Washington D.C. - Today, the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing to examine the opportunities and challenges faced by the nation’s research universities. Witnesses discussed the future outlook for these universities and the findings of a recently released National Academies study, Research Universities and the Future of America, which had been requested by Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX).

“Innovation has remained a part of the fabric of this Nation since its founding,” noted Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL).  “Particularly in today’s tough economic times, research universities play a vital role in America’s ability to maintain its competitiveness in an increasingly technologically developed world, and the knowledge and skills produced by our nation’s research graduates provide the fuel for these endeavors.”

A number of representatives from the nation’s research universities are in Washington, D.C. celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act and attended today’s hearing.  The hearing provided an opportunity for a broader discussion about how these universities affect national prosperity.  Signed into law by President Lincoln, the Morrill Act partnered the federal government and states to build land-grant institutions in an effort to create a modern agricultural and industrial economy for the 20th century. This partnership continues today, supporting the nation’s educational, research, and economic endeavors. 

The National Academies report identifies the top ten actions that could be taken in order to maintain the excellence of U.S. research and doctoral education.  America’s research universities have emerged as a major national asset, which supports the nation’s economic goals.  The challenges faced by these institutions range from unstable revenue streams and antiquated policies and practices to increasing competition from universities abroad.

Testifying today on behalf of the National Academies, Mr. Charles Holliday, Chair of the Committee on Research Universities, said that America must “position itself in a competitive world transformed by technology, global competitiveness, and geopolitical change.”  Mr. Holliday said that our nation’s research universities “represent a key asset—perhaps even our most potent national asset—for the 21st century.”

The nation’s research universities provide the backbone for the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce essential for U.S. prosperity. These universities not only contribute to the academic researchers who work to move basic scientific research forward but also those who comprise the STEM-related workforce in the country.

Dr. John Mason, Associate Provost and Vice President for Research at Auburn University, discussed the importance of such research. “Relevant fundamental research is that which industry can apply to innovate, create or improve products and services, and, ultimately, create jobs.” Dr. Mason discussed efforts at Auburn to partner with federal agencies and American business and industry “to accomplish objectives of national need.”  Discussing the major challenges Auburn faces, Dr. Mason noted the “regulatory burdens placed on all recipients because of what appears to be the improper actions of a few.”

Echoing the need to reduce red tape, Dr. Leslie Tolbert, Senior Vice President for Research at the University of Arizona, said “The growing burden of compliance with the increasing numbers and complexity of federal regulations consumes increasing amounts of time and money, leaving less for more direct support for research.”

Dr. Jeffrey Seemann, Vice President for Research at Texas A&M University said that the National Academies study was important in that it provided an “opportunity to re-open the university-government dialogue in a serious and highly engaged way, with a chance to balance the political, economic, and social priorities and sensitivities of our time with the historical context of how and why we joined in and created this partnership—and how and why it must continue.”

Dr. Seemann encouraged research universities to “be aggressive in revising existing structures and entities on campus to match the realities of the 21st century and transforming dormant or dated infrastructure to make it part of the problem-solving R&D pipeline of the future.”


The following witnesses testified today:
Mr. Charles O. Holliday, Jr., Chair, Committee on Research Universities, National Academies
Dr. John M. Mason, Jr., Associate Provost and Vice President for Research, Auburn University
Dr. Jeffrey R. Seemann, Vice President for Research, Texas A&M University and Chief Research Officer, The Texas A&M University System
Dr. Leslie P. Tolbert, Senior Vice President for Research, The University of Arizona
Dr. James N. Siedow, Vice Provost for Research, Duke University