Welcome Back

From the Presdent

Renewing Research

Dear Colleagues:

Welcome back.

We have endured one of Philadelphia's most memorable--and most extended--heat waves. With the return of colleagues, the arrival of students, and the resumption of classes, the fall brings a sense of relief, renewal and rededication to our shared academic endeavors.

As the students return, we renew our focus on our fundamental obligations as teachers and advisors. Our ability to inspire students to learn and grow is one of the greatest opportunities of academic life. I will have more to say about teaching and advising as the year unfolds.

I want to focus here on Penn as one of our nation's--and the world's--leading research universities. Many of us have spent the summer renewing our research projects, advising doctoral students, working in laboratories, or visiting libraries and fieldwork sites around the globe. Others have spent the summer writing and revising, editing and revising, rewriting and revising, and writing anew.

Faculty research--in all our disciplines--is the heart of our academic lives, and we give expression to its central role in our training of graduate students for careers in scholarly and scientific research. Both graduate education and research will be prominent topics on Penn's campus this year, for having begun work on the undergraduate experience, we must now ensure that it will rest on a foundation of faculty research and graduate training that is second to none.

Those familiar with the history of scientific research or the sociology of knowledge will know that support for basic research, whether in the humanities, social sciences, or the natural sciences, has never been an easy sell. In some respects, the period since World War II in which most of us were trained and have prospered as researchers has been exceptional rather than typical.

The dramatic changes this past year in the political climate in Washington and the mounting pressure to eliminate the federal budget deficit are combining with long-standing concerns about the high costs of

research and declining political support for graduate fellowships to foreshadow fundamental changes in federal support for our research enterprise.

On the House side, it appears that some of the worst-case scenarios have been forestalled. The National Institutes of Health (Penn's largest research sponsor) could get a 5.7% increase, while NSF and DOD research funding might get cut by only 1% and 2%, respectively. Unfortunately, humanities research may take the biggest immediate hit from a 40% cut in the budget of the National Endowment for the Humanities. At least, that is what the House of Representatives has proposed at this writing. The Senate will take up these appropriations in the fall, and of course, all bets are off if October brings the widely-feared federal "train wreck"--i.e., a government-wide shut-down because the President and Congress are deadlocked over budget and appropriation issues.

Whatever the short-term outcome of this debate, I am convinced-- as a researcher, as Penn's president, and as a member of the White House's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology--that merely dodging the bullet will not be enough to save us, certainly not in the long-term. Even the funding levels proposed for the coming year may be hard to sustain.

We must be prepared to address these funding issues--long-term support for research, facilities and equipment, and students--on a continuing, sustained basis, and to propose new and creative solutions. Quick fixes and last-minute saves for favorite projects will not long sustain the research enterprise as a whole. Indeed, they can be counter-productive, breeding a sense of false security until unwelcome, unanticipated, and destructive fundamental changes are suddenly forced upon us.

A House committee recently concluded that "it does not believe that the status quo is sustainable or defensible in an environment of steady or declining resources." That is the hard fact we must confront across the board. No matter how well we try to protect the status quo, the reality is that circumstances have changed fundamentally, and sooner or later we will be forced to change with them.

How, then, should we respond?

First, of course, we must continue to fight the good fight to sustain the research funding and infrastructure that has been built. That is why Trustee Chairman Roy Vagelos and I have been spending time in Washington making the case on Capital Hill for research support, graduate fellowships, and generous student loan policies. That is why we are playing a leadership role with other major research universities to present a convincing argument for the continued support of university-based research. That is why we are moving forward on campus with the construction of the Institute for Advanced Science and Technology and BRB2. That is why I will be working to inform our alumni, the parents of our students, and the public about the critical importance of federal support for research and graduate education.

Second, we must place research and graduate education, along with our other initiatives, at the top of Penn's institutional agenda in the years ahead. We must begin now to rethink the research enterprise as we have known it--even as we work hard to protect and defend our critical research programs. Are there new ways of organizing and supporting research? Can we imagine a vibrant and productive system of education and research that is less dependent on government dollars? Can we do a better job of articulating and embodying the interplay-- even the unity--between teaching and research? This is a task that only the great research universities and research faculty in those universities can undertake.

Third, looking ahead, we must recognize that the frontiers of knowledge now cross most traditional disciplinary boundaries. Therefore, the rewards for interdisciplinary research must be commensurate with its increasing importance. This, too, will require new forms of organization and support.

Fourth, we need a well articulated national science policy. Scientific research is not the whole of the research enterprise, but it is by far the largest and most compelling part to our national leaders. All disciplines must be part of a true national research infrastructure, but by the sheer force of the dollars expended, the sciences will inevitably set the tone and direction.

What everyone is searching for is a new vision of the research enterprise--one that won't add dollars that clearly will not be available. I am sure many of you have suggestions (as do I), and I would welcome hearing about them.

Research universities are distinctive American institutions, and they are critical to our academic enterprise--and to the innovations that flow from it to our students and our society. Those innovations will be the key to addressing the long-term needs of our nation and our emerging global civilization. But innovation, like charity, begins at home. So with the start of the fall semester, we too must begin anew to invent our collective future.

Judith Rodin