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Presidents fight back on research cuts

More than 165 college and university presidents have signed an open letter coordinated by the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU)
University Business, September 2013

More than 165 college and university presidents have asked President Obama and Congress to help close the “innovation deficit.” In an open letter coordinated by the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), the presidents urge them not to cut additional research and education discretionary spending. By coining the phrase “innovation deficit,” they hope to spark national and local conversations.

“We needed to make a very strong statement to really remind people you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face if you’re cutting back on important investments for the future,” says Ann Speicher, AAU’s associate VP for public affairs.

The presidents point out that over the past two decades, China, Singapore, and South Korea have increased their investments in research and higher education, in part because those nations saw the benefits that similar investments have had for the U.S. economy.

“You’re not going to feel the loss until further down the road,” says Speicher. That’s because it may take many years for a discovery to become an actual product. But, by investing in education now, a promising freshman could go on to contribute to the economy in a big way in 10 years.

The leaders not only hope to make “innovation deficit” a widely recognized and understood term, but also to spur real action at the local and regional level. The AAU and APLU are urging higher ed leaders to talk to their members of Congress, using the letter as an opportunity to talk about specific effects that research and education funding have had on their campuses.

What will help with these conversations is that colleges and universities tend to have a very good relationship with their legislators, says Speicher. “A national campaign doesn’t have the same kind of immediacy, but this can make it come home to legislators.”

The open letter, including a list of all of its signers, can be found at www.innovationdeficit.org.

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