Research Universities in the New Security Environment
Some hasty government responses to September 11 posed problems for universities; with a more collaborative approach, higher education can play a vital role.
When our nation was attacked, we knew that the world was changing before our eyes; that terrorists were using the freedoms and openness we had taken for granted against us and that our lives would never be the same. As members of the science and technology community, we also knew that we would have key roles to play in ensuring the future safety of our country. Our nation's scientists working in academe, industry, and government have traditionally stepped up to the plate when needed to work toward national goals, and clearly this has already begun. Even now, many are involved in small and large ways as civic scientists engaged in civic duty.
We focus our attention in this article on scientists and engineers in research universities, for we believe that facing up to new dangers will require the best of our researchers in universities in order to advance national security in all of its forms. In the coming years, however, we must keep in mind not just the science and engineering departments but the whole university, because society will need the full complement of intellectual tools to ensure our national security and well being. The public and our policymakers need to be reminded that research universities play a unique role in many areas: in educating and training students who will become the next generation of informed and engaged citizens, scholars in all disciplines, professionals and leaders in all fields, and of course, the scientists and engineers who will help us to face these tremendous challenges far into the future.
Research universities also have another critically important role to play that is not talked about nearly enough in the S&T community: to help our nation better understand the interconnectedness of the social, cultural, and religious forces that are changing our world. Scholars in our universities can provide deep understanding of some of these issues as the first step toward finding solutions to vexing problems.
These will be among the great challenges for the next generation of research universities. We can excel in science and technology and the education of scientists and engineers. And we can excel in preparing humanists and social scientists. But that is not enough. If we do no more than that, the age-old two-cultures war will rage on at a time when the stakes are simply too high for disciplinary isolation. We must be educated more broadly in order to understand the complexity of the world around us.
Research universities now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to renew and redefine their relations with the entire society. They also have a unique opportunity to create a new partnership with the federal government to develop new programs, new areas of research, and new strategies to advance our national security and improve our society. But in order to do this, we must also be mindful of policy changes that may weaken the strengths of our current university system.
It is not surprising that in this early period of the nation's response to terrorism, the government is focusing first on improving security measures to guard against future attacks. Strategic decisions have been made under the auspices of military, intelligence, and law-enforcement agencies. Perhaps most noticeable in our everyday life are the protections now in place in airports, but important changes are occurring in other arenas as well. Along with the potential threats that we are learning to live with are also tremendous opportunities for research and development (R&D) to help make the world a safer place.
The danger in this security-policy upheaval is that actions taken to ensure near-term security might undermine efforts to develop long-term solutions. The risk of unintended consequences is particularly great for university R&D efforts. University leaders are particularly concerned about proposed limitations on researchers' access to data and methodologies, increasing emphasis on "missiles and medicine" in the 2003 federal R&D budget, and more aggressive tracking of foreign students in universities.