Price toured the Center for Developmental Science, an inter-institutional research center at UNC, as part of a national effort to connect psychological sciences with legislators.
Andrea Hussong, the director of the center, highlighted the center’s dependence on funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education — but national budget cuts have slowed funding in recent years.
“In the current political climate it’s too easy to take cheap shots at funny sounding research projects,” Price said to a group of almost 20 of the center’s professors, graduates and undergraduates during a town hall style meeting at the conclusion of his visit.
Price also toured facilities at Research Triangle Park in September and gave a talk there. Faculty members from N.C. State University, Duke University and UNC asked him after the talk what they could do to help secure funding for their initiatives — but Price told them the current gridlock in Congress makes funding increases a difficult prospect.
On Tuesday, Price visited three of the center’s projects, including a study of pregnant mothers’ tobacco and e-cigarette use and the role of teachers’ language in children’s academic development.
But limited federal funding can be stretched thin among projects, and Hussong said long-term projects are often targeted to be replaced with newer research.
“You change what the future scientists look like,” said Donald Lysle, chairman of the UNC Department of Psychology, during the meeting. “You have far fewer of this great crowd coming into that science.”
Research institutes at UNC, like the Center for Developmental Science, also have to worry about a potential $15 million reallocation from UNC-system centers to other priorities. The UNC Board of Governors will continue discussing the funding question at its meeting later this month.
Price said budget pressures are politically motivated, and researchers at the center should not have to worry about political vulnerability.
But the legislature has made progress, he said, and he’s hopeful his colleagues will relent.
“It’s hard, though,” Price said. “I’ve never seen it like this — I’ve never seen things so locked up in terms of some people just having the ideology that will not let them bend. That’s pretty unusual in American politics.”