As Congress develops potential plans for reducing the federal deficit, Duke is lobbying to get its fair share of funding.
President Richard Brodhead and more than 130 top administrators from universities around the country signed a letter to Congress this week addressing upcoming reductions to federal discretionary spending, on behalf of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the Association of American Universities. The letter, which was sent to the bipartisan Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction Wednesday, calls on Congress to keep in mind the importance of higher education when reaching a balanced-budget agreement.
“What we’re saying is, we need to get the budget under control, but don’t do it on the backs of students and researchers and universities... which no one can deny are generators of jobs and entrepreneurship,” said Chris Simmons, associate vice president for federal relations at Duke. “Everyone is going to have to sacrifice, but don’t make us the only lambs in that game.”
The letter argues that since World War II, most of the country’s economic growth can be attributed to technological advancements conducted at major research universities and funded by government research grants. It also said the Joint Select Committee should evaluate entitlement programs and tax reform in order to balance the budget, instead of diminishing federal research and university spending.
The 12-member Joint Select Committee was created in late July, while Congress was developing a deal to raise the debt ceiling. The committee is charged with reducing the federal deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years, and it is required to complete a plan by Nov. 23.
Duke currently receives almost half of $1 billion each year from the federal government, mostly in the form of competitive research grants, Vice Provost for Research James Siedow said. Although no one is certain what the budgetary outcome will be, he added that the government could potentially cut up to 10 percent of research funding, which could force the University to lay off employees and slash administrative costs.
Siedow noted that most of the funding that Duke receives from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation comes in the form of competitive grants. The University could cushion the severity of the cuts if its researchers continue to succeed in an increasingly competitive landscape.
“There’s no guarantee we would lose 10 percent. If we compete better, we could only lose 8 percent,” Siedow said. “[Our researchers] generally compete quite well. But over time, if the overall amount of money available for research goes down, it’s hard for us to increase our market share.”
Many of Duke’s foreign language and international studies programs have already been affected by government budget reductions this year.
Title VI of the Higher Education Act allocates money through competitive grants to university programs that provide instruction in less popular languages such as Arabic, Creole and Farsi—and their annual budget was reduced by more than 40 percent earlier this year. Duke has seven Title VI centers, which were awarded $12 million in 2010 to be distributed periodically through 2014. As of this summer, administrators expect that the centers will lose more than $4 million total in the remainder of the distribution period due to the federal budget reductions.
This year, Duke received upwards of $150,000 for more than 50 fellows in the federal Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellows program, which provided each fellow with $18,000 for tuition and a $15,000 stipend, said Kelly Schwehm, Asian and Middle Eastern studies program coordinator. She added that Duke subsidizes the remainder of the tuition, the amount of which varies across the University’s different schools.
In coming years, Schwehm said she expects FLAS funding to be reduced, but Duke will not make up the difference. Asian and Middle Eastern studies currently offers four to five fellowships during each academic year, but next year they might only be able to offer two, she added.
Kelly Jarrett, associate director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center, said cutting from programs like this is not just a disappointment for potential scholars, but also represents misplaced priorities. She emphasized that eliminating many prominent foreign language institutions is not in the interest of national security. Without these university programs, the government would be less able to carry out missions that require fluency in languages such as Arabic or Farsi, she said, mentioning the capture of Osama bin Laden as an example.
“At the same time [the government] would carry out a significant operation that yields so much potential security information, they’re cutting the funding stream for universities that produce the scholars who can read it,” Jarrett said.
The addition of Brodhead’s signature to this letter is only part of Duke’s larger efforts to lobby this issue to Congress, Simmons said.
Brodhead, who was not available for comment Wednesday and Thursday, sent a similar letter to Rep. David Price, D-N.C. in April outlining Duke’s expectations for university and research funding as Congress develops its annual budget. That same month, he also wrote to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, asking him to thoroughly weigh the pros and cons of cutting Title VI funding.
Several congressional staffers visited campus Wednesday to speak with Brodhead about federal need-based student aid and research funding, Simmons added.
Siedow said he believes that this kind of effort—particularly when it comes from a prominent university—can make a difference in Washington. Even so, Siedow noted that he is still concerned about the near future of university funding.
“Research is the seed point for future economic growth, and if we’re too draconian about cutting that, 20 years down the line we’re going to pay the price,” Siedow said. “It’s pretty scary.”