Eli in his long life has seen major changes in the funding models for universities and national laboratories in the US, and Europe. And you know what bunnies, while different in detail, the end results are pretty much the same.
The problem is the economic model which fuels health science and increasingly physical science in the US and elsewhere. By only providing a percentage of salaries, the schools and national labs force the faculty and staff to become entrepreneurial at the expense of scholarly.
In order to reach the level of support needed, faculty and staff build large groups of graduate students and post-docs (many of them international students) who then flood the market when they graduate, placing unsustainable stress on the research grant support mechanisms. Of course, some of this overpopulation finds homes at new or lower ranking places who try and populate the streams as lesser piranha but more often get swallowed by the larger fish. Starve the poor is the entire point of league ranking. Rather kill the poor and starve the rich.
The large research groups need to be fed. This puts the most successful PIs into a constant cycle of grant writing, program manager schmoozing and weekly conferences with little to no time remaining for research or teaching. There are advantages to staying away from research institutions and burrowing in at a teaching college if you want to do your own research.
At the same time legislatures, seeing the flow of funding from national sources into research at universities, decided that they could cut back on direct support.
A perfect storm.
There is a choice, smaller department with smaller research groups, fewer new doctoral students and a return to a base funding model.
Michelle Goldberg in The Nation, castigates Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health for firing Carole Vance and Kim Hopper for not bringing in enough money to support their salaries. She sees this as a splendid club for beating on Nicholas Kristof, but the problem isn't Kristof, it isn't Columbia, it is the sea in which Columbia swims.
Kristof is right that universities have become inhospitable places for public intellectuals, but he misses the ultimate cause. The real problem isn’t culture. It’s money.And you certainly cannot support a science with scientists who have to spend all their time shaking the cup.
Like many schools of public health, Mailman operates on a “soft money” model, which means that professors are expected to fund much of their salaries through grants. (Many professors there, including Vance and Hopper, work without tenure.) Recently, the amount expected has increased—from somewhere between 40 and 70 percent of their salaries to as much as 80 percent—and professors say that it’s become a hard rule, with less room for the cross-subsidization of those who devote themselves to teaching or whose research isn’t attractive to outside funders. Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health, the primary source of grant money, has seen its budget slashed. These days, only 17 percent of grant applications are successful—a record low.
The result is an increasing focus on the bottom line over a broad engagement with social issues. “One of the costs of this push for federal funding is going to be a depoliticization of the scholarship at Mailman,” says a professor there who asked to remain anonymous for fear of administration reprisals. “You can’t do great public health without engaging with politics.
Posted by EliRabett at 10:18 PM