Universities are organizing to fight massive cuts in federal research funding that are scheduled to take effect next year.
UNC-system representatives have joined forces with more than 140 university leaders nationwide to support the repeal of a law that will impose $1.2 trillion in federal budget cuts.
The Budget Control Act of 2011 stipulated that budget cuts would automatically take effect in January 2013, since Congress could not determine a debt reduction plan by November 2011. If the act is not repealed, the cuts will be split among government entities over a 10-year period.
While the cuts are to be apportioned equally among defense and non-defense spending, many university leaders are concerned the cuts could have unpredictable, but drastic, effects on their budgets.
“No one really knows how this will be implemented,” said Bradley Ballou, director of federal government relations for the UNC system. “It’s an axe rather than a scalpel.”
Melissa Vetterkind, director of federal relations at Duke University, said the cuts could have serious implications for faculty members seeking research funding.
“Clearly we’ll be dealing with a smaller pot of money from which our faculty members can compete.”
Jennifer Poulakidas, vice president of governmental affairs for the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, said research grants for universities could be cut by 10 percent in 2013.
She said fees associated with student loans would also increase.
Poulakidas said budget cuts are directed towards investing in higher education and not towards entitlement programs — such as Medicaid and Social Security.
“It’s a lame way out. You are not being strategic, you are not taking priorities into consideration,” said Poulakidas. “You are not even touching on some of the bigger parts of the budget.”
In response to the Congress’ failure to create a debt reduction plan, a letter organized and signed by university leaders from every state was sent to President Barack Obama and congressional leaders last week.
Among the signatories are five leaders from the UNC system — including UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp and UNC-system President Thomas Ross.
Vetterkind said previous efforts by universities to prevent the imposition of cuts were ignored.
Barry Toiv, spokesperson for the Association of American Universities, said presidents are increasingly concerned that the deficit and debt must be controlled in a way that preserves investments in university research and education.
He said his association, along with the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, will be actively visiting congressional leaders to encourage a bipartisan solution to the national debt that does not harm universities.
Despite the consensus among universities about the cuts, Toiv said politics would likely prevent the repeal of the cuts for the foreseeable future.
“We would like them to act earlier rather than later, but the reality is that this would not be addressed until after the election,” Toiv said.
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