Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What does the Obama Administration think about academic chemistry?

See Arr Oh, in winning his second typospotting award, asked for me to talk about politics on the blog. Specifically, he wondered what the Obama Administration's approach to #chemjobs has been. There are some easy answers: #chemjobs villain Andrew Liveris is a frequent White House guest and co-chair of the President's Advanced Manufacturing panel and the President was surprised to be confronted by the spouse of an unemployed engineer.

However, thanks to a tweet by former ACS president Catherine Hunt, I ran across a NSF workshop summary on graduate school in chemistry that was very clear about White House priorities towards our favorite issues. From the director of the Division of Chemistry at NSF, Matthew Platz:
The Obama Administration has been very interested in science, Platz observed, and has clear ideas about what it wants to support. As a result, presidential priorities have been increasing as a proportion of the budget (Figure 2-4). Chemistry has not played a large role in these presidential priorities, though NSF’s Division of Chemistry has been able to keep its core funding relatively stable, largely by reducing instrumentation costs. 
However, if the chemical sciences community wants federal funding for chemistry to increase, it must demonstrate how its proposals contribute to the administration’s priorities. How can it help to create a workforce that is equipped to take on the challenges of the new century? How can it help create the skills in U.S. workers that will lead companies to locate their jobs here rather than in another country? 
The most important goal of the workshop, Platz said, must be how the chemical sciences can preserve and enhance quality with less money. “If we can come up with some strategies to do that, this workshop, in my opinion, will be a great success.” He challenged the workshop participants to devise experiments in chemistry graduate education that can inspire the field and attract support. In particular, the goal should not be to play a zero-sum game but to find new money to fund experiments at five to ten universities in addition to the core funding for chemistry. 
“Change has already come,” Platz concluded. “We can view this as an opportunity for our community and for the United States, or we can passively react to change and have it imposed on us.”
From a political science perspective, what do I see in that verbiage? I see that funding academic chemistry is not an especially high Obama Administration priority, and NSF is attempting to triage the process and not allow chemistry to be affected significantly by spreading some of the pain around. I see that the President is working with the constraints that Congress has imposed through its budgetary process; I cannot imagine that the Republican-controlled House or the Democratic-controlled Senate have academic chemistry as a priority either.

I wonder if academic chemistry sees itself as part of creating an educated workforce and contributing "on-shoring" jobs. I hope so, but I am somewhat skeptical of the academic chemistry community's ability to accomplish that goal. 

1 comment:

  1. So according to this Obama administration supports the notion that jobs are leaving because workers are not good enough?