by James A. Bacon
Gerald Warburg, a professor of public policy at the University of Virginia, provides important context for the university’s controversial, $2.2 billion Strategic Investment Fund. In an op-ed published a week ago in the Virginian-Pilot, he describes the fund as a tool to boost the university’s research mission without relying upon state funds or tuition dollars. The fund should serve as a national model for public universities, he says. He writes:
A decade ago, cuts from Richmond made clear legislators’ conclusion we could no longer afford to bear the financial cost of maintaining world class, state-subsidized research universities.
During the subsequent recession and recovery, U.Va. administrators struggled to reinvent a model public research university. …
Today in Virginia, the funding responsibilities are clear. Tuition, endowment and modest state support will fund access to education and training. The university and external sponsors of academic research are responsible for funding research. No other university in America has addressed this challenge as successfully as the University of Virginia.
Read the whole thing. It’s the most coherent justification I’ve yet seen for the Strategic Investment Fund.
Bacon’s bottom line: If I understand him correctly, Warburg is saying that UVa is drawing a bright line between its academic mission and its research mission, and that the academic mission is funded by tuition and state support, while the research mission is (or will be) funded by the Strategic Investment Fund and external sponsors. Politically, this is an astute way to frame the issue because it alleviates fears that students and parents are helping pay for UVa’s research ambitions.
Creating that bright line is a worthwhile goal, if it can be achieved. I laud Warburg for articulating it. Research universities really do cobble together two distinct missions — academics and research — each of which really should have their own dedicated sources of funding. Students should not be asked to subsidize corporate and federally funded research.
But I have two questions: (1) Are the academic and research functions so intertwined and the funding so inter-mingled that it is even possible to separate research from academics, and (2) where did the money come from to seed the Strategic Investment Fund in the first place?
UVa has not even tried to answer the first question (in fairness, no one has yet asked it), and it has yet to give a clear and comprehensive explanation of the second. University officials have said that some of the funding came from university reserves and some from squirreling away savings from “efficiencies.” One might speculate that other funds have come from budgeted monies unspent at the end of the fiscal year, or budgeted monies not spent on construction projects, or monies accumulated from hospital operations in the same way that the Inova and Carilion health systems have used surplus revenues (what normal people would call profits) to fund their own research initiatives. One could make the argument that any of these sources, known and speculated, were extracted from students or patients and, from an ethical perspective, should be used to reduce tuition and hospital charges.
Hopefully, we’ll be learning the details Aug. 26 when the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education and the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Education hold hearings on the Strategic Investment Fund.There are currently no comments highlighted.