In the wake of recent announcements of budget cuts to Connecticut’s Higher Education system, it seems that the state government may be forgetting about the important role our research university plays in the state. The University of Connecticut and other research universities are part of a grand bargain to have a substantial impact on society and the economy. Emerging theories in mathematics, medicine and music pave the way for future industries and opportunities for graduating students.
Society benefits when independent experts express data-driven truth on the critical issues of our time. Policy should be informed by fact-based data and analytical expertise. An informed electorate will trust independent medical research warnings against tobacco versus those provided under industrial collusion. When tobacco research was complicit with profit margins, the continuing conclusion was that nicotine was neither addictive nor particularly harmful to long-term health.
Society benefits from a nurtured and robust academy. Maturing students benefit by experiencing the excitement of their passionately engaged role models. This enrichment is a life long legacy of education at a research university.
Excellence in research also stimulates economic progress. Two graduate students seeking to store and share data created ‘Dropbox.’ Google was a search engine internal to Stanford. Consider the academic research roots of cancer treatments and artistic expressions.
The path from an unbridled intellectual pursuit to a tangible outcome is highly unpredictable. This process is expensive, but the return on investment is incalculable. If a materials scientist working at UConn develops more efficient LED technology, it catalyzes economic opportunities in engineering, agriculture and design. Biomedical research breakthroughs create employment opportunities for research scientists and health practitioners. Basic research has always been the lifeblood of innovation and private sector growth, while the fundamental insights are often discovered in the unfettered risk-taking environment of our universities.
Here in Connecticut, the transition of university research to the public good is readily visible from BioScience Connecticut. This prominent initiative is merely one example of the broad impact of UConn’s research to benefit the State of Connecticut.
There is considerable return on investment in UConn, both for students and the public. Historically, most investment into UConn came from the state, but those days are past. Joint reliance upon taxes, grants, tuition, and philanthropy is the contemporary model to sustain excellence. State funds and grants are becoming more scarce every year, and students are already shouldering considerable tuition increases that threaten to price strong students out of UConn.
Supporting students and faculty in the pursuit of groundbreaking research will require a competitive endowment. The time is now for the UConn administration to substantially increase academic gifts to sustain academic excellence on par with UConn’s consistent basketball superiority.