In a meeting before the University’s leading faculty governance body, Stephen Forrest, the University’s vice president of research, said the University will have to make significant changes in the coming months to remain a top research institute.

Though the University receives federal funding for research — particularly from the National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Defense — Forrest said budgets from those institutes are shrinking and told the University’s Senate Assembly yesterday that he’s not yet sure how this will affect the University.

“2012 is looking at significant budget cuts across all agencies, and we don’t know what that’s going to mean or how deep they’re going to be,” Forrest said.

Forrest suggested that researchers plan ahead for research funding reductions by being efficient in their work and only hiring people they will really need and can afford.

“This is what we have to be aware of so we can position ourselves to pilot our way through turbulent times,” he said. “Professors who are working in an area that requires a lot of external funding need to think about how to manage through these times, which are going to be extended.”

In comparison to other research institutions, however, Forrest said the University is in a better position than most.

“We’re actually quite lucky,” Forrest said. “We’re sitting at the top of the pile in terms of research funding.”

In an interview after the meeting, Kate Barald, chair of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs and a professor of cell and developmental biology and biomedical engineering, said she’s worried about the future of research with the possible funding cuts.

“Universities like Michigan have a very large contingent of people who are dependent on outside funding, and that means that fewer people could be supported if that funding stream dries up,” Barald said. “Unless we can garner more philanthropy, we’re in trouble because the federal revenue stream is drying up.”

In addition, Barald said that without grants, principal investigators wouldn’t be able to support workers in their laboratories, which means research technicians and graduate students could lose their jobs. She added that this is the worst climate for federal funding she’s seen in 30 years.

Students receive faculty-funded scholarship

Earlier in the meeting, Semyon Meerkov, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science, gave an update on the first two student recipients of a faculty-supported, need-based fellowship called University Faculty Undergraduate Scholarship Foundation, which he proposed to SACUA in May 2007.

Meerkov said that 102 faculty members donated money and raised $66,760 for the students. That amount was then matched by the Office of the President and the scholarship fund reached a total of $121,514.

Because $6,000 is needed each year to maintain the program, Meerkov said additional funds will be needed. To provide the funding, Meerkov said the foundation will have a campaign to raise more money, and he urged assembly members to make a donation of $10 each month.

The two recipients of the scholarship, LSA senior Lama Bandar and Engineering freshman David Thompson, who each receive $3,000 per year they’re in school, gave a brief speech to the assembly about what they have done or plan to do as undergraduates.

Barald said she hopes more faculty members will donate to the faculty Undergraduate Scholarship Foundation.

“The faculty are only as good as the students and vice versa,” Barald said. “It’s a real symbiotic relationship.”

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