BU Video Urges Stop! to Looming Research Cuts
Joins Association of American Universities, others in appeal
Federal research spending is “an investment in jobs. It’s an investment in tomorrow’s breakthroughs in science and medicine and technology. And it’s an investment in America as the innovation leader.”
That’s the message that BU’s Ahmad “Mo” Khalil hopes to get across in a video of academic voices against sequestration, the autopilot cuts in research and other government spending scheduled to take effect March 1. Khalil, a College of Engineering assistant professor of biomedical engineering, joins academics from eight other schools who made videos for Science Works for U.S., a website of the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Science Coalition, and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. The three groups combined represent 200 academic research institutions.
BU joined the AAU last fall, making it one of only four schools invited to membership since 2000. The University is one of only 4 Boston-area members of the 62-member consortium; the other 3 are Harvard, MIT, and Brandeis.
“We hope that the voices of Dr. Khalil and other university researchers and administrators will add to the growing chorus of voices urging Congress and the president to stop the sequester,” says AAU spokesman Barry Toiv. “We hope the videos will enjoy wide viewership among policy makers, media, and the public. They are designed to show specifically what the impact of a sequester would be on vital university research.” In his video, Khalil discusses his bioengineering work in “rewiring and engineering living cells with entirely new functions” for health, energy, and environmental applications.
While recognizing the country’s long-term deficit problem, Khalil says, sequestration would have a “devastating impact” on research.
Toiv says Science Works for U.S. asked its member schools to contribute videos to the site, which is posting them in batches as they come in. Khalil’s video was part of the first batch.
The videos are the latest salvo in a campaign by the AAU and academia in general aimed at derailing sequestration, which was approved by Congress as deficit-cutting insurance if lawmakers and the White House can’t reach a spending agreement. In November, BU President Robert A. Brown cosigned a letter from Massachusetts research universities and hospitals to the state’s congressional delegation, urging the representatives to stop the sequester. That same month, the AAU and its partners announced Science Works for U.S. would disseminate reports and videos about research’s valuable applications.
Jennifer Grodsky, BU’s vice president for federal relations, believes the campaign could influence budget decisions. “We’ve seen that it makes a real difference when Boston students and scholars explain to lawmakers how cutting the federal investment in scientific research can impact their pursuit of new discoveries,” she says. “We’re fortunate to have supporters on Capitol Hill, and videos like these help arm them with the facts to advocate on our behalf.”
Earlier this week, President Obama proposed targeted cuts, entitlement program reforms, and tax-loophole plugging to avert sequestration, and he urged Congress to postpone the sequester if necessary to buy time.
Former Republican U.S. Senator John E. Sununu, an engineer, editorialized this week that sequestration’s across-the-board, 5 percent whack to domestic spending would be manageably small. Toiv counters that that percentage is misleading, since it would be compressed into just seven months—the federal fiscal year ends September 30—“which makes it all the more disruptive.” Besides, Congress has already approved about $1.5 trillion in budget cuts over the next decade, he says.
“It’s hard,” says Toiv, “to understand what is sensible or good for the country about an action that will significantly reduce the innovation-creating, economy-strengthening, job-creating, young-scientist-educating research that takes place at BU, the University of New Hampshire, Dartmouth, and the nation’s other universities.”
“Some in Washington believe that letting the sequester take effect is hitting the ‘easy button’ for solving the nation’s growing deficit problem,” ignoring how it will hurt jobs-creating scientific research, says Tim Leshan, president of the Science Coalition and a vice president at Northeastern University. That harm would fall, he says, “at exactly the time we are making huge strides in addressing the nation’s grand challenges in health care, energy, the environment, and defense.”
Many economists fear the spending cuts will thwart the sputtering economic recovery. For a case study in the economic benefits of research, Leshan suggests looking at Boston: strip federal research money from the city’s universities and the spin-off companies it helps create, and “the local economy would be entirely different.”3 Comments