$8 million in congressional funds draw criticism

Fabiana Torreao

The University received nearly $8 million in controversial academic funding this year from Congress, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education report issued Monday.
The controversy associated with the funding — also called “pork” by critics — is a result of the noncompetitive nature of the grants. According to the Chronicle’s report, the grants are often based on universities’ and states’ connections with Congress members.
In West Virginia, for example, the Robert C. Byrd National Technology Transfer Center and the Erma Ora Byrd Center for Educational Technologies — named after Sen. Robert C. Byrd and his wife — received $7 million and $2 million, respectively.
This year’s appropriations surpassed $1 billion for the first time. The University received $7.7 million for various projects, as well as an additional $8.2 million shared with other state institutions.
All state rankings are a result of lobbying efforts, according to the Chronicle report.
“The state of Minnesota ranked 23rd on the list, but in terms of population, the state of Minnesota ranks 20th,” said Christine Maziar, the University’s vice president of research. “It puts us right where we ought to be.”
While supporters of the funding argue that without such appropriations many worthy projects might languish, critics argue projects of dubious merit are funded.
The University’s appropriations include a $6 million grant from the Department of Defense for the Army High Performance Computing Research Center and $1.7 million from the Department of Transportation for the Center for Transportation Studies.
Robert Johns, deputy director of the transportation center, said the noncompetitive grants allow smaller universities to receive a share of the academic funds, while competitive grants often favor large universities.
“It’s hard to say if (noncompetitive appropriations) are good or bad,” Johns said. “We’re in a situation that we’re big enough that we can compete if that’s the method that’s going to be used.”

Fabiana Torreao welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3212.