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1954 Supreme Court declares segregated schools illegal 1954 First Human organ transplant NSB Chair Barnard - NSF Director Waterman
The National Science Board - A History in Highlights, 1950-2000
Table of Contents | Preface | Acknowledgements | Former Members | Exec Secretaries/Officers | Timeline

Setting the Terms for Academic Science

The early Board set up committees corresponding to the eventual divisions of the yet-to-be staffed Foundation. The Board tried to organize graduate fellowships for scientific study or scientific work, but the initial year's budget was too small. The first fellowships were not awarded until 1952.

Photograph by Martha J. Powell, University of Alabama When Waterman became Director, he decided the Foundation would operate as had ONR by awarding grants instead of contracts. Grants gave investigators more freedom and were less cumbersome to administer. They also implied trust and lessened the impression of government control. In addition, Waterman decided that staff would use outside panels to advise NSF about which proposals to fund.

Following a format used by the Rockefeller Foundation, Waterman and the staff presented the Board with a slate of grants to award-all in biology, as it happened-on February 1, 1952. Board member James A. Reyniers wrote a letter to Bronk, saying that "some Board members were not at all pleased by the 'rubber stamp' manner in which the 'docket' of grants was presented to it for approval." He went on to complain that the incident was indicative of NSB's "growing isolation from the operation of the agency."

Board members went into executive session and afterwards, their qualms allayed, approved the slate. Communications between Waterman and the Board remained cordial and productive through this and other twists along the path to a fully functioning Foundation. Waterman made a concerted effort to engage the Board at a level of decision making that would still allow him to manage Foundation affairs from day to day. But it was clear that a key decision point had been passed: the Foundation would be largely staff-run.

Historian J. Merton England notes how much the choice of Waterman as the Foundation's first Director shaped the agency-right down to the multiple-choice rating system for the scientific quality of proposals (from "excellent" to "poor") that remained in use for decades. Besides influencing the procedures and values of Foundation staff, Waterman left another legacy: close and considerate working relations between the Director and the Board.

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