The Looming Decline of the Public Research University

Source: Jon Marcus, Washington Monthly, September/October 2017

Cuts in research funding have left midwestern state schools—and the economies they support—struggling to survive. ….

….But university research is in trouble, and so is an economy more dependent on it than many people understand. Federal funding for basic research—more than half of it conducted on university campuses like this one—has effectively declined since 2008, failing to keep pace with inflation. This is before we take into account Trump administration proposals to slash the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) budgets by billions of dollars more.

Trump’s cuts would affect all research universities, but not equally. The problem is more pronounced at public universities than privates, and especially at public institutions in the Midwest, which have historically conducted some of the nation’s most important research. These schools are desperately needed to diversify economies that rely disproportionately on manufacturing and agriculture and lack the wealthy private institutions that fuel the knowledge industries found in Silicon Valley or along Boston’s 128/I-95 corridor. Yet many flagship midwestern research universities are being weakened by deep state budget cuts. Threats to pensions (in Illinois) and tenure (in Wisconsin) portend an exodus of faculty and their all-important research funding, and have already resulted in a frenzy of poaching by better-funded and higher-paying private institutions, industry, and international competitors…..