts.

"If, however, the University does sustain serious reductions in federal support, the academic community will feel this in many ways.

"Federal research support provides tuition and stipends for undergraduate and graduate students; salaries for faculty, technicians, and graduate and undergraduate students; enrichment of the undergraduate experience; assistance in purchasing research equipment, books and other information resources; and funds for building renovation and construction. The scholarly works and knowledge produced with this federal support contribute greatly to the reputation and prestige of the University."

Neidhardt described four types of responses the University is taking or might consider to ensure that the faculty can continue to excel in research, scholarship and creative activity:

"Work to modify the federal funding environment; increase the U-M's competitive edge in vying for decreasing federal resources; increase the support U-M faculty gain from non-federal sources, including industry; and increase the efficiency of the U-M's research enterprise."

Neidhardt concluded, "We are evaluating the effectiveness of all of these avenues of action. Our goal in everything we undertake will be to see that U-M research and scholarship continue to flourish and provide benefit to society and academic enrichment to our students."

Guidelines available for industry partnerships


The Division of Research Development and Administration (DRDA) and the Office of Development have created a set of guidelines for units pursuing increased interactions between industry and the University.

A recent memo from Thomas C. Kinnear, vice president for development, and Frederick C. Neidhardt, acting vice president for research, notes that these types of initiatives range from "technology transfer activities, including business start-ups, to complex consortia-like arrangements involving several universities and a large number of industry members . . . They generally involve membership fees from industry members in exchange for access to faculty, research scientists and program administrators."

A number of factors, they note, must be considered before such an arrangement is made. These factors include the motivation of industry partners, services to members, potential commercial benefits, the fee structure, control of the research effort, proprietary interests, and the manner in which the results are disseminated or utilized.

Kinnear and Neidhardt write, "it is essential that any proposed industrial affiliates or partnership program be reviewed by DRDA prior to its initiation." DRDA maintains a file of templates of agreements that have been successfully launched. DRDA also will coordinate the review of these agreements with the Office of the General Counsel, the Office of Development and other administrative offices. For more information, call DRDA, 764-5500.