In the magazine’s Dec. 10 issue, reporter Anthony Bianco wrote that Faust believes “it would be wise” for “lesser universities” to shift their focus away from hard science, given the fierce competition for federal funding.
But Alan J. Stone, Harvard’s vice president for government, community, and public affairs and a spokesman for Faust, wrote in a letter to the magazine’s editor that the quote was taken out of context.
“She would never attempt to prescribe what another institution ought to do,” Stone wrote, “especially in the superior manner that the partial quotes in this article appear to suggest she has.”
It is the second time in two days that Faust has alleged that the press mischaracterized her comments. On Wednesday, she responded to an article in the Boston Globe that suggested that she was reconsidering the University’s plans for Allston.
Faust was quoted as saying that less wealthy universities should “really emphasize social science or humanities and have science endeavors that are not as ambitious,” as those of Harvard and its peers.
Bianco could not be reached for comment last night.
Bianco’s article, “The Dangerous Wealth of the Ivy League,” investigates the advantages that universities with large endowments wield in conducting scientific research. He argues that Ivy investments may harm public universities by poaching star professors and their research money.
Associate Provost for Science Kathleen M. Buckley disputed Bianco’s assertion that elite, private schools put their public counterparts at a disadvantage.
“Many of the top public universities are very serious competitors in the sciences,” Buckley said. “I know a lot of scientists educated in the public school system in the West, and they’re some of the top scientists in the world.”
Terry Devitt, a spokesman for the University of Wisconsin at Madison’s research programs, said he saw no evidence that his school could not compete with the Ivies, citing the university’s top-10 ranking as a recipient of federal funds for scientific research.
“Take a look at the numbers,” Devitt said. “This is a first-class institution and is the equal or superior of Harvard in many areas.”
University of Wisconsin at Madison ranked second in total research and development expenditures in 2006, while Harvard did not break the top 25, according to the National Science Foundation. Only four of the top 10 institutions listed were private.
The level of total federal funding for scientific research nearly doubled from 1999 to 2006, increasing from $16 billion in 1999 to $30 billion. But in some areas, notably medical research, federal funding has stagnated.
Since 2004, federal funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has declined in real terms. The percentage of grant applicants receiving money has dropped from 31 percent in 1998 to under 20 percent in 2006.
Brock Reeve, the executive director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, said he thought large universities—both public and private—have advantages beyond mere dollars.
“It’s not just about the amount of money but the virtue of scale,” Reeve said. “what that scale buys you is that you can attract [star scientists] and do research you can’t do elsewhere.”
Reeve added that competition with foreign schools would continue to drive scientific research.
“Places like Harvard and elsewhere historically have tended to be very comfortable,” Reeve said. “But now, we are in a competitive environment not only domestically but internationally, which is good because it keeps us honest even though it makes life harder.”
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