Penn President Amy Gutmann supports the stagnated Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act on the basis that it will “make our nation stronger, and our future brighter.”
However, if President Gutmann truly wishes to illuminate the country’s future, she should focus her sights on the university she presides over before getting all worked up about our dysfunctional national legislature.
In the past year, Penn secured $850 million — yes, you read that right — in federal research grants. These research grants are grounded in sound principle, but as the unemployment rates continue to linger, the tepid amounts of money driven toward Penn research facilities become a relic of a bygone era.
Keep in mind that the $850 million figure is an annual stipend; it doesn’t take an advanced math degree to soon realize that over the course of one’s four year-undergraduate experience, the University of Pennsylvania pulls in more federal money than the entire Class of 2012 will make in their lifetimes, combined.
Normally, this gripe would fall on deaf ears, but the recessionary state of America, and its moribund effect on collegiate students, makes this $850 million figure a uniquely important one.
Primarily, the research grants that Penn accumulates year after year work against the “bright future” ideal that President Gutmann asserted in her DREAM endorsement. There is not an endless supply of available federal research grants. Logically, the more money Penn pulls in, the less money there is for other schools — many of which have students who have a fraction of the employment options that Penn graduates have upon obtaining that illustrious Ivy degree.
David Dooley, president of the University of Rhode Island, presides over one of those schools that feels the pain that Penn inadvertently inflicts. On Penn, Dooley says, “Long-standing relationships tend to get established with a handful of very prominent, highly prestigious, terrific institutions.” These schools have “a lower burden of proof, to get the appropriate score that leads to funding,” an advantage that is “very difficult for many institutions to break into.”
In labeling Penn and other funding-rich institutions as an “inner circle,” President Dooley hits upon the core of the educational-grant problem — the schools that often receive the most money often have the largest endowments, rendering grants meaningless.
For President Dooley’s school, it received $80 million in research grants, a 10th of Penn’s take.
The University of Rhode Island’s endowment: $74.7 million. Ours? Roughly $6 billion.
But if you take a look at statements put out by Penn’s administration, one might be confused in viewing Penn as needlessly unselfish. Steve Fluharty, vice chancellor for research at Penn, claimed that doing research with earmarked federal funds — money that is set aside through legislature for specific projects — is “strongly discouraged” here. To add insult to injury, Fluharty continued by saying, “We’re sending the message to Congress that money should be invested in competitive programs.”
One can only wonder how strong that message is when Penn willingly accepts astronomical figures from the federal government each and every year. And despite the “strong discouragement” that Fluharty touts, Penn continues to have no formal policy in the books barring individual researchers from receiving earmarks.
The answer is not for Penn to suddenly shut off its federal money machine, but rather, to look at ways in which Penn can pool its extraordinary research capabilities with universities who are traditionally less well-off. After all, not all the innovative research in the nation will emanate from Penn labs, although we might like to think so, and an unselfish approach to research funds will actually enhance the “bright future” that Gutmann invoked.
Or we could continue on our path. As Gutmann said last year, here at Penn, “we pride ourselves on doing more with less.”
Brian Goldman is a rising College senior from Queens, N.Y. Last semester, his column appeared on Mondays. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.Comments powered by Disqus
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