Jerome B. Wiesner Symposium
February 26, 1996
Outputs: Research and Education for the 21st Century
It is a real pleasure to be here among so many friends and colleagues. I especially valued working with the CIC research VPs when I was at the University of Minnesota. I continue to draw from relationships with many people here and enjoy working with you from my current role at NSF. The draft principles from this group represent an outstanding effort toward the new government/university partnership needed for the 21st century.
A successful government/university partnership will be critical in the 21st century to expand our ability to explore the frontiers of knowledge and to link that exploration, where feasible and appropriate, to the problems and needs of society. Equally essential to the partnership is an emphasis on excellence in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education for all Americans. It is a tremendous benefit to the nation to educate students--and especially future scientists and engineers--in the institutions where new knowledge is created.
Progress on a national level requires that we simultaneously produce knowledge and ideas, as well as the people who can apply them. This is why the focus of this session is so appropriate. The output of our joint endeavor must be both research and education in a balance that provides ultimate benefit to the nation. In the partnership of the past fifty years, the balance has been increasingly on the side of research. The partnership of the future requires a realignment.
I want to focus this morning on the interplay between research and education, which is something that will require more and more of our attention as we face budgetary challenges and new societal expectations for both universities and government. We at NSF feel strongly that we must emphasize the strengths of the research university as a locus for the federal research investment because research in the educational context has proven so effective for the nation. At the same time, we want the federal research investment to enhance the educational capabilities of universities, not to detract from them.
It is a relief to have a thoughtful forum for this discussion. When the issue of research and education is raised by the media, the end result is rarely productive or completely accurate. The dominant images too often portray research and teaching in conflict, suggesting that they are mutually exclusive activities. Lately, it seems that once or twice each year, a firestorm of controversy ignites around this issue.
A year ago, it was CBS's "60 Minutes" that suggested educational experiences in large universities were being undercut by too much attention to research. And, just last month, an article in the Chicago Tribune suggested that tuition dollars are often used inappropriately to supplement research at major universities. The Tribune, to its credit, corrected inaccuracies in the article and even issued an editorial several days later affirming the value of learning in the research university. Nevertheless, the residual image in the public mind is that research is incompatible with teaching--and that research and education are competing forces. We seldom hear about the fruitful interplay between research and teaching, and the ways that research and education reinforce each other.
If times were different, we might have the luxury of indulging or ignoring these misguided ideas. Today, we don't have that luxury. More importantly, ignoring them would be a missed opportunity. There are, of course, many reasons to strengthen the ties between research and education. One of the most compelling reasons is to reinforce to the American people their complementary contributions. This connection to society is crucial because it has an impact on public support for science.
Public support for science profoundly influences the level of the resources committed to sustain the government/university partnership. Let me use an example I know well, the NSF budget picture. Right now, NSF is operating under the most recent of several continuing resolutions which ends on March 15. None of us knows for sure what the final Fiscal Year 96 budget will look like. Fortunately, though broad-based, fundamental science has some strong supporters on both sides of the aisle in Congress. Two of those supporters are here on this panel.
Representative Ehlers has taken a strong stance in support of science in the halls of Congress--and he is living proof that Congress would be well served by having a higher ratio of scientists to lawyers. His letter to the House Appropriations Chair and our Appropriations Subcommittee Chair urging NSF funding for the remainder of Fiscal Year 1996, has sent an important message to both parties. One of the eighty-nine members who signed his letter was Representative Lynn Rivers--another friend of science in Congress. Thank you, Representatives Ehlers and Rivers, for bringing this positive message about the importance of science to your colleagues on Capitol Hill.
While we hope to emerge from this year's budget battles in a position of relative strength--that is, without dramatic cuts--we need to keep an eye on the longer-term funding environment. Many of you know that the AAAS has projected that in the current balanced budget scenario, non-defense R&D might decrease by one-third in real terms by the year 2002. The question many of us are asking is: can we reduce the federal investment in non-defense R&D by one-third and still be a world leader in the 21st century?
The possibility of constrained resources and the need to enhance public support for science prompted me to revisit the roots of NSF's support for colleges and universities. In shaping a vision for NSF at its creation, Vannevar Bush wrote that "We must strengthen the centers of basic research... It is only the colleges and universities and a few research institutes that devote most of their research efforts to expanding the frontiers of knowledge."
Vannevar Bush recognized the benefits of conducting the search for new knowledge in an environment of learning. The synergistic contributions of research and education remain a defining part of the NSF mission--and have been at the core of the success of science in the United States for the last fifty years. But if the public believes that federally supported research detracts from the educational function of universities, we all lose. Reinforcing the effective interplay between research and education is part of the solution to maintaining the world leadership of American colleges and universities and to upholding world leadership of American science.
At NSF, we are continually seeking new ways to stimulate the dynamic interplay between research and education, and we are working on a broad set of efforts, many of them experimental in nature. A cornerstone of our efforts is the CAREER program for beginning faculty that supports both their research and their involvement in education. One awardee, for example, studies new ways to use computer programming to improve engineering education and helps students use computers just as practicing engineers do--for problem solving, team coordination, and modeling.
Throughout NSF, we aim increasingly to enrich research and education together. Some of you may be familiar with our recent effort aimed at comprehensive reform of undergraduate science, engineering, and technology education. We are pleased to see that about one-third of the proposals came from research universities, and many of the proposals focused on the entire undergraduate student body. Our approach in this, as in all our education programs, is on science as a mode of inquiry.
Today I am pleased to announce that you will soon see a new initiative by NSF to identify and enhance successful activities in research and education. Our Fiscal Year 97 budget proposal contains an exciting new plan to recognize academic institutions that have outstanding efforts combining research and education. In determining how NSF can best enhance the integration of research and education in higher education, we thought the best place to start would be to find out what institutions are already doing.
Our plans benefited from the Baldridge Awards from the Department of Commerce. The Baldridge Awards have generated visibility for the best practices in industry today. Bob Galvin probably could say more about them because Motorola was the first recipient. These awards set the standard for competitive excellence in business. We hope that our awards would do the same for colleges and universities by recognizing institutions that creatively and successfully link education and research, and by asking them to work with other institutions for effective change.
We hope that all institutions of higher education will be inspired by the competition generated by this initiative. The initiative will also help NSF identify how best to proceed with further efforts. We at NSF understand our responsibility to be an effective partner to foster productive change in research universities. And we welcome all suggestions for how best to do this.
At the core of our efforts is an understanding that colleges and universities will increasingly play a leadership role in the future as centers of knowledge and lifelong learning. The most successful institutions will understand research and education as two sides of the same process. The poet William Butler Yeats wrote that "education is not the filling of the pail, but the lighting of the fire." At NSF, we are looking at new ways to work with universities to light a fire of inquiry and discovery that is at the heart of both research and education. We look forward to working with you to provide leadership for the next century.