• September 4, 2015

Corporate Chief to Head Review of University Research Support

At the request of Congress, a former chief executive of the DuPont chemical company, Charles O. Holliday Jr., will head a yearlong review of what the federal government can do to help ensure the long-term health of the nation's research universities.

The review, expected to be announced later this week and conducted by the National Academies, has been a major goal of the universities. They have argued that, because of cuts in state support, the federal government needs to play a greater role in financing science and research at public institutions.

The academies agreed to conduct the study at the request of lawmakers who have been pressed by groups such as the Association of American Universities, which has warned about the danger of states increasingly diverting budget resources from higher education to elementary and secondary schools, health care, and prisons.

"The competitive advantage the United States currently enjoys is obvious," the president of the association, Robert M. Berdahl, told Congress in his appeal, referring to the global pre-eminence of America's research universities, "but retaining it cannot be taken for granted."

University leaders have said they hope the outcome will be similar in effect to the "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" report that the academies produced in 2007, generating a bipartisan push in Congress to double federal spending on scientific research.

Mr. Holliday and other corporate leaders will account for about half of the approximately 21 members of the study panel, according to an official familiar with the effort. Input from business leaders could be critical to ensuring political support for any final recommendations, the official said. Current and former university presidents will comprise much of the rest of the panel.

Paul N. Courant, a professor of public policy, economics, and information at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, has been one advocate calling for more federal involvement. He has pointed out that university-based research, supported by the government, was a key factor in the U.S. victory in World War II.

"Once more, it is time for the federal government to step in and provide the support necessary to keep our crucial graduate programs among the best in the world," Mr. Courant and colleagues wrote in January in a Chronicle essay.

The study may also take the panel of experts into the politically sensitive topic of immigration, including questions of whether the federal government should be doing more to encourage top foreign students to remain in the country.

The panel is expected to begin conferring by phone this summer and hold its first in-person meeting in the fall, with the goal of issuing a final report within 12 months.

Karin Fischer contributed to this article.


1. jthelin - June 23, 2010 at 07:36 am

The selection of a "corporate chief" with a background in chemical engineering most likely will be welcomed news to profesors and researchers in the humanities and social sciences -- a likely omen that these under-funded fields will recover from their marginal status.

Historian Laurence Veysey years ago pointed out that standard gauge railroad tracks did more to transform the American economy than did the emergence of great universities. And, Veysey was a supporter of universities. I think the universities' call for federal bail out is silly -- a good example of how "cash for clunkers" model can be transplanted from the auto industry to the academic industry.

2. janeer1 - June 23, 2010 at 01:08 pm

Please note the first article under "Past Coverage"; this request comes from the universities. As a historian, John, you will recognize this as a version of the 1940s "peaks of excellence" strategy--and cf the reference to World War II! We are going backward, not forward. Higher education and the research system need restructuring, as I have argued, but the failure of imagination and clinging to old models (including the desire to be bailed out but left alone)is disheartening to say the least. Note to committee: the world has changed fundamentally, and so must your approach. More money (including the doubling of funds you kindly although unbelievably referenced given the lack of evidence of public benefit and accountability and the absence of any link to economic health)is not the solution--at least, not under the current way of thinking. Clearly, creative new blood is needed. You cannot go back.

3. 11134078 - June 23, 2010 at 08:38 pm

I greatly distrust America's "corporate leaders" and "business leaders" for these are the people largely responsible for most of the messes we are now in. And heading the study, a man from DuPont or all places. I fear that real basic research in the sciences will suffer if these people's recommendations are taken seriously. Of course, the humanities will die, but that is only to be expected.

4. chrisaldrich - June 24, 2010 at 10:13 pm

@jthelin I'm curious just who you think conceived, designed, engineered, built and operated the railroads that transformed the American economy? My guess is that it was scientists, engineers and others who were all educated in American universities. It's obvious that without higher education the vast majority of innovation within the US economy would not have been possible.

Indeed, if you go back and look at the history, many US institutions of higher learning were started or initially funded by industrial titans in grand acts of philanthropy. These bequests weren't solely for the sake of ego -- many of these businessmen realized they needed an educated workforce to run their companies, compete and make even more money. I'm also curious how often you ride the train these days, for while some technologies will come and go education is the base upon which we'll manage to "travel" tomorrow.

More money for education and the knowledge enterprise can never be a poor investment. Naturally, HOW it is spent can make a large difference, but we're woefully underfunding all areas of education at the moment, and in particular we're underfunding basic research, which is one of the primary items being addressed in this article.

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