Congressman Ellison, U of M Faculty Call for Increased Federal Research Funding as Researchers Highlight Growing Challenges

Congressman Ellison, U of M Faculty Call for Increased Federal Research Funding as Researchers Highlight Growing Challenges

AAUP/SEIU Faculty Forum Highlights
November 7, 2015
UNION ADVOCATE: Ellison to U of M researchers: Use collective action to reverse dwindling federal support
November 13, 2015
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Lack of available funding compromising research aims and driving researchers from academic research, according to recent survey of U researchers

MINNEAPOLIS – Academic researchers who are part of an effort to form a faculty union at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities campus released a report today that highlights how research suffers from dwindling federal funding and unsupportive University policies, according to a recent survey completed by over 300 research academics on campus.

“Funding insecurity and increased pressure to procure dollars limits the potential value of our research, and I personally know researchers who have left their fields altogether as a result,” said Geoffrey Rojas, a Post-Doctoral Associate in Chemical Engineering & Materials Science and President of the University of Minnesota Post-Doctoral Association. In the survey report released today, three quarters of all respondents responsible for applying for funding said that their ability to secure funding has – or has possibly – changed the direction or specialization of their research. “This is detrimental to our standing as academic researchers, to the University of Minnesota as a whole, and to the broader search for knowledge that could benefit society,” continued Rojas.

Congressman Keith Ellison joined research faculty for a round table event at Coffman Union today, calling for an end to the federal budget sequester and increased national investment in university-based research and development. “The Republican-led Congress is moving in the wrong direction,” said Ellison. “I urge my colleagues to reject ideological limits to scientific research, end the budget sequester, and pass a budget that reverses the decades-long slide in research funding. It is their work that could lead to critical breakthroughs on the greatest challenges facing society, be it cancer, climate change, or food safety.”

Federal funding for university-based research has been on the decline for decades when adjusted for inflation, and cratered sharply in the last 10 years. The portion of the total federal budget dedicated to research has declined from 12% to 4% since 1965. From 2005 to 2015, overall research spending across federal agencies fell $21 billion, or 13 percent, in constant 2015 dollars. Meanwhile, 62% of survey respondents responsible for applying for research funding said that the amount of time they spend securing funding has increased during their career at at the U of M.

“We rely heavily on federal funding to conduct our work and fulfill our research mission at the University, so as a result of these funding cuts the amount of time we spend applying for funding has increased, often compromising our research,” said Jerry Cohen, a Professor of Horticultural Science. “With increased competition for a dwindling pot of available federal grant money, we spend more time on grant applications and grant-required paperwork, and less time on the vital research to which we have dedicated our careers. Every year, we submit excellent, innovative proposals for which there is insufficient funding; we are throwing away good ideas,” continued Cohen.

The report revealed that just 40% of academic researchers at the University feel they have adequate support to effectively fulfill their research mission or have enough educated and trained staff to perform their research at the desired capacity, and just 14% of respondents felt the University is transparent in how it uses the typical 1/3 off-the-top cut of every research dollar in the form of overhead charges.

“These challenges demonstrate why both faculty and other research academics at the University of Minnesota are coming together to form a union with SEIU,” said Mindy Kurzer, a Professor of Food Science and Nutrition and Director of the Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Institute. “We need a real voice in shared governance at the University to address detrimental policies and an overall lack of transparency, as well as a stronger collective voice as academic researchers to advocate for adequate public investment,” continued Kurzer.

Tenure-line and contingent faculty at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities campus are working to form a faculty union to improve faculty voice on campus and advocate for stronger state and federal support for the University’s teaching and research missions.

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MN Academics United is an affiliate of SEIU Local 284. Faculty at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities campus are coming together to form a union for a stronger voice in shaping our University’s direction and priorities, our working conditions, and the future of higher education in Minnesota.