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Brown Joins in Call to Save Research Funding

Cosigns letter to congressional leaders ahead of “fiscal cliff”


The automatic federal spending cuts that are scheduled for January 2 imperil vital academic research. That’s the message BU President Robert A. Brown and peers at 15 Massachusetts research universities and hospitals have sent to the state’s congressional delegation.

“These across-the-board cuts will drastically reduce the federal research funding that we depend on to deliver innovations essential to economic growth,” the group wrote in a letter dated today to Bay State congressmen and senators. “Support for federal research funding helps to ensure our nation’s health, prosperity, and international competitiveness. It has never been more important.”

The budget cuts—“sequestration” in Washington-speak—were passed last year, in case they were needed, as an alternative to a bipartisan deficit agreement. And since a special committee assigned to find $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade couldn’t reach consensus, they were needed. Republicans on the committee refused to consider tax increases in tandem with spending cuts. Economists fear that the double whammy will cripple an economy only slowly coming out of recession.

The letter says that research subsidies from an array of agencies—the National Institutes of Health, the Defense and Energy Departments, the National Science Foundation, and NASA—have been “catalyzing discovery and entrepreneurship. The federal dollars we receive have a return far beyond their initial investment, acting as a significant magnet for private sector dollars that spur job creation in Massachusetts and beyond.”

Jean Morrison, university provost and chief academic officer, urges all citizens to speak out against the cuts. “The letter that President Brown and the leaders of Massachusetts academic and medical institutions have sent to our congressional leadership in Washington makes a clear case about the need to avoid sequestration,” says Morrison. “There are many essential activities and services in Massachusetts funded by the federal government, through a variety of agencies, that have profound and widespread impact on a great number of people. If sequestration were implemented, the negative effects would be immediate and devastating. The letter makes an excellent case, but we should all—as individuals and citizens—contact our representatives, as well, and express the importance of reaching resolution and solving this challenge.”

Muhammad Zaman, a College of Engineering associate professor of biomedical engineering, fears that the across-the-board cuts would slow progress on potentially lifesaving research such as an investigation in his lab of the metastasis of cancer cells. “Most biomedical research, including mine, is supported by federal grants from the NSF and NIH,” says Zaman. “In particular, our work on finding fundamental processes regulating cancer is funded by the NIH. Automatic budget cuts would threaten the continuation of this work that is aimed at elucidating the fundamental basis of cancer metastasis, a problem that affects millions of Americans every year. Industry rarely supports these kinds of fundamental and long-range studies. Automatic cuts would stop my lab from these pursuits, which will not only affect our research, student recruitment, and research fellow jobs in the short term, but in the long term our understanding of new and evolving cancers will be poorer without these models.”

The letter cites the $2.4 billion Massachusetts received for medical research in fiscal year 2011—“second only to California”—which, the leaders say, leveraged almost $1.1 billion from venture capital firms to biotechnology companies. Those companies created more than 3,500 jobs in Massachusetts between 2004 and 2011, “more than any other state in this area over the same period,” they wrote.

The “fiscal cliff” of $110 billion in spending cuts, coupled with the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts, also has alarmed the Obama administration, which issued 394 pages in September that outlined the hits across the federal budget.

The letter argues that “federal research and development has not been a driving force behind our deficits.

“Overall spending, at both defense and non-defense agencies, has been essentially flat in constant dollars since 2003, and despite its critical role in economic growth, federal research and development as a percent of GDP has fallen by half since 1965.

“Considering the consequential decision at hand, we hope you will work together with your colleagues to adopt balanced deficit reduction strategies that view investments in research as part of the budget solution rather than simply as an expenditure.”

Cosigning the letter, which also is being sent to local and national media, with Brown were the presidents and chief officers of Harvard, Northeastern, MIT, Tufts, the University of Massachusetts, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston Medical Center, Tufts Medical Center, Boston Children’s Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Joslin Diabetes Center, McLean Hospital, and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.

Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

13 Comments on Brown Joins in Call to Save Research Funding

  • SigChi on 11.14.2012 at 1:39 am

    more money should go to smg, we need bigger classes

    • BU Alum on 11.14.2012 at 7:19 am

      Then you should pay higher tuition.

