From the Daily: Don't cut our progress

Thursday, March 30, 2017 - 4:56pm

Earlier in March, President Donald Trump’s administration released its “skinny budget” proposal for the 2018 fiscal year, causing a lot of bipartisan controversy. To offset a 10 percent increase in defense spending, raising funds to $52.3 billion, the proposal would significantly reduce funding for the National Institutes of Health and eliminate federal funding for close to 20 agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Cuts and closures of these programs will be detrimental, as they have had a profound and lasting impact in every corner of the United States. Extensive cuts in federal funding for — much less the elimination of — these agencies will have overwhelming ramifications for a wide array of educational opportunities at the University of Michigan. Though these proposals are not expected to be passed into law in their original forms, The Michigan Daily’s Editorial Board is deeply concerned by these proposed cuts because of their tangible effects on the University and how they reflect our country’s values.

The NIH, NEA and NEH have promoted crucial research in the sciences, as well as scholarship in arts, culture and history and have helped create thousands of jobs in all 435 congressional districts. On our campus, the proposed 20 percent budget cut to the NIH may have the most tangible effects, as the University prides itself as one of the world’s leading public research institutions. The NIH devotes over 80 percent of its resources to provide grants for research projects and programs in the sciences across the country. Many institutions of higher learning, including the University, depend on such grant money to pay for research costs, including graduate student and research assistant salaries and the equipment and materials necessary to conduct research. As a result of such a deep slash, all members of the University community — undergraduate and graduate students, as well as staff and faculty — would be deprived of resources central to their abilities to conduct research. NIH funding for grants is already exceptionally competitive, and this cut will make research funding even less accessible.

Beyond the negative implications the cuts would have on the University’s scientific research, educational development and rankings, there is no mention of the National Science Foundation in the budget blueprint. The omission of the NSF, a similarly large federal funder of science research for universities, is another troubling sign for future research funding in Ann Arbor.

However, the natural sciences are not the only place where the University and the nation as a whole would feel the negative impacts of the budget. An outright elimination of the two agencies paramount to supporting the arts and humanities across the country, the NEA and NEH, would severely limit programs that promote the arts. With little public funding available elsewhere, programs at the University are largely dependent on grants from these endowments. For the 2016 season, the NEA awarded the University Musical Society with $30,000 to bring performers, residencies and educational programs to Ann Arbor. The money that University programs, like UMS, have received has been instrumental in jump-starting young peoples’ careers in the arts.

Public media is also in jeopardy in the proposed budget. Funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which largely funds local radio and TV stations, would be cut to zero. A 2016 nationwide survey showed that PBS and other member organizations were among the most-trusted information sources in the country. In an era of increased distrust of government and news media, it is vital we preserve the organizations we trust the most to deliver us reliable and unbiased information. 

The national effect of placing such little value on the arts, humanities and research and so much on defense depicts the United States as a defensive and shortsighted nation. The NEA and NEH, which each received around $148 million last year out of a $4 trillion budget, have brought about lasting celebration and appreciation of the arts. Eliminating these agencies is a shameless ignorance of the invaluable output that has been generated from a merely fractional input. The NIH has been — and continues to be — a chief funder of research and the sciences. Slashing its funding by 20 percent is a surefire way to usher in a “lost generation” of scientific innovation and careers. Investments in these three programs have led to or supported thousands of jobs.

The argument that the proposed cuts are necessary in order to finance a massive defense department, one that already spends as much as the next seven countries combined, undermines many of the educational and cultural values upon which the United States has been built. It seems to demonstrate that our values lie more in the military than in the arts and sciences, despite the proven importance of the sciences and the arts. While the budget has yet to pass, these tangible repercussions, both monetarily and culturally, should be very concerning not only to members of the University community, but to the nation as a whole.