Concern Over Shutdown Mounting at CU Boulder, Where Majority of Research Funding Comes from Federal Government
Concern over the federal shutdown is mounting at the University of Colorado, where the majority of research funding comes from the federal government.
Last year CU received about $369 million, or 72 percent, of its research funding from the federal government, according to the university .
“We find out every week about more places that are impacted, and we’re looking at how to figure out how to have stop-gaps in place to address that,” said Terri Fiez, CU’s vice chancellor for research and innovation.
Graduate students working in joint programs with federal labs are among those affected, as well as CU researchers who are funded through federal grants, she said. Some campus labs employ researchers who are funded under grants, but those grants have end dates. Grant applications will stack up as the agencies to which they apply are shutdown.
A cross-campus effort is ongoing to monitor the effects at CU, as well as the effects for family members of people at CU, Fiez said. She said she has been impressed by efforts, including in individual departments and colleges, to help. Although the university doesn’t have a lot of discretionary money to work with, officials will do everything in their power to address shortfalls, Fiez said.
In a note to the campus community Friday , she also wrote that university officials are continuing to advocate through alliances, such as the Association of American Universities, and the government relations team is in contact with the state’s congressional delegation.
On Friday, CU also launched a webpage to host information about the shutdown — colorado.edu/gov-shutdown — that includes an FAQ, federal agency guidance, and links to statements from both university officials and higher education alliances.
“We’re continuing our work as usual,” Fiez said. “These are anomalies that are coming up, and we’re trying to address it to help people get back to work and do what they’re doing.”
However, she also noted that her concern has grown as the shutdown has lengthened — now the longest in history.
“On Dec. 21, I was probably at a ‘barely yellow’ (level of concern), hoping it would be a week,” she said. “As time has gone on, I’ve gone from dark yellow to feeling red. It’s getting more and more concerning, in part because I don’t know that the right discussions are happening to end the shutdown. ... We haven’t seen any resolution yet.”
Waleed Abdalati, the director of CU’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES, expressed similar concern. He also was among a group of people who attended a lunch Friday at Southern Sun in Boulder to talk with U.S. Rep Joe Neguse about the local effects of the shutdown, both at CU and in the broader science community in Boulder.
“We’re different than the federal employees because an agreement has been secured and resources have been provided, but the uncertain nature of what’s going on in the federal government does have ripple effects that cause us concern,” he said.
Those effects are illustrated by people like Mike MacFerrin, who is a CIRES postdoctoral researcher. The work he is doing is funded through two projects with NASA and the National Science Foundation, but he is concerned about what happens when the current funding runs out.
His team put in a proposal to the National Science Foundation in July, and they are supposed to be hearing back now about whether they’ll be given the grant money. The National Science Foundation is shut down, though, so they have no way of knowing whether they’ll receive the funding or when they’ll get a notice.
“If things keep going, if we don’t hear back until mid- to late February or later, I don’t think we’d be able to pull together a field season that quickly,” he said of a planned field season in Greenland that is supposed to happen in late April and early May, and where they plan to study the effects of melt water, which has been increasing dramatically.
“It takes a lot of logistics planning and a lot of planning ahead to make that happen,” he said.
And because his job is funded through such grants, he’ll have to start looking for work elsewhere if the shutdown and funding delays continue. A similar effect is playing out at universities across the country, he said.
“All these federal funding research agencies are the pipeline for all the scientific progress that goes on at universities across the country,” he said. ”... It’s put a big pause on all of it right now.”
As another example, Nichole Barger, an associate professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology, said just this week a team had to cancel a planning meeting for a field season in Moab, Utah, because collaborators on the project are federal scientists who have been furloughed.
She’s hopeful the shutdown ends before they face more delays.
“Right now we’re just delayed in planning,” she said. “We hope that this is going to change in the next couple of weeks.”
Brian Meyer, an associate scientist at CIRES, said the university has done a good job of providing support, but people want to get back to business as usual.
“We’d all really like to get back to the business of supporting the country,” he said. “We really feel for our federal colleagues and are trying to do our best to support them and keep up the work we can do.”
Cassa Niedringhaus: 303-473-1106, firstname.lastname@example.org