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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLADance Disassembled: Seeing Beyond the Curtain

Research funding faces setbacks

By Max Schneider

June 21, 2009 11:38 p.m.

A number of negative consequences could emerge if the impending budget cuts include reductions aimed at the university’s research enterprise, according to UCLA research administrators.

This year, the university received almost $900 million in external funding for research projects, but this number could fall if the university’s research infrastructure is not properly funded, warned Marcia Smith, the associate vice chancellor of research administration.

Smith is head of the Office of Research Administration, the central research infrastructure that both applies for external funding on behalf of researchers and ensures that all regulations and rules associated with the funding be met.

“Any money with strings attached to it (like) reporting requirements, compliance issues … it goes through us,” said Virginia Anders, the acting director of the Office of Contract and Grant Administration, an office within the Office of Research Administration.

But the office could see its funding slashed because of the impact of the statewide budget crisis on the university.

“With the contraction of the budget, there will be a proportional contraction to the research budget,” said Roberto Peccei, the vice chancellor for research.

Though the UCLA budget for the upcoming fiscal year has yet to be finalized, UC President Mark Yudof has released several options for closing the funding gap involving staff salary reductions and furloughs, the reduction of weekly working hours or days.

But reducing the work schedule of staff from the Office of Research Administration and of department-specific research infrastructure employees will not lessen their actual workload, particularly with recent surges in grants made possible by the national stimulus bill, Anders said.

Anders added that it would merely put the university at risk for failing to comply with the rigorous standards imposed by funding agencies, which could mean having to return the research grant.

“There’s teeth in this stuff,” she said.

Not having a reliable support system for their work could also limit the ability of researchers to finish their projects and receive further funding.

“I worry most about researchers that are stymied in their work,” Smith said.

She added that if research is stunted, UCLA could lose money because 30 to 40 percent of each received grant award is allocated for indirect costs, expenses that cover such costs as lights, facilities, and research support organizations like the Office of Research Administration.

Because those funds go straight into the university and are provided by external sources, losing the revenue from indirect costs would be detrimental during a budget crisis, Smith said.

She called those funds “a major source of revenue” for the university.

The impending budget cuts could affect research done on campus.

Departments wrought with budget cuts could be limited in the number of graduate students they accept, which would curb the amount of research ““ and thus, university revenue ““ coming in.

Greg Pottie, the associate dean of research and physical resources at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science said such effects could have a profound effect not just on UCLA, but on the state of California, which is reliant on innovative research projects to drive its economy.

“If you don’t have research universities, you don’t have new industry. If you don’t have new industry, you become a third world country pretty quickly,” he said.

“If you damage that pipeline, you kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”

With fewer new faculty coming in, Pottie said, current professors will inevitably face a higher teaching burden, which will limit their ability to do research and bring in external money.

But Peccei remained confident that UCLA professors will be able to maintain both pressures.

“My own sense is that the faculty will rise to the occasion and work harder,” he said. “They will sleep less.”

The vice chancellor also acknowledged that regardless of outside funds coming in, the first priority for professors is to teach classes.

“When push comes to shove … their first obligation is to deliver instruction,” Peccei said.

But Anders stressed that if UCLA hopes to maintain its status among the elite universities, they will have to keep research a priority.

“If we want to stay a major player in international research, we don’t want to fall behind,” she said.

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