The University Record, September 17, 1996

Science Coalition works for university research funding

By Jared Blank

To view Projected Federal Investment graph click here.

Following the election of the 104th Congress in 1994, the U-M collaborated with a small group of Universities to form the Science Coalition, dedicated, they said, "to sustaining the federal government's historic commitment to U.S. world leadership in basic science." Today, the alliance has grown to include more than 370 organizations, institutions and individuals working to inform Congress, the president and the public about the importance of University research.

The coalition's work has grown even more urgent because recent budget forecasts show future reductions in non-defense research and development (see graph at right). According to both the White House FY 1997 Budget Plan and the FY 97 Congressional Budget Resolution, real purchasing power for civilian R&D will drop by approximately 20 percent by 2002.

The Science Coalition's efforts have been successful, though, according to Walter Harrison, vice president for university relations. "For the past two years funding for University-based research has faced an uncertain future," Harrison says. "To make sure that there's wide public and Congressional understanding of the importance of research, the Coalition has been in close contact with members of Congress, on a personal basis and through a letter signed by 27 governors and a letter signed by 60 Nobel Prize winners."

The Nobel Prize winners expressed concern that a drop-off in federal research funding would mean fewer advances in medicine and sciences. "Americans have been awarded more than one-half of all Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry and medicine since 1945," the letter states. "This impressive success is no accident, but the result of a firm and consistent commitment by the federal government to basic science research at our universities...America's future prosperity will depend on a continued commitment to producing new ideas and knowledge, and the people educated to apply them successfully."

The Coalition also took out advertisements in Roll Call, a popular Capitol Hill magazine, explaining the importance of the discoveries made at Universities. "Cuts could weaken our investment in university-based research," the ad notes, "which has brought us the polio vaccine and the pacemaker, jet propulsion and computers, weather forecasting and water purification---in short, America's economic strength, quality of life and global competitiveness."

The ad continues that Japan is doubling its R&D investment while the U.S. is planning to cut its own.

During the spring, the Coalition assisted in the organization of two forums on science and technology, one with the Senate Democratic Policy Committee and one with the Republican Policy Committee. The forum brought together senators, university presidents, Nobel Prize winners and researchers for a discussion about the importance of federal funding for research.

In August, the Coalition joined forces with the American Association for the Advancement of Science for a Science and Technology Forum held at the joint Indianapolis campus of Purdue and Indiana universities. Representatives from government, major Midwestern universities and professional organizations met to recognize the advances made possible by the $2 billion in federal research funds each year that boost Midwestern economies.

Congress is expected to wrap up its work on appropriations bills in late September.