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Major Threat To UW and Hutch By Trump

UW Campus at South Lake Union

The Trump administration wants to make massive cuts in research while claiming to spend MORE money on science.  

The TRUMP Government, led by The Secretary of HHS and the Director of the OMB, have previously proposed draconian cuts to the NIH budget.  Now we know the vehicle for the cuts .. an attack on indirect costs.

This is politically dangerous because the public often sees indirect costs as a form of profit to universities.  Private universities, like Harvard or Hopkins, have used indirect costs to build facilities even beyond what their huge endowments would allow.  Indeed here in WASTATE, the push for a new medical school in Spokane, under Washington State University, was sold as a way to bring federal funding for research.   If these “profits” fizzle it is not at all clear how Spokane can support this new school.

The problems, however, are not limited to the ambitions of rural entrepreneurs.  First the Hutch and now the South Lake Union campus in Seattle were built on the belief that the costs could come out of future income from indirect costs.  If these go away, the UW simply may not have the endowment to support this expansion unless some one of our local billionaires decides to turn the UW into a Northwest version of such well endowed private schools like Stanford or Harvard.

Naming rights to research institutes do not come cheap.  If Amazon decides to buy the rights to Safeco Field, the Company may shell out a few millions for a 2o year lease on the name. I suspect a reasonable price for the Balmer Biomedical Research Institute or Bezos Medicine would be much higher than the few bucks even Paul Allen or Bill Gates have so far put into other parts of the UW … more like 2 billion than a few tens of million dollars.  Or maybe Phil Knight, the biggest donor to the semi-privatized Oregon Health Sciences University would like to create a Husky School of Medicine with the Swoop brand?

Beyond billions for brick and mortar, there are real issues of what is called cost sharing.   A huge part of our faculty donates their time to teaching because of their grant support.  Facilities like the Health Sciences Library live off these “profits.”

Perhaps most dangerous however, is the lack of transparency in how indirect costs are spent.  In most universities, including our own, these federal moneys, as high as 75% of the money spent directly on research, are sent directly to the administration and dispersed without faculty overview.  For example, Deans use indirect costs to finance packages offered to new faculty.  Again this makes poorly-endowed public universities less competitive than well-endowed private schools.  And then there is the role of indirect costs in paying salaries for the administration.

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