Finding funding for the future

John West, a University Trustee professor, came to Kent State 28 years ago to participate in research in the Liquid Crystals Institute. “Reducing funding for research means we lose the momentum we have,” West said. “It puts in jeopardy both our intellectual and physical infrastructure, and those things are very difficult to rebuild once they’re lost.” Photo by Hannah Potes.

Audrey Fletcher

Researchers at Kent State, already feeling a budget crunch, could face even harsher cuts in federal funding.

Earlier this year, a Congressional committee decided if there were not specific deficit reduction policies put into place, research funding for colleges and universities would be cut across the board.

Trustees research professor John West said very little talk about research funding is going on in politics.

“I think that it’s important that we don’t accept this as inevitable. It’s a mistake,” West said. “Funding for scientific research is not going to change our deficit profile by any significant amount, and the idea that it doesn’t have a huge, long term impact is short-sighted.”

Grant McGimpsey, vice president for research, said he knows funding cuts will happen in his department, but he is not sure how much money will be cut or how long the cuts will last. He said if Congress chooses to act, the cuts might be more rational.

“The problem is when you have this kind of generic cut in the budget there is really never a lot of rhyme or reason to the things that actually do get cut,” McGimpsey said. “It is a pretty dramatic budget cut that could actually come into play Jan. 2.”

This year, about 75 percent of the $33 million research budget comes from the federal government. In addition to federal dollars, Kent State receives some funding from the state through a program called the Third Frontier, which McGimpsey said is used to promote commercialization and job creation.

“The universities have been recipients of some of this funding because we are creating technology that can potentially be the basis for new companies and for job creation,” McGimpsey said. “We’ve been quite fortunate over the years.”

However, McGimpsey said the state is taking longer to distribute the dollars to researchers and targeting funding at projects that can be commercialized and used to create jobs.

He said if cuts were made, the lost dollars could not be made up internally because of the university’s budget constraints.

Coping with cuts

McGimpsey said his department wants to broaden its sources of research funding, which includes pursuing funds from corporate sources and foundations.

“In particular what we’re trying to do is put together private/public partnerships that can then go and get funding from government sources,” McGimpsey said. “If we can partner with companies that will create jobs — if we invent new stuff for them — then the federal and state governments are going to be interested in that.”

McGimpsey hired Michael Bloom, associate vice president of corporate engagement and commercialization, to help connect Kent State researchers with companies and vice versa.

“We’re creating partnerships with companies now where we’re learning from them what they’re research needs are,” Bloom said. “If you do that early enough in the process, the idea then is that you work together, and so the company’s research needs inform what we do in research.”

West said he already collaborates with businesses and that it is something that should be done no matter what.

“I think there’s a growing understanding that focusing on the practical needs of companies can pose interesting scientific questions any way,” West said.

Collaboration can also occur with other universities in the area, but Bloom said the goal would be Kent State leading these collaborations.

McGimpsey said another long-term strategy is to focus investment in areas of research that have long-lasting effects.

Future effects

If the cuts happen across the board, McGimpsey said the university may be scrambling for awhile. He said researchers will be expected to do more with less, but this is not something new in the field of research.

“We’re going to have to be very opportunistic I think and very aggressive in seeking out opportunities,” McGimpsey said. “There still will be opportunities. It is just a question of matching those opportunities to our strengths.”

West said graduate students will be affected by the cuts because most of them are here as a result of external funding. However, he also said research at a university affects undergraduate students as well.

“I think the advantage to an undergraduate student in attending a research intensive university comes back in a multitude of ways in the classroom,” West said. “Your faculty is working on the latest cutting-edge science and technology.”

McGimpsey also said research affects undergraduate students because the discoveries going on can bring excitement and energy to a campus.

Despite potential cuts, McGimpsey said he still would like to see the university grow in research, and he still believes this is a possibility.

“We’re not going to stop doing research. That’s part of what a university does, it creates knowledge and it transmits knowledge,” McGimpsey said. “We’re not going to stop creating knowledge.”

Contact Audrey Fletcher at [email protected].