|Vol. 17, No. 11||Nov. 13, 1997|
President David P. Roselle was asked by the National Science Foundation to present remarks Nov. 3 at NSF headquarters in Arlington, Va., at a morning session for the 20 national recipients of the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers and their families. A ceremony was held later that day for the honorees at the White House. Following is the text of Roselle's speech.
It is indeed a pleasure to be here this morning and take part in this ceremony honoring the nation's most elite young researchers. I am particularly pleased today since two of the honorees have ties to the University of Delaware.
Ann Marie Sastry, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and applied mechanics at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, earned her bachelor's degree with distinction in mechanical engineering at the University of Delaware in 1989. And, Daniel van der Weide is an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at UD, who directs our new Center for Nanomachined Surfaces.
To professors Sastry and van der Weide and the 18 other honorees today, I offer my congratulations!
I also want to take just a moment to say how important such support is to the work of Prof. van der Weide and his colleagues across the Delaware campus who are committed to expanding research opportunities for undergraduates.
UD received in February a $500,000 National Science Foundation Recognition Award for the Integration of Research and Education, or RAIRE. We set out several years ago to change what it means to get an education at our University. That vision has improved the entire learning environment, encompassing every academic unit.
Today, the vast majority of our faculty-including about 90 percent of all engineering, biological and physical science professors-actively participate in providing research opportunities for undergraduates.
We are extremely thankful to the NSF for the RAIRE award, and I'm proud that getting undergraduates into the laboratory where they can learn is now a hallmark of the undergraduate experience at Delaware.
Providing such undergraduate research opportunities makes one feel sanguine about the future, helping to shape what Winston Churchill once called "the empires of the future." He said they are "the empires of the mind."
As I look out at you today and think of the student/faculty interactions taking place on our campus and I hope on yours, I feel compelled to add a few words to Churchill's statement:
And what a future it will be!
I'd now like to take a few moments to talk with you about a fundamental rule of democracy and why that rule should be motivating actions of the higher education community.
I recall a comment made by a Chinese student during protests some years ago in Tianamen Square in his country. He said: "I don't know exactly what democracy is. But, I know we need more of it!"
The word democracy-rule by the people-comes from the Greek demos, "people," and kratos, "rule."
Said differently: The public determines the values of our nation. Or, said differently still: Public policy is like the lottery-You do not win if you do not play.
How does our community-the higher education community-play in public policy? How do we attempt to have our values reflected in public policy?
We are conditioned to consider Congresspersons, state legislators and other public policy-makers to be buffoons or persons of lesser intellect than we. While we may regard our elected officials as such, they, in turn, regard us as very bright persons but possessed of self-interest.
In the higher education community, we are called to action on public policy mainly when there is a perceived threat. In this mode of operation, we betray an attitude of both indifference and arrogance, which appears to rest on the belief that support for our activities amounts to an entitlement.
It is a fact today that the health of the scientific research enterprise lies in the hands of the federal government. My quick survey shows that the federal government currently supports about $17 billion of basic research at U.S. colleges and universities.
Of course, it should not go unnoticed or unmentioned that the federal government supports programs of the sort that has brought us all to the National Science Foundation today. And, this morning, while I speak here, a press conference is being held on our campus in Newark, Del., to announce establishment of a new Advanced Materials Intelligent Processing Center, supported by a $1.4 million grant from the Office of Naval Research.
Making that announcement is Delaware's U.S. Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., who was instrumental in helping attract this funding to his alma mater.
Given the importance of federal decision-makers to our enterprise, is it not appropriate for us to think about ways to be less arrogant and less indifferent in our public and private commentary about the assistance they provide?
In fact, shouldn't we be thinking about ways to say "thank you" to those individuals who quite obviously, through their actions, evidence a belief in our set of values?
The current year is a good test case for the scientific community and the larger higher education community. The budget now adopted or soon to be adopted rather clearly puts higher education on the list of the federal government's highest priorities.
In particular, I know I am not receiving any frantic telephone calls or e-mail messages asking that I contact my senators and representative in order to head off some wrong-headed action.
After a long period of not being a top federal priority, I think higher education needs not only to enjoy our new status but also to be thinking about strategies whereby we remain at the top of the list. The higher education community would have had its best budget in years had the Clinton Administration's tax proposal been adopted as submitted. The Congress, and in particular, the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Delaware's Senator Bill Roth, made significant improvements in the Clinton proposal.
The result is that the federal budget now before us is described as "the best higher education budget in two decades."
It consists of two major components: $40 billion in student aid and $20 billion for research. The new budget also has $95 billion over five years in tax cuts. And, several of them are directly related to higher education, including:
This surely is public policy with which we heartily agree.
I feel compelled to ask you: Are you even aware that this has happened? Are your professional organizations-those that represent you and contact you in times of perceived threat-keeping you informed of this good news?
In fact, the news is even better than what I've outlined thus far-$40 billion in tax cuts is not the entire story. Consider also these parts of the new budget bill:
I feel certain that many of you are sitting here thinking that President Clinton and the Congress were able to present an improved budget because the economy is improved and, moreover, that the economy is improved because the accomplishments of scientists have made new products available, computers faster, materials lighter and stronger, etc. And, of course, you are right. All of that is true.
But, what is also true is the fact that President Clinton and our other federal decision-makers chose to make higher education a priority area in the new federal budget. They could just have easily directed that funding elsewhere.
It is my opinion that the observation that our new economy is in part the result of scientific accomplishments should be a part of an altered strategy whereby we would more fully and more positively attempt to have our values-the values of the higher education community-be reflected in public policy.
An observation about life at my University (and I think at yours, also) is that we tend to be nicer to our private supporters than to our public supporters.
Because our private supporters are giving of their own accumulated wealth, that is somewhat understandable. But, the fact that the statement remains true for our corporate and foundation donors as well should cause us to examine a new approach.
I think the higher education community should take the initiative to influence public policy and to better inform the policy-makers of the value we place upon their support for our research efforts, the care with which we administer the funds they make available to support research and the prospects that our research holds for continued improvements to our economy, our health and our quality of living.
These policy-makers have shown themselves to be our allies. We should treat them as such.
To be sure, some such efforts are being made. But, the higher education community as a whole, as is the case for most other advocate groups, has moved too entirely in the direction of lobbying for special considerations. We need to reemphasize the value of what we do for the economy, for the careers of our citizens and for the quality of life in our nation.
And, I think that we should begin by finding as many ways as possible to thank federal decision-makers for having, through their actions, made clear that higher education is a top national priority.
I encourage each of you to take this message back to your home institutions as well as to your professional organizations. It would be a very good thing for our federal allies to know that their efforts have been noticed and that they are appreciated.
I would add that, because of the very special recognition you receive today, that you have both the leverage and the responsibility to host your legislators in your laboratories and to begin to carry out the sort of program I have described.
Certainly, what I propose today is not new. It was the Roman philosopher, statesman and orator Seneca, considered Rome's leading intellectual figure in the mid-1st century A.D., who said: "There is as much greatness of mind in acknowledging a good turn, as in doing it."
Thank you for your attention, and congratulations again on your significant achievements!
And, lest I be criticized for not doing what I've recommended you all do, I offer a special thank you to the White House, the NSF and other recommending bodies for yet another affirmation that higher education is back on the federal agenda!