At this point in the Trump presidency — and especially on this campus — criticizing President Donald Trump has become so common and routine that doing so feels unproductive. According to Gallup, Trump’s approval rating is 36 percent — a record low. And on a campus where only 12 percent of students polled before the election said they would vote for Trump, I suspect that approval rating is much, much lower. It doesn’t help that 57 percent of millennials view Trump as an illegitimate president. 

As airwaves, social media feeds and personal conversations become increasingly saturated with criticisms of the new administration, it’s gotten harder and harder to sift out the news about important policy changes from the rest of the noise surrounding the White House’s personal and familial conflicts of interest, potential ties to the Russian governmentunsubstantiated press statements, inane Twitter wars and other repeated scandals that have plagued the president and his administration. In many ways, that makes it easier for Trump and his congressional allies to ramrod policy changes that the majority of Americans oppose. That’s not just a problem — it’s a slap in the face to our representative form of government and the constituents whom these leaders have a duty to represent.

One policy that has the potential to profoundly affect the University of Michigan — and our lives as students and graduates — is Trump’s budget proposal. To be sure, Trump’s budget has no real legal power unless Congress actually adopts it — a big “if” considering this budget would effectively eliminate 62 federal agencies and programs, many of which are quite popular with constituents. However, the fact that Republicans hold majorities in both the House and Senate should make it more likely that a budget this radical could pass.

While Trump’s budget makes many devastating cuts that will ultimately hurt the country as a whole, some have a particularly strong impact on the University. The proposed cuts to the National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy, National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts will directly and adversely affect the University and those who attend, graduated from or support it.

As the number-one public research university in the country, the University received $1.39 billion in research funding in fiscal year 2016, two-thirds of which came from government agencies. That year, University researchers produced more than 400 new inventions; on average, a new company is launched every five weeks due to technology pioneered here.

That research directly contributes to the strength and prestige of the University, enhancing both the value of our degrees and the quality of education students receive here. Not only does the strength of the University as a research institution contribute to its ability to recruit top faculty and graduate students — giving students the opportunity to learn from the leaders in their respective fields — but it also provides opportunities for students to directly participate in research themselves. More than 1,300 undergraduate students assist with faculty research projects through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program.

As a sophomore, UROP enabled me to work on a research project for a University law school and economics professor. That experience helped me define an interest in law and gave me invaluable experience that helped me land internships and other opportunities. My research sponsor became one of my mentors on campus, and his guidance helped me define and achieve my goal of attending law school after graduation.

None of this even dives into the fact that both economic theory and empirical evidence support the notion that federal research funding produces direct, tangible benefits for the country as a whole. In fact, studies show “the return on investment for publicly funded scientific research and development is somewhere between 30 percent and 100 percent, or more.” This means that for every $1 the government spends on research funding, society receives $1.30 to $2 in benefits over time, on average.

On top of all that, these research institutions also boost the state economy. In 2012 alone, Michigan’s three research universities generated $16.6 billion in economic activity for the state. Those numbers do not include the economic benefits of longer lifespans or higher quality of life due to medical or other kinds of innovations pioneered at these research institutions.

Still not convinced that this research funding affects you? Just consider the fact that if you’re reading this article online, federal research funding actually facilitated the technological breakthroughs that allow you to do that. The internet, lithium-ion batteries that power most mobile devices and the touchscreens used on most cell phones and tablets were all products of federally funded research.

Federally funded research also plays a role in keeping you healthy. One study found that 75 percent of all discoveries of new molecular entities — active ingredients never before used in pharmaceuticals — between 1993 and 2004 were discovered thanks to research funded by the National Institutes of Health.

All of this funding helps America maintain its role as a global leader in innovation. Yet, the Trump administration wants to make serious cuts to already declining levels of federal funding for research. Under Trump’s new budget, the National Institutes of Health would receive $5.8 billion less in funding — about a 20-percent cut. The Department of Energy also faces a 20-percent cut, while the Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency would see an even larger percentage of their funding eliminated.

Since Trump apparently likes to let billionaires decide how to run the government, perhaps the president should take advice from Bill Gates. Last April, Gates penned an op-ed that described the importance of federal research funding in the microchip revolution and, consequently, his ability to start Microsoft. Gates also called on the federal government to increase federal research funding if it wants to remain a global leader in innovation. Given that Gates himself is a global leader in innovation, I think he’s probably worth listening to on this one.

Interested in preventing the government from actually enacting these budget cuts to agencies that directly benefit you? Consider emulating the advocates and ordinary citizens who came together to prevent the American Health Care Act from passing —and prevented 24 million people from losing their insurance. The civic activism of these advocates and ordinary citizens certainly saved lives. However, there are still millions of Americans who suffer from diseases that available medical treatments can’t cure. By telling your representatives to avoid cutting funding to the agencies that fund scientific and medical breakthroughs, you can help save lives as well.

Victoria Noble can be reached at vjnoble@umich.edu.

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