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Scientists Seeking Stimuli

A collection of U.S. research universities is making the case for science to be included in legislation aimed at reviving the moribund economy.

In a letter today to President-elect Barack Obama, the 62-member Association of American Universities proposes $2.7 billion in immediate spending on academic buildings, scientific equipment, and young researchers. AAU joins a long line of interest groups hoping to tap into an economic stimulus package topping $500 billion in emergency spending that will be taken up next month by Congress and the incoming administration. Several higher education groups are also making a pitch to make college more affordable, arguing that a better-trained workforce will help the country climb out of the recession sooner.

AAU's proposals mostly involve huge increases to existing programs at the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy. They are long-shots at best. But the letter also serves to remind politicians that science is important to the nation's economy, an argument that they hope will pay off next year as Congress completes work on the 2009 budget and then turns to President-elect Obama's request for 2010.

Letter follows after the jump.

December 12, 2008
President-elect Barack Obama
451 6th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20004

Dear President-elect Obama:

As your transition team works with Congress to develop an economic stimulus package, the Association of American Universities offers for your consideration six recommendations that we believe would help college students and universities weather the economic downturn and boost the nation’s economic recovery.

The AAU recommendations include two major proposals on student access and academic infrastructure that will be discussed in greater detail in a forthcoming letter from the higher education associations, including AAU. Our four other recommendations focus on issues related specifically to research universities.

We are well aware that the states and other economic sectors require federal assistance, as well as millions of our fellow citizens who need access to food stamps and unemployment insurance. Meeting the basic needs of our fellow Americans at this difficult time is clearly the first step in responding to this crisis.

We believe it is also an important national priority at this time to help students directly affected by the recession to remain in college.

In addition, a stimulus package will be aimed at creating jobs quickly, ideally in a way that helps restore long-term economic growth. As large employers and as primary drivers of our innovation economy, research universities—including their students, faculty, and staff—play a vital role in producing the intellectual talent, scientific advances, and innovative ideas that are necessary for restoring economic growth, creating new jobs, and ensuring national security.

As you and congressional leaders develop the stimulus package, therefore, we ask that you consider including the following elements.

1. Ensure access to a college education through grants and loans.
2. Create a mechanism to address credit market dislocation and enable colleges and universities to finish construction of current building projects and begin construction of shovel-ready projects.
3. Provide an additional $750 million for academic research facilities modernization and instrumentation programs at the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Institutes of Health.
4. Provide an additional $150 million for the Department of Energy’s new Energy Frontier Research Centers program as a means of stimulating university energy research and training capacity to address the nation’s energy challenges.
5. Provide $1.8 billion to enable research universities to hire more young scientists and engineers for tenure-track faculty positions.
6. Significantly improve academic infrastructure around the country by creating the broad academic infrastructure program discussed in the forthcoming letter of the higher education associations.

A more detailed description of these recommendations follows. Thank you for your consideration of our request. Please let me know if we can be of assistance to you or provide additional information or materials.

With best regards,

Robert M. Berdahl
President, AAU