On Wednesday, June 27th the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s Subcommittee on Research and Science Education convened a hearing to survey the many challenges that U.S. research universities face. The hearing was held in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act of 1862, which allowed for the creation of land-grant colleges. Under the Morrill Act, each eligible state in the Union received 30,000 acres of land that could be used to build a university on or could be sold to pay for the construction of universities.

The hearing opened with a statement from Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL), in which he made note of the importance of innovation to the United States economy, and that “particularly in today’s tough economic times, research universities play a vital role in America’s ability to maintain its competitiveness.”

Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-IL) also gave a statement in which he espoused the essential nature of research universities to the United States’ R&D infrastructure, and thus to the economic success of our nation. He also cited a strong link between the success of research universities and the creation of jobs. He concluded his opening statement with a focus on the importance of research universities to our future workforce, “In addition to contributing immeasurably to our economic prosperity and wellbeing, research universities also train the next generation of scientists, engineering and innovators.”

The hearing comes on the heels of the release two weeks ago of a National Research Council (NRC) report on the status quo and viability of research universities in the US. This report, which was requested in 2009, presented three major goals that should be sought after in order to maximize the effectiveness of US research universities. The three goals are: “revitalize the partnership among universities, federal and state governments, philanthropists, and the business community; strengthen the institutions by streamlining and improving the productivity of the research operations within universities; and build talent to ensure that America’s pipeline of future students, scholars, and workers in science, engineering, and other research areas continues to be the best in the world.”

The final part of the hearing consisted of five witnesses who were questioned by the committee. The witness panel was made up of Mr. Charles Holliday (National Academies), Dr. John M. Mason (Auburn University), Dr. Jeffrey Seemann (Texas A&M University), Dr. Leslie P. Tolbert (University of Arizona), and Dr. James Siedow (Duke University).

Charles Holliday testified on the importance of research universities in helping the United States “position itself in a competitive world transformed by technology.” He also emphasized the need for a strong science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce in the United States, and how research universities play a role in encouraging the development of such a workforce.

Following Holliday’s testimony, Dr. John Mason brought up the issue of regulatory challenges that research universities face, and said that “the regulatory burdens placed on all recipients because of what appears to be the improper actions of a few.”

Dr. Leslie Tolbert contributed with an agreeing statement, echoing Mason’s testimony by saying that requiring research universities to comply with an increasing load of regulations wastes a significant amount of time and money.

During the questioning portion of the hearing, Congressman Lipinski focused on a recent decrease in funding for research universities and how regulations restrict the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the commercial market. Lipinski concluded by clearly stating that although our country is in a difficult financial situation, “we cannot afford to jeopardize our nation’s future prosperity by not providing sustained and predictable support for scientific research and affordable education.”

 

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