Fund-seeking should reflect research needs

(U-WIRE) STANFORD, Calif. — Stanford, Inc. should remember that basic research is fundamental to its future direction — and be sure to maintain the ability to perform basic research for the sake of research, as is befitting a world-class university.
With the loss of the revenue that Stanford had received from its patent on the processes for recombinant DNA, Stanford finds itself in a financial quandary as revenues drop from $50 million to $15 million.
As any graduate student can tell you, the quest for funding of research topics can be extremely difficult — especially in some of the more esoteric regions of basic research. Many research grants are funded by industry for the advancement of their current technology needs or for needs five years down the line.
But the future trends of civilization are not determined by the relatively short-term goals of companies. Fundamental research problems are often at the heart of incredible advances in our society and civilization.
Take a look back in 1980, when Margaret Jacks Hall was populated by computer science professors and graduate students examining the nuances of programming paradigms and network architecture.
At that time, government funding provided the capital for basic research that propelled much of what is now Silicon Valley. Former Computer Science Professor Jim Clark, once CEO of Silicon Graphics and Netscape, Dr. Andy Bechtolsheim, founder of SUN Microsystems and Granite Systems, and even Cisco founders Len Bosack and Sandy Lerner all grew from the environment that was engendered in the halls of the Margaret Jacks building in its pursuit of basic research.
As Stanford, Inc. looks for more funding sources to replace those which are depleted, it should balance the needs of its partners with the needs of the products it puts out into the world after the fact. Is it necessary for Stanford’s growth that we continue as a subsidiary of the corporations that fund research projects, or is the University responsible for developing people and nurturing seeds that will take our society in directions as of yet unheard and unexplored?

This staff editorial originally appeared in Monday’s edition of The Stanford Daily.