Friday, June 1, 2018

Concerns over UC science research funding

From CALmatters: Since President Donald Trump took office, scientists have criticized his administration for reportedly allowing political appointees and their aides to spike grants at the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department, proposing deep cuts to climate research, and barring government employees who study global warming from presenting their findings.

But how might such decisions affect funding for scientific research at California universities? That’s the question University of California faculty raised in a recent letter to university chief Janet Napolitano.*

Calling the political vetting of federal research grant applications “a significant threat to academic freedom,” the letter, endorsed by UC’s Academic Council and sent earlier this month, urged the university to better track whether and why its proposals are turned down. It also said tenure committees should avoid penalizing professors if they miss out on funding because their research interests clash with Trump administration priorities.

“It has long been the case that funding priorities change from one administration to the next,” the letter reads. “What is new is the present administration’s open hostility toward science, particularly science that touches on climate change, that examines the impact of fossil fuels on public health, or that entails international collaboration.”

UC Davis law professor Christopher Elmendorf, who wrote the letter on behalf of the university’s academic freedom committee, said his committee has not yet uncovered any instances of UC grant applications being denied for political reasons. But he said the committee heard reports of faculty members trying to avoid “certain magic words” when asking the government for funding.

“If you can write your grant application describing it as being about climate science or write it as being about something that you don’t describe as climate science, maybe you choose not to use those words,” he said.

UC received about $3.4 billion in federal research funding in the 2016-17 academic year, with the bulk of it coming from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. More than $200 million of those federal dollars support climate-related research, according to a UC report. Both UC and California State University have benefited from fellowships and research partnerships sponsored by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—two agencies running climate science programs that Trump has targeted for budget cuts in 2019.

Because application processes can be lengthy, and many grants run for multiple years, the choices federal officials make today could take a while to hit universities’ pocketbooks...

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