Donald Kennedy
Stanford University

THE ROLE AND CONTRIBUTIONS OF PRIVATE RESEARCH UNIVERSITIES

You have scheduled separate contributions from Jim Duderstadt, who represents public universities and from myself, representing private universities; that is understandable, but it may represent what the lawyers call a distinction without a difference. After all, there is a sense in which Michigan and Stanford are both Federal universities. Frank Rhodes managed to preside for many years over an institution which was a mixture of both -- showing, as one wag put it, that a university can long endure half slave and half free. The grace with which he did it suggests not only that the public and private elements are not immiscible, but that the mixture is not explosive.

There are differences in style and of objective. The differences are important even symbolically: competition between the sectors has been a boon to the development of each. In the Bay Area Stanford and the University of California (UC) have had much more than the well-advertised local athletic rivalry: the success of UC has frequently reminded Stanford of the need to keep pace, and at down times for state support Stanford's success has provided a useful political goad. A Canadian university president once told me that the most important missing element in his nationís higher educational system was competition from independent institutions.

Throughout their postwar histories, the private and public research university "Class Iís" in the Carnegie classification, have encountered the same series of ups and downs. The post-Vannevar Bush surge took us both to a peak in about 1968, at a dizzying pace of 15 percent per year. We went through a phase of growth so slow that it felt like attrition, and then encountered a sea change which began in the late 1980's. Now we are experiencing again, together a deepening depression about what the financial future may hold.

We all know what the half-century since World War II produced. The decision to move the Federal support for research from the military into the universities was a momentous one. By establishing most of the Nation's basic science capacity in the same places where the next scientific generation was training, we put together a powerful engine for progress. No other postwar industrial democracy did it that way, and none had the same success.

However, that is history. We are plainly unable (and might be unwilling even if able) to invest at that same level -- from a pot of discretionary domestic resources which has been drained by interest and entitlements, and is surrounded by other claimants. What should the new strategy be?

It is always wise to seek guidance from history. Just ten years ago, the White House Science Council appointed a panel on the Health of U.S. Colleges and Universities. David Packard chaired it. Dave, whose death the day before yesterday will be memorialized at Stanford tomorrow, was notably hard-nosed, and often critical of universities. But the Packard-Bromley report came out four-square for the vital character of their contributions to the national science base. To re-read that report today is to experience a mixture of reactions: regret that economic stringency has made many of its recommendations for increased support seem other-worldly; mixed admiration for how very sound and far-reaching the recommendations actually were. Without embarrassment, I confess that several of the principles I want to set out here owe much to the thoughtful work Packard, his co-chair Allan Bromley and their colleagues did a decade ago.

I have a list of seven principles which should guide the care and nurturing of university research. A colleague of mine occasionally says, "These are my principles; if you don't like them, I have others." My list has seven; I tried for ten, more from admiration for Moses than for David Letterman, but fell three short. The first four will reveal me as a conservative, sticking stubbornly to some things which have worked, and will still work. The last three require some changes.

First Principle

The research strategy which emphasizes basic science and puts most of the resources into individual, investigator-initiated grants is the right one. It has a proven track record. So do some of the big projects, and we certainly cannot avoid the need for some of those. I think the occasional attempts to create and support "group science" have been less successful.

Dealing with the politics of appetite is a problem with the individually initiated grant programs. NIH found out to everyoneís sorrow that to agree to political target-setting for "RO-Iís" (a category of NIH grants) created a kind of intergenerational disaster. Limit the number of awards competitively, fund the winners fully, and leave headroom for new entrants.

Second Principle

We need to link training support more realistically to need and opportunity. Projection is a hard task, admittedly; and every field seems able to make the case for a future shortage. However, it is easier to catch up than to deal with oversupply.

Third Principle

Competition on merit is the key, and some form of peer review, but not necessarily the panel structure, is essential. At this juncture in our trajectory there is both good and bad news about competition.

To begin with the good, some old citadels of formula are being modified. One of the most rewarding things I ever did was to help write, at the brand-new Office of Science and Technology Policy in 1976, the OMB argument for the Competitive Grants program in the Department of Agriculture. It got a fingernail-hold in the last Ford Administration budget, and hung on despite frequent efforts by Congressman Jamie Whitten, the longtime Chair of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee known as the "Oversecretary of Agriculture," to kill it. Now, without his attention, it has grown to about a third of the formula budget, and it has provided significant stimulation to basic agricultural research, especially in institutions which had never done research before.

Whatever such moves have done for competition, the Congress has been able to undo by turning scientific research into the Rivers and Harbors of the late 1980ís and early 1990ís. Pork barrel allocations for research reached nearly half a billion dollars in the early 1990ís, and there are only weak signs that Congress is breaking the habit. Efforts by Senator Nunn and others to limit the practice of legislative add-ons after agency review have proved unavailing. The practice seems irresistible: Democrats like Kennedy do it, to the vast gratitude of Tufts; Republicans like D'Amato do it, though in one case Cornell, in a remarkable show of principle by President Rhodes, actually turned down a bonanza in pork. Even the good guys do it; at Stanford we love Mark Hatfield, but we were never able to talk him out of his affection for doing well by his favorites. Of course, Congress will continue to make many of the big-project decisions. However, that process needs to be orderly and understood, not a chaotic play of local special interest.

Fourth Principle

I know you have been waiting for this: the government should pay the full cost of research, including the indirect costs. I will eschew the temptation to replay my unpleasant experience at the hands of Chairman Dingell on this very issue, since neither of us has the same job any more. In fact the old, OMB Circular A-21 way of assessing indirect cost rates by the cost-pools method was both fair and reasonable -- as were virtually all of the expenditures about which Dingell arranged so much media attention. The trouble is that the public simply will not accept statistical averaging, so a new way has to be found to see to it that full cost reimbursement is a reality instead of the carefully preserved fiction it has been for these many years. For the long-term health of university based research, this resolution is absolutely vital. I say that to you in the full knowledge that despite the depth of my conviction I have no political credibility on the issue. That is why I urge you to give it serious attention.

