Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Cast or Don't: Earmarks and Catching a Big One

Living in the Alt-Dominion and relying on satellite internet is neither as glamorous nor as reliable as the Post's Joel Garreau suggests. Connections are spotty, top speeds are slow, and true affordable wi-fi is still a year or five off.

Anyway, now that I am back up and running (for now) I direct attention to colleges fishing for funds. Earmarking or "directed appropriations" is the word of the day, and federal earmarking is serious business for colleges and universities--to the tune of $2.4 billion in 2006 according to American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). So serious that it takes no time at all to find an examples of once 'upstanding' universities succumbing to the "can't beat 'em, join 'em" ethic. In searching for my own institution's academic directed appropriations I came up short, but that could change with upcoming legislation.

The argument against academic earmarking, described by University of Virginia professor James Savage, goes: "Federal research agencies were created to address certain national needs: curing diseases, national defense, space exploration. Earmarking undermines their ability to set priorities, create coherent programs, and spend their money optimally."Additionally, the earmarks generally don't fund the projects they are designed to fund entirely. So the earmarks can create black holes from which other university funds have difficulty escaping.

The rub here is that academic earmarks are noncompetitively awarded appropriations that members of Congress obtain for favored colleges and universities. The whole idea behind academic work is that it is supposed to be competitive and peer reviewed and really difficult to do well and even more difficult to get published (tell Noah about the flood!). When colleges and universities secure noncompetitive monies, it makes the hard way--the peer review, competitive grant process--seem that much more sadistic.

It would be interesting to account for the monies that one institution received through the directed appropriations process, and trace the money to see if the money did any good for the state or the nation. I haven't made up my mind about academic directed appropriations, in large part because certain universities have always been privileged and received more state and federal funding. Also, in a higher education environment that increasingly engenders competition between institutions, the earmarks seem to be in support of the spirit of the times. I tend to think that the moral responsibility rests with the institutions. The higher education landscape is vast and varied. Just because your average college administrator and college president wants to grow grow grow and compete doesn't mean it's best for the state or the students the institution serves.


Post a Comment

<< Home

This page has been accessed at least several times since the counter was last reset, or at an average rate of at least several hits per day.