Grant funding for political science research in fiscal year 2012

$1.2 million
Amount awarded to UCLA political science researchers from NSF grants
$1.1 million
Amount awarded to UCLA political science researchers from other public and private funding sources
$9 million
Total amount of NSF funding allocated to political science research nationally

SOURCE: National Science Foundation; Meg Sullivan, UCLA spokeswoman

UCLA’s political science research projects may soon be at risk, with the looming threat of large cuts to federal grant funding.

On May 9, the House of Representatives passed a bill amendment that would bar grants from the National Science Foundation to political science research, beginning 2013. The amendment, introduced by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), proposed cuts for political science after an unsuccessful attempt to reduce the foundation’s budget by $1 billion.

Rep. Flake, who holds a Master of Arts in political science, said on the House floor Wednesday night that funding political science research increases the government’s deficit for a cause not worthy of the cost, citing examples of topics including gender and political ambition among high school and college students and modeling international climate analysis.

“These studies might satisfy the curiosities of a few academics, but I seriously doubt society will benefit from them,” Flake said on the House floor.

University of California and UCLA officials have expressed concerns regarding the bill. The UC released a statement Thursday urging the California delegation to oppose the legislation.

Compared to all other university systems in the nation, the UC system consistently earns two to three times more NSF support in scientific research across disciplines, including engineering, biological sciences and social, behavioral and economic sciences, said Chris Harrington, UC system spokesman.

At UCLA, professors from departments across campus receive a total of $64 million in NSF grants, said Meg Sullivan, UCLA spokeswoman. UCLA’s political science department currently has more than $1.2 million in active grants with the NSF, she said, which is more than half of the department’s total research funds.

“The fact that only one discipline in the academy was singled out is an embarrassment to the House of Representatives and the members in particular who voted for this amendment,” said political science Professor Lynn Vavreck, in an email statement. Vavreck, who has conducted research under NSF grants, specializes in research of U.S. election campaign activities.

NSF grants contribute to political science research projects at UCLA in a way unlike most other funding sources, said Jeff Lewis, political science department chair and associate professor. They help develop important infrastructure for new research, such as large data collections, new methodologies and technological tools, he added.

“Private foundations that support research generally have narrower interests and often require the research to be immediately applicable to resolving a particular public policy or social problem,” said Lewis, who has been the principle researcher under two NSF grants and served on NSF peer-review panels to decide funding allocations.

A cut to political science research funding at UCLA will have an additionally detrimental effect on faculty retention and recruitment, Lewis said.

“If NSF can no longer support our research, it is then more attractive for the faculty that we already have to take positions at places like Harvard or Princeton, and it is more attractive for young scholars to start their careers at those sorts of places than (at) UCLA,” he said.

Jennifer Segal Diascro, director of institutional programs for the American Political Science Association, said the cut to research can negatively impact other levels within the political science discipline, including quality of course curricula.

In response to the proposed amendment, an NSF spokeswoman said the organization considers political science to be important to the scientific community and the public.

“In a world where individuals and governments continue to be challenged by war, natural disasters, terrorism and other threats, our research is providing a basis for understanding (these) issues,” said spokeswoman Deborah Wing.

In order for Flake’s amendment to go into effect, it must pass through the Senate and be signed off on by President Barack Obama.