Paradigm Shift: Indirects > Direct Costs

Okay … what are they smoking in DC?

An NAS Research Universities “blue-ribbon committee” has been asked to write a report on “the top ten actions that Congress, the federal government, state governments, research universities, and others could take to assure the ability of the American research university to maintain … excellence in research and doctoral education…” The commmittee met in late November to address concerns about shrinking federal investment in academic research. As Science reports,

At the top of the list, university leaders want changes in the formula used to reimburse universities for the ancillary costs of conducting federally funded research on campus.

You might think, wow, they finallly recognize that they need to stop floating their research enterprises on soft money and instead ask “universities to use existing resources in the most efficient manner,” as Science reported when the committee was first announced. Maybe a consistent but modest level of F&A reimbursement for all institutions, not individually negotiated rates.

Um, not quite.

The negotiated reimbursement rate is too low … What if, he [James Duderstadt, UMich] said, the community abandoned its perennial request for more … and accepted flat funding in return for the government allowing universities to be reimbursed fully for what they consider the true cost of hosting federally funded research?

“Hosting federally funded research”? Sounds like a damn Tupperware party.

But in other words, universities want all the $ they consider necessary for building new buildings, running their research administration machine, and keeping the lights on, even if it means less money for actual research and training. And they seem to think their faculty will be pleased as punch about all this:

At the same time, Duderstadt acknowledged that increasing reimbursement for overhead costs, in a flat budget, would leave agencies with less money for research grants. That would increase competition among faculty members already bemoaning low success rates on their applications. “Would your faculty support that approach?” wondered panelist Walter Massey, president of Morehouse College in Atlanta and a former director of the National Science Foundation. “They want a grant with lower, not higher, indirect costs. Could you bring them around?”

Several university administrators thought they could, provided the changes were explained properly. “The challenge is to be consistent and understandable,” said Kim Wilcox, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Michigan State University in East Lansing. “If we can do that, then it’s up to us to explain it to the faculty.”

Like I said, what are they smoking?



  1. writedit said

    And then there is the input from FASEB:

    Howard Garrison, director of FASEB’s Office of Public Affairs, was invited to participate in the focus group on human capital issues. In his remarks, Dr. Garrison described the deteriorating conditions of academic employment. With research scientists increasingly dependent on the federal science budget for salaries, equipment, and laboratory space, anything that takes funding from the competitive grant budgets will terminate research careers and reduce our capacity for innovation. As more courses are taught by part-time, adjunct faculty the educational quality also declines. Garrison warned that efforts to rescue the research universities should not take scarce dollars from competitive research grant budgets, the lifeline of increasingly beleaguered faculty members.

  2. What this is really all about is that about half of the institutions with current federally sponsored research are gonna be cut off the federal tit completely.

    • SaG said

      “The challenge is to be consistent and understandable,”

      I can just imagine how this conversation will go.

      “Shut up and write more R01 Applications!”

      That is consistent and understandable.

    • Neuro-conservative said

      Can you say more about this — what exactly do you mean?

    • What N-c said.

  3. BB said

    “You might think, wow, they finallly recognize that they need to stop floating their research enterprises on soft money…”

    Ya think? Nah, here it’ll nevah happen.

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