UNION ADVOCATE: Ellison to U of M researchers: Use collective action to reverse dwindling federal support

UNION ADVOCATE: Ellison to U of M researchers: Use collective action to reverse dwindling federal support

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Ellison to U of M researchers: Use collective action to reverse dwindling federal support

by Michael Moore

Ellison, a DFLer whose 5th District includes the Twin Cities campus, pledged to continue supporting research funding in Congress, and he praised U of M faculty, who are in the process of organizing a union, for taking collective action to raise awareness of the issue.

Rep. Keith Ellison pledges to share with his colleagues in the state's congressional delegation an open letter from U of M researchers.

Rep. Keith Ellison pledges to share with his colleagues in the state’s congressional delegation an open letter from U of M researchers.

“Your perspective is unique,” Ellison told faculty. “Your process is hands-on. And you’ve got to be able to handle that process in a way that is meaningful for people making policy decisions.”

Ellison met with academics on the same day they released results of a recent survey of U of M researchers, “The State of Research Funding and Support at the University of Minnesota.” Distributed over the summer, the survey drew 342 responses, which revealed several common threads.

• As federal support for research decreases, U of M researchers are spending more time chasing funding, and their research suffers as a result.

Overall spending on university-based research across federal agencies fell $21 billion, or 13 percent, from 2005 to 2015. The share of the federal budget dedicated to research, at 12 percent in 1965, is less than 4 percent today.

Jerry Cohen, a professor of horticultural science, pointed to a national survey that found academic researchers spend, on average, 43 percent of their day navigating the bureaucracy of federal grant funding.

“We are throwing good ideas away,” Cohen said. “It challenges our ability as a nation to remain a premier scientific-research country on the planet.”

• Lack of federal funding and institutional support is driving talented researchers out of the academic field.

“I personally know of faculty who have left academia because of the giant pressure put on them to find funding,” post-doctoral associate Geoffrey Rojas said.

• The U of M is failing to provide adequate support for researchers competing for federal funds, and the U is not being transparent when it comes to administrative costs taken out of research grants.

Just 40 percent of survey respondents said they feel the university “adequately supports and values their research,” the same amount that feel they are given “adequate time in the workweek” to meet the demands of their positions.

Meanwhile, just 1 in 7 researchers at the U feel their employer is being transparent about how it uses “overhead rates” taken out of federal grants to cover facility and administrative costs, according to the survey.

“One of the reasons we’re organizing a union is precisely because of these issues,” geography professor Bruce Braun said. A union, he added, would give U of M faculty a better voice in shared governance at the U, and it would empower researchers to “advocate for the kind of federal funding we need at the university and that the public deserves.”

Tenure-line and contingent faculty at the Twin Cities campus are organizing with MN Academics United, an affiliate of Service Employees International Union Local 284.