Years of misplaced political priorities, budget cuts, and recession have led to dramatic decreases in the availability of federal research money from the National Institute for Health (NIH) and other sources.
- In 1968, federal research and development expenditures were 12% of the total federal budget with about half going to non-defense. By 2016, R&D will have fallen to under 4% of the federal budget with non-defense receiving less than 2%.1 Research has been deprioritized across the board.
- Federal funding is crucial to university research. In 2011, three-fifths of all US university research funding, $40.8 billion, came from the federal government.2 The NIH was one of the biggest sources.3
- In constant 2015 dollars, annual NIH funding peaked in 2004 at around $35 billion for the year. In 2015, it was around $30 billion for the year.4 It dropped significantly after the Great Recession.
- The average NIH proposal’s chances of being funded decreased from 40% in 1979 to 16% in 2013. According to NIH Director Francis Collins, “We are leaving half the good science on the table.”5
- In 2011, the NIH’s researcher salary cap was frozen at the previous year’s level for the first time. In 2012, it dropped by $20,000. 14.4% of salaries were lowered. The average reduction was 10.7%.6
- In a recent report, scholars from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology noted that all the greatest scientific achievements of 2014 happened outside of the US, and that our country has a “growing US innovation deficit” due to declining public investment in research.7 They joined others in calling out the growing crisis in US research funding– largely due to declining support in Congress.8
Lab-based faculty across the country report having to make huge sacrifices to cover for these losses, and that the sacrifices are getting worse.
- In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education survey, 50% of more than 8,100 respondents who had led a lab for over six years reported feeling the most financial pressure on their lab within the last year.9
- In response to that financial pressure, scientists are “abandoning areas of study and closing the door to staff members and students.”
• 78% of respondents reduced recruitment of graduate students and fellows
• 62% reduced lab staff
• 47% abandoned a central area of investigation
• 42% advised their students to pursue careers outside academe
• 21% advised their students to pursue careers outside the US
These cuts have been a huge blow to the University of Washington, its faculty and students, and new funding source could lead to shifting research priorities.
- Since 1979, UW has received more annual federal research funds than any other public university.10
- Inflation-adjusted total grant and contract awards to UW increased almost every year from 1995-2010 but stagnated in the early 2000s and have decreased since 2010.11
- NIH grants to UW decreased in seven of the last ten years and would have decreased eight times had it not been for a one-time boost from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. They decreased 14% from 2010-11 (the year after the boost), and 6% from 2013-14, going from $454 million to $428 million.12
- Since 2011, direct UW grant expenditures have either stagnated or decreased in every major expense type (staff/faculty salaries, equipment, tuition stipends/graduate student salaries, etc.).13 The number of people employed in grant-related work decreased from 15,236 to 14,596.14
- In 2014, federal grants accounted for 78% of overall UW research funding, but non-federal grant awards to UW were the highest they’ve ever been. The biggest non-federal contributors were foundations (at $111.5 million), private industry (at $93.1 million) and nonprofits (at $63.5 million). Combined, they made up 20% of UW grant funding in 2014.15
- The growth in private grants to UW should be concerning for scientists in basic research. US private investment in basic science and R&D has collapsed over the last few decades and been replaced with funding for specific company-related products and projects, which often falls short.16
When combined with the collapse in state funding for UW, these changes have fundamentally reshaped how our faculty work, forcing us to spend more time on fundraising and putting us at risk.
- The collapse in state funding for UW has contributed to a decline in faculty with tenure-track appointments. Non-tenure- line faculty now comprise 70% of all faculty. In the School of Public Health, for example, most new faculty hires have been “Without Tenure” (WOT) for several years.
- The administration has developed a concept called “50% tenure,” as only 50% of a salary could be promised due to budget constraints. This makes it difficult to attract competitive faculty at all ranks. A number of faculty are also enduring “short” paychecks, collecting only a proportion of our FTEs.
- WOT faculty have to fundraise our own salaries, which usually replace–not augment–state funding. As federal money decreases, we have to seek money from corporate-backed private sources with their own agendas. Fundraising takes up a growing portion of our time.17
Protecting and expanding research money to UW and beyond is going to take coordinated action by researchers, faculty, and political allies. A faculty union at UW will be a huge boon to this movement.
- In 2013, the looming possibility of federal sequestration threatened $2 billion in funding cuts to NIH.18 Washington’s congressional delegation made protecting NIH funding a huge priority. Working with the NIH leadership, our delegation was able to fend off any major cuts until at least 2015, protecting over $835 million in grants to Washington State.19
- A national movement of organized faculty can push for more federal research funding. SEIU is the fastest growing faculty union in the country. Faculty at other R1 schools such as the University of Minnesota, Boston University, Georgetown, and Tufts are also organizing with SEIU, allowing for national coordination.
- With more state funding, research faculty could gain some relief from having to raise so much of our own salaries. Further, teaching time could be fully compensated, so that we don’t have to “borrow” time from our grant support to subsidize teaching.
- With a union, UW research faculty could have more voice in how indirect revenues from grants are distributed and create a more transparent system.
- Through collective bargaining, we could negotiate with the University of Washington to better manage the effects of reduced research funding on faculty.
4 See #2
11 See http://www.washington.edu/research/.SITEPARTS/.documents/.reports/Annual/Annual_Report_-_Fiscal_Year_2014.pdf. In particular, page 14.
12 The NIH houses this information in their REPORT database, at http://report.nih.gov/index.aspx.
13 See #11. In particular, page 48.
14 See #11. In particular, page 67.
15 See #11. In particular, page 9.
16 See #7. In particular, page 11.
17 These last two points have come up as a common concern in conversations with faculty members.
19 See #7.