      • SigChi on 11.14.2012 at 6:52 pm

        uhhh i already pay 60k

        • cas student on 11.22.2012 at 12:01 am

          dude they dont call it Sex Money Greed for nothing. why dont you study more about business before calling out BU for your faults

  • Kyle on 11.14.2012 at 7:04 am

    Way to go BU, again politicizing at every opportunity. What was a relevant and fair article about the situation from the University’s perspective, loses all credibility by politicizing the situation and blaming the situation on Republicans.
    “Republicans on the committee refused to consider tax increases in tandem with spending cuts.” What about Democrats who refused to look at entitlements? Each side has their sacred cows. Just like BU doesn’t want research funding cut, nobody wants to lose what they have. Next time lets try to stick to the facts and figures about the situation.

  • NASA and NIH on 11.14.2012 at 7:16 am

    The PHS also funds a lot of nonsensical social science research that does not save lives. Perhaps budget cuts would be a good thing as they will force the PHS to trim the fat and foster new relationships between academia and industry. In turn these new relationships and opportunities may lead to better training and graduates who are more employable upon graduation. I have always been taught that when life hands you lemons you make lemonade.

    • BUStaff on 11.14.2012 at 9:43 am

      Not all social science research is nonsensical. Many social science studies being conducted actually ARE saving lives. There is a very strong relationship between biology and psychology that needs to be taken seriously. You’d be amazed at the cures psychology holds if you weren’t being so close minded.

    • NASA and NIH on 11.15.2012 at 5:27 am

      Calling me closed minded for not being politically correct in nonsensical too but I digress. The prior work of NASA is being taken up by private industry for a good reason; it is valuable and hence profitable. Those areas of social science research that really are warranted should have also no trouble attracting funding from private sources. There has to be a litmus test for what constitutes a valid use of public funds for research.

  • Anonymous on 11.14.2012 at 9:32 am

    As always, I’m honored to have Bob Brown at the helm of this fine university. And I’m embarrassed but not surprised to see the comments about BU “politicizing at every opportunity.” The only loss of credibility would be for leaders like President Brown to turn a blind eye to this potential assault on research that is imperative to the health and welfare of our country in myriad ways. As for budget cuts fostering new relationships and opportunities, I’m still scratching my head over that one… But lucky for us all, Republicans have never been behind budget cuts in reality, it’s just lip service for a bully pulpit whose only purpose was to put a stranglehold on America over their extreme distaste for the President. No doubt this will continue as they argue (while licking their wounds) that the election didn’t prove anything, and that most Americans still think the country is moving in the wrong direction. Etcetera. As you’re walking down Commonwealth Avenue, up Mass Ave in Cambridge, and anywhere near the Longwood Medical Center, I hope you’ll take a moment to realize that there is a tremendous amount of research going all over this very unique city, which will likely improve or save the life of someone you love (or you) someday. Co-signing a letter for the preservation of unique and essential partnerships that drive the Boston economy is politics in its best and most responsible form.

    • Anonymous on 02.27.2013 at 8:09 am

      Hear, hear!

  • AP on 11.14.2012 at 9:42 am

    This problem is already happening. Researchers who’ve applied for NIH grants in the past few months are finding that fewer and fewer of them are being funded- even high-level, “name” PIs who generally receive funding when they apply.

    Our government wastes trillions of dollars on supporting people who are not contributing to society. Perhaps they should find a way to redistribute that wasted money to those who are contributing to making our world a better place.

    • CF on 11.14.2012 at 2:51 pm

      I agree that spending should be as efficient as we can make it. However, who are we to say that some people don’t contribute to society? Not sure who exactly you’re referring to…but many of those using government resources are respectable citizens who have common goals and values. Furthermore, because of limiting circumstances, they might be performing jobs that are necessary but that most are unwilling to do. I suppose it’s just what perspective you choose to look at it.

    • NASA and NIH on 11.15.2012 at 5:33 am

      I knew BU attracted more than one brilliant open mind willing to speak truth to power. You have hit the nail on the head. But my support of your comment should not be construed to in anyway detract from the importance of curtailing wasteful government spending on research as well for to do otherwise would be disingenuous.

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