Corporate Chief to Head Review of University Research Support

June 22, 2010

At the request of Congress, a former chief executive of the DuPont chemical company, Charles O. Holliday Jr., will head a yearlong review of what the federal government can do to help ensure the long-term health of the nation's research universities.

The review, expected to be announced later this week and conducted by the National Academies, has been a major goal of the universities. They have argued that, because of cuts in state support, the federal government needs to play a greater role in financing science and research at public institutions.

The academies agreed to conduct the study at the request of lawmakers who have been pressed by groups such as the Association of American Universities, which has warned about the danger of states increasingly diverting budget resources from higher education to elementary and secondary schools, health care, and prisons.

"The competitive advantage the United States currently enjoys is obvious," the president of the association, Robert M. Berdahl, told Congress in his appeal, referring to the global pre-eminence of America's research universities, "but retaining it cannot be taken for granted."

University leaders have said they hope the outcome will be similar in effect to the "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" report that the academies produced in 2007, generating a bipartisan push in Congress to double federal spending on scientific research.

Mr. Holliday and other corporate leaders will account for about half of the approximately 21 members of the study panel, according to an official familiar with the effort. Input from business leaders could be critical to ensuring political support for any final recommendations, the official said. Current and former university presidents will comprise much of the rest of the panel.

Paul N. Courant, a professor of public policy, economics, and information at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, has been one advocate calling for more federal involvement. He has pointed out that university-based research, supported by the government, was a key factor in the U.S. victory in World War II.

"Once more, it is time for the federal government to step in and provide the support necessary to keep our crucial graduate programs among the best in the world," Mr. Courant and colleagues wrote in January in a Chronicle essay.

The study may also take the panel of experts into the politically sensitive topic of immigration, including questions of whether the federal government should be doing more to encourage top foreign students to remain in the country.

The panel is expected to begin conferring by phone this summer and hold its first in-person meeting in the fall, with the goal of issuing a final report within 12 months.

Karin Fischer contributed to this article.