As we all know, in mid-October a short-term budget agreement was made in order to re-open the federal government and lift the debt ceiling. As part of the deal, Congress established a committee to reconcile the vast differences between the House and Senate budgets. The committee has until December 13 to submit an agreed-upon budget resolution for the next fiscal year. Without action, a new round of across-the-board spending cuts will occur in January.
It’s easy to think of the difference in numbers as federal, impersonal facts. But these decisions have an impact on all of our lives, not only because of the Illinois impact, but the impact on the entire global economy.
At the end of November, I was honored and privileged to participate in a small delegation of presidents and chancellors from the most respected universities. We talked to key senators and representatives about how sequestration affects the ability of research universities to carry out our mission of discovery and innovation that improves the lives of people around the world. After my trip, it is even clearer to me how vital public research universities are for our future.
Here is a sample of what I shared with our legislators:
Public research universities hold a very special place in our society. At Illinois alone, research that came from our faculty and alumni has lead to the visible LED, the foundations of the MRI, cutting-edge disability innovations, advances in battery technology, The Blue Waters Supercomputer, the first graphical internet browser and stretchable, soluble electronics just to name a few. The people we trained have created YouTube and PayPal and headed Fortune 500 companies. And by disseminating our research and people around the globe, it is no exaggeration to say we have effectively helped to create the world as we know it.
Unfortunately, we have already felt the impact of cuts in funding. Because of sequestration, clinical trials and mental health treatments have suffered. Effective research requires money, and unfortunately, less money means that less research will be performed. One researcher said cuts in funding prevented the team from treating new patients in a clinical trial. What is the cost of refusing people a new lease on life? What if those people would have revealed a new approach? How many lives could it have saved? And if it failed, there is great purpose in negative data. Even penicillin came out of a “failed” research effort.
At Illinois, we also aim to give the opportunity to learn to anyone who is qualified. As a pre-eminent public research university with a land-grant mission and global impact, this is at our core. Cuts in federal funding are leading students to look outside the U.S. for career opportunities. One postdoctoral student currently applying said none of the U.S. universities could guarantee funding, while all the European institutions have funding readily available. This also impacts our ability to attract and retain top faculty members. Without them, we will not attract the best students. By cutting funding, we run the risk of losing our standing as global leaders in research, innovation, and discovery.
During the November trip, I along with other members of the delegation, strongly urged that our legislative leaders strive to reach an agreement that eliminates, or at least diminishes, sequestration and promotes economic growth through research and education investments that includes modest reforms without harming those in need.
I want to thank you all for your perseverance and dedication to your work even amidst the last round of sequestration cuts. In spite of the uncertainty and the challenges it has created, your scholarship has only grown more productive. I truly am proud and endlessly inspired by the Illinois family. I hope that in the coming months, our legislators will make informed, strategic decisions.
Around the Campus
Congratulations to Kevin O’Brien who has been appointed Director of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), a division of the Prairie Research Institute. Most recently O’Brien served as president of Energy Commercialization, LLC, in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read the full story here.
Congratulations to Amanda Rowland, a senior in Special Education, who has received the 2013 Lincoln Academy Student Laureate Award as the sole recipient from Illinois. This award seeks to recognize senior students from four-year, degree-granting institutions in Illinois for their excellence in curricular and extra-curricular programs, while honoring their contributions to the benefit of humanity in or on behalf of the state of Illinois. Read the full story here.