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Monday, November 9, 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009

A View from a Science Department

By Anonymous

Part 1: Response to previous and current cuts

I am a faculty member in a research unit receiving a large amount of extramural and especially federal funding. We are primarily a graduate department, and only about a third of our teaching is currently at the undergraduate level. Since we offer few service courses, we have few TA positions available to provide a stipend and tuition remission to our graduate students. Instead, most graduate students are funded by federal grants and fellowships of various sorts. In fact, every grant proposal submitted out of our research unit is expected to include a request for graduate student funding. The graduate students in our unit not only do research for us, but they are the primary constituents of the courses we teach. The PIs in our research unit also support through extramural funding a very large number of postdocs, project scientists, and technicians. The majority of our budget comes from federal research grants, and core UC funding is only 14%. Unfortunately, it is this 14% that produces 90% of our headaches.

The more selective cuts that occurred during the previous recession hit our research unit harder than the rest of UC, so we are coming into the current crisis with scant buffer. Many staff members have already been laid off, and most institutional lab support has already been eliminated. The remaining UC funding is devoted to long-term matching commitments to federally-funded research infrastructure (which must be paid to maintain our central programs), salaries of support staff for core academic and business office functions (which cannot be reduced any more), and salaries of PIs. The last category, in fact, makes up the majority of our UC funding, so there is probably no way to accommodate further cuts without reducing faculty salaries even more than is the case with the current furloughs.

The suffering from budget cuts has been disproportionate across our research unit. Those PIs who were already supporting their research staff and lab facilities exclusively from extramural funds were not hurt when institutional support was removed. Those people paid 100% from extramural funds were unaffected by the furloughs. Those faculty members with enough funding to pay themselves on furlough days (two thirds of us) have not experienced any salary reduction. The availability of extramural funding may explain why faculty in the sciences have not been as upset about the handling of the UC budget crisis as faculty in the humanities. In fact, I heard a colleague state that it was a victory for shared governance that we were able to prevail upon UCOP to spare extramurally funded people from the furloughs.

to be continued


Anonymous said...

"I heard a colleague state that it was a victory for shared governance that we were able to prevail upon UCOP to spare extramurally funded people from the furloughs."

Well, that's one way to look at it. Another one is that some of our esteemed colleagues seemed primarily concerned in getting their personal fiefdoms (in particular, salaries) to dry ground, and once that was achieved/granted by UCOP, lost all interest in activism for a more sensible way to handle the budget crisis, and indeed showed no sense of solidarity. What a shame.

This being said from somebody who is indeed funded by an NSF grant, in a science department at UCLA.

Andrea Bertozzi said...

As someone who spent essentially every weekend writing grant proposals during FY09 - with 16 submitted through UCLA's OCGA, I was particularly grateful for the FEP implemented at the last minute. However I want to explain why this actually helped the young people in my research group more than me - I had an alternative plan in motion to move some of my joint funding to a collaborating institution and take salary there, to make up my furlough loss. This would have meant loss of overhead and fringe benefits to UCLA, and possibly even moving some student support to a non-UC campus. By allowing the FEP to happen, all those funds stay in the UC system. But there is more to this - I provide partial support for 8 postdocs who are all subject to around 7% furlough - why? because their title is adjunct and they teach some courses are part of their training in Mathematics. So the FEP allows us to buy out furlough time for all of these young people who would have lost income. I signed off on 10 FEP forms for individuals at UCLA, including another ladder faculty member in the social sciences who is involved with one of our projects. It would have been much harder to compensate all of these people if we had to do it by moving money off campus. And, in order to do it, it would likely have meant a significant loss of funding to the UC system in terms of indirect costs. That said, I had gotten approval from UCLA's upper administration to carry out a plan to apply for grants at non-UC institutions and to move funding from my UCLA grant to a coPI grant outside UCLA - were the FEP not to have occurred.

My department unfortunately is one where the predominant funding is from NSF, which makes it very difficult to take advantage of the FEP across the board. A minority of faculty have DoD, NIH and other sources that allow the FEP to happen. My colleagues on 100% NSF support have been very gracious about the FEP program - I have not heard one complaint from them and I am grateful for their continued collegiality. I think it is important to continue to be vocal about the cuts and the fact that FEP helps a subset of people but that inequities created by this will only serve to decrease morale and cause more of the excellent NSF-supported faculty to leave the UC. However, given that the cuts are so deep I think it's imperative to find any avenues possible, including FEP, to retain research support within the UC system. Finally, I'd like to see UC use some of the ICRs from the FEP to help those who are not able to take advantage of the FEP. This is money that could easily have been lost to UC without the FEP so let's put it to use to help those without flexible grants.

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