President Mary Sue Coleman must be trying to avoid the long Michigan winter this year. Shortly after returning from a trip to Africa, she left for Washington D.C., where she spoke before the U.S. Senate Democratic Steering Committee. She addressed the issue of federal research funding joined by a group composed of more than 50 research institutions. They pleaded with legislators to expand the federal government’s spending on science research. While Coleman’s message was one that needed to be heard, it is up to legislators – especially Michigan’s U.S. senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin – to make her message a reality.
On Capitol Hill, The Science Coalition is fighting to prevent further cuts to federal funding for scientific research. But President Bush’s proposed 2009 budget is promising more of the same. This federal funding is especially important at the University, where it accounts for nearly 70 percent of the total financial contribution to the University’s research. In particular, the National Institutes of Health is a key contributor to the University, accounting for about 47 percent of its total research budget. In the 2009 budget, NIH would effectively be getting a funding cut as inflation outpaces its increases.
Despite indifference on Capitol Hill, research funding is an investment with big returns. In hopes of showing the impact of university research, Michigan’s three research institutions – the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University – formed the University Research Corridor last year. Independent analysis has shown that the URC members brought $12.8 billion into the Michigan economy and helped create almost 70,000 new jobs in the state.
Toyota’s announcement last week that it will expand its research headquarters in Ann Arbor, and spending $100 million on research certainly reinforces this argument. While only 35 new jobs will be created as a direct result of expansion, the gesture by Toyota is evidence of foreign interest in the resources of American research institutions like the University.
Coleman’s greatest strength has always been her ability to fundraise for the University, and she did that well last week. But in the end, the legislators, who have only shown minimal interest in this issue, control the purse strings. Levin and Stabenow are both experienced members of the U.S. Senate who are more than capable of using their political clout to help bring about the needed increase in research to not only stimulate but strengthen Michigan’s economy. They also have the sway to push Michigan’s state Democratic party into action back home. Yet, they have failed to make this a high-profile issue.
The pleas for increased funding by the Science Coalition to the Senate are commendable, and Coleman did well to fight for this cause. Michigan needs its legislators to follow Coleman’s example in heralding this issue. Without the support of Congress, the abilities of organizations such as the Science Coalition are no more than words without the hope of action.