Dear Daily Cal,
Your article on the potential impact of the budget cuts proposed by President Donald Trump on research at UC Berkeley did an outstanding job in describing the role of federal research dollars on campus. As noted, the budget proposed by President Trump contains significant cuts to critical agencies that fund basic research, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and clean energy programs within the Department of Energy. Not only do these funds support the research efforts of individual students, they also serve to help us fulfill the broader missions of the university.
Though it is the charge of Congress to pass the budget, most federally sponsored research is through the executive branch. Trump’s budget proposal strongly indicates that the current administration does not think that the federal government should invest in scientific research. The fact that the president’s cabinet contains at least three members — Scott Pruitt, the EPA director, Rick Perry, the energy secretary, and Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state – who question the science behind climate change, does not indicate that this philosophy will readily change.
The concern goes beyond budgets and scientific research. As noted in a recent New York Times op-ed by Harald Varmus, Nobel laureate and former director of the National Institutes of Health and of the National Cancer Institute, “This is not about Republicans versus Democrats … It is about a conception of national leadership that connects our economic success and our security to the generation of knowledge and to the arts and sciences, not just to our military strength.” It is for this reason that the impact of the administration’s policies on the UC Berkeley community has already been profound. It has disillusioned many in our research community — the faculty in my department, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in my lab, the undergraduates in my classes, and the staff who support these education and research efforts.
What to do? One clear imperative is to speak up. To this end, I encourage all of you — students, faculty and staff — to participate in the March for Science this Saturday. Furthermore, I encourage you to add your voice by signing a recent declaration at academic-values.org. This declaration calls on everyone associated with U.S. colleges to reaffirm the value of scientific knowledge, of reasoned debate and of cultural diversity and inclusion. As noted by professor E.J. Chichilnisky, the Stanford professor behind this effort, “These ideals are central to the academic mission of research and education — a mission that has empowered individual advancement and societal progress in America, and has attracted talented individuals from around the world seeking and building a better future.”
Federally funded basic research is critical for identifying and solving society’s problems. If we want to continue to advance as a society we need to continue to advance in science.
— Dr. Marla Feller, head of the division of neurobiology in the department of molecular and cell Biology and member of the executive committee of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute