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Top administrators from 11 public research universities released a joint statement last week rebuking University President Drew G. Faust for her recent comments in BusinessWeek, where she was quoted as saying that public universities short on federal funds should leave expensive scientific research to their wealthier peers.
“We emphatically reject that notion,” wrote the administrators, who are provosts from schools such as the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin at Madison. “Collectively, our institutions educate more than 380,000 students, produce 1 in every 8 American PhDs, and conduct more than $4.5 billion worth of research every year.”
In response, Faust has sent a letter to each provost stating that the BusinessWeek article “seriously misrepresented” her views.
According to the Dec. 10 BusinessWeek article, “The dangerous wealth of the Ivy League,” Faust said that universities lacking the funding that Harvard and its peers enjoy should “really emphasize social science or humanities and have science endeavors that are not as ambitious.”
The provosts’ letter, which appeared in BusinessWeek earlier this month, used the article’s claims to highlight the financial difficulties facing many public universities.
“Strained state budgets have brought significant funding decreases at the same time that we are trying to serve more students and hold the line on tuition increases,” the 11 administrators wrote.
In her letter to the provosts, Faust said that the BusinessWeek article mischaracterized her views and quoted her out of context.
“I did not say, and I do not by any stretch of the imagination believe, that our leading public universities—which have been so critical for so long to the nation’s scientific enterprise—should somehow cede the field to well-endowed private institutions,” she wrote.
One of the letter’s authors, University of Illinois at Chicago Provost R. Michael Tanner, said yesterday that he had “every reason to believe” that Faust meant what she said in her response. But, he added, “it has been hard for us to remain competitive in terms of salaries” and other faculty benefits.
The level of total federal funding for scientific research—separate from state budgets—nearly doubled from $16 billion in 1999 to $30 billion in 2006, according to the National Science Foundation. In some areas, however, notably medical research, federal funding has stagnated.
The University of Wisconsin at Madison, whose provost signed the letter, ranked second in total research and development expenditures in 2006, while Harvard did not break the top 25.
Faust’s remarks in BusinessWeek, one of the first significant gaffes of her presidency, have not elicited major criticism from Harvard faculty members, many of whom voiced strong objections to controversial comments made by her predecessor, Lawrence H. Summers.
“If Larry Summers had done that, they would have boiled him in oil,” said former Tufts provost Sol Gittleman, who is not one of the letter’s authors.
“But the faculty that chose her over Summers will let her pass and leave her alone.”
The 11 provosts who wrote the letter responding to Faust’s remarks hailed from Pennsylvania State University, University of Illinois at Chicago, Indiana University at Bloomington, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Iowa, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, University of Minnesota, Ohio State University, Purdue University, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
—Staff writer Rachel L. Pollack can be reached at email@example.com.
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