November 1, 2010

After Elections Cornell Aid May Fall

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With candidates across the country calling for balanced budgets and fiscal conservatism, University administrators say research and financial aid funding may fall regardless of Tuesday’s election results. Cornell’s lobbyists in Albany and Washington are preparing to convince legislators of the University’s need for continued funding.

Cornell’s Office of Government and Community Relations said it does not expect any policy changes to affect the University within the next few months because of legislative lag, but Democrats and Republicans alike have pledged to cut spending, balance the budget and reduce the deficit.

For instance, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D), who is running for New York Governor, has called for an immediate cap on state spending and income, sales and property taxes. Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate candidate from New York Joe DioGuardi (R) plans to finance all government expenditures without borrowing.

With less money expected to be available, Jacqueline Powers, director of federal government relations, said Cornell will stress more than ever the significance of its education, research and employment.

“It’s all about relationships with legislators and making sure they understand what we do, what our mission is, and that they become friends of Cornell,” she said.

While Cornell does not formally endorse candidates, and employees must ensure that private contributions are not linked to Cornell, the University employs two full-time lobbyists in both Washington and Albany who work to promote Cornell’s interests to representatives from all over the country.

President David Skorton, college deans and organizations like the American Association of University Administrators and the American College Association also push legislators and various foundations to back Cornell’s contract and private colleges.

“We provide officials and their staffs with information about our programs, what they mean for their districts and how we fund them,” Stephen Johnson, vice president for government relations, said. “All races really count, no matter who’s the majority or minority.”

Over the last year, President Barack Obama’s American Re­covery and Reinvestment Act has helped Cornell notch aid. However, while equipment purchased with stimulus money will last, cash gains from the act will soon phase out.

The National Institutes of Health, which is Cornell’s largest research donor, has already committed its entire stimulus budget, according to Vice Provost for Research Robert Buhrman. The Department of Energy, meanwhile, has three more years of stimulus-based funding, and the National Science Foundation falls somewhere between the two, he said.

Future fiscal plans will only become apparent when Obama and the next New York governor release their budgets in early February.

Speculation about Obama’s budget proposal varies from a budget that maintains current funding to one that cuts the discretionary budget by five percent, according to Powers. Of the larger foundations, only the NSF is expecting any funding increase.

Powers said the worst-case scenario is a blanket cut that would return the University’s funding to 2008 levels.

“That would be a disaster for us,” she said. “Research funding takes years to provide real outcomes, and you can’t just start and stop, start and stop.”

Cornell received more than $687 million in grants last year, a five percent increase from 2008, according to the Office of the Vice Provost for Research. As the primary research institution in New York State, 56 percent of Cornell’s funding came from federal sources, while the University contributed almost $118 million to support the 148 patents issued to Cornell faculty last year and to pay graduate tuition and stipends.

“Research fuels the innovation economy and will help continue our political position worldwide,” she said.

This position, however, has been slipping over the last decade.

“America no longer leads the world in the share of its students getting college degrees,” Prof. Ronald Ehrenberg, industrial and labor relations and economics, said.

Huge spending cuts are unlikely because even if Republicans take Congress, they will not have the two-thirds super-majority needed to overcome Obama’s veto, Ehrenberg said.

Original Author: Dan Robbins