Fifth Principle

We need to get rid of some provisions which have hurt -- in some cases, have selectively hurt private research universities. Researchers perform in buildings, with increasingly sophisticated and expensive capital equipment. The government got out of the facilities support business around 1968. Public universities turned extensively to their states, and privates to their donors and to debt. In the latter case, the expanding stock of privately funded research buildings and capital equipment had two effects, both of them bad. The permissible depreciation and use charges did not allow for full recovery; at the same time it drove up the indirect cost rate in relation to that in the public institutions, causing some Congressmen and others to believe that some monkey business was afoot.

In 1986 Congress delivered a second blow. It established a cap on the tax-exempt bonding authority of private universities -- a cap low enough to halt such financing in the largest and most successful institutions. That meant that the state universities could continue both to tax and to borrow at exempt rates for new buildings, whereas the privates could do neither. (It made us feel a little worse to know that the industrial development bonding authority was not subjected to a cap, so that K-mart could build but Harvard could not!)

Sixth Principle

Big Science is going international -- and one branch of science after another is going big. The number of multi-authored and multinational papers is exploding. That will have a profound effect on how, where and under what auspices research is done, and also on what we believe the value of science to be. It is likely to mark the end of the myth that any nationís science is an aid to international competitiveness. Indeed, some respected economists are coming to believe that there is no such thing as international competitiveness! Even if it exists, the evidence now suggests that basic research is not much of a factor in it. The rapid globalization of science will surely suggest new requirements for how we educate our students, and it is likely to alter patterns of funding in ways which will seriously erode the notion of national scientific sovereignty.

Seventh Principle

Increasingly, the interesting scientific questions surround problems rather than disciplines, and suggest important links to public policy. Environmental challenges, such as climate change, global land-use modification, and the loss of biological diversity are both scientifically interesting and vitally important -- and they will demand interdisciplinary work. Universities, with their heavily vertical structure, are experiencing difficulty in organizing orthogonal approaches. Some external encouragement could help, and there could be no more appropriate source than this Board.

Public Perception

I want to turn to a different problem, one which the universities and their friends will have to approach via a different route. As you know, public regard for universities is not exactly at an all-time high. Part of that, as Kenneth Prewitt has pointed out, is because public regard for all institutions has slumped compared to congressmen, doctors, or even the clergy. Even in this light, university faculty, and surprisingly, their presidents, are seen rather favorably.

However, there is a problem -- and to a surprising degree it focuses on the sciences. A fairly distinguished physical scientist can gain headlines by calling his colleagues "welfare queens in lab coats." Academic misconduct gets front-page treatment in the New York Times. Animal rights groups gain sympathy for their protests against the entire biomedical research establishment. Complaints mount about the calculus teacher who cannot be understood by his students, or the proportion of students who flunk freshman chemistry from a professor who appears uninterested in helping them do better.

The problem is a disjunction between what the public expects us to be and what we think they want. Perhaps it is all the things which were said about how university research can transform regional economies, or help us be more competitive internationally. Somehow we forgot that the primary mission is education -- to which research is a splendid and powerful second.

Keeping faith with the public will require that we do a better job of blending these missions so that the research part supports the education part. We must recognize the contemporary truth that -- their own expectations and hopes to the contrary -- most of the Ph.D. students we produce in the sciences will not take academic positions in the kind of institutions in which they were trained. Broadening their aspirations as well as their training will be required. More aggressive attention to undergraduate education will be necessary, as well as adjusting our criteria for appointment and promotion to reward success in it.

At the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), Bruce Alberts is making real progress in generating a cultural change. The National Research Council (NRC) has reconstituted its Center for Science, Mathematics and Engineering Education. We have brought in a superb staff under the leadership of Rodger Bybee, and appointed an Advisory Board which I am lucky enough to chair. Neal Lane and the National Science Foundation have been key supporters and partners in this venture. The Academy co-sponsored with NSF a national convocation on undergraduate science education improvement, and issued the new Science Education Standards for K- 12 three months ago. Bruce talks convincingly about the need for more Ph.D.s in science to consider secondary school teaching careers, and for the best undergraduates to think of that as a high goal. Naturally there is resistance, but the conversation has been changed.

It is important that it change. If our citizens cannot understand science, how in the world can we expect them to support it? Our failure to generate a reasonable level of scientific literacy is apparent everywhere. Half of adult Americans think there is something to astrology. Many thoughtful college educated adults actually believe that we can stop experiments on animals and learn just as much from computers -- as though the latter could mysteriously extract new facts about physiology from cyberspace and then present them to us. And it is small wonder. Undergraduates at one of our leading universities can graduate with only six percent of their academic units devoted to science in any form. Worse, they may go from a class in which science is taught on the basis of the Western rational tradition -- that is, that there is a real world out there that we can find a common language to describe and measure -- and find themselves, in the very next hour, hearing from a senior faculty member in the humanities that our scientifically derived picture of the physical world is as "constructed" as our views of, say, the artistic merit of a certain piece of sculpture.

The point I want to leave you with is this. We need to pay much more attention to the educational enterprise in the research universities, or pay a heavy price in the future. The good news is that our institutions are entering a period which I think will be marked by dramatic change. The task is not to diminish research, or change the basic structure of how it is done and supported. That has been sound. However, we need to rebalance and refuel it with the primary educational mission. If we fail in that, we will continue to disappoint our public -- and that does not bode well for the future of education or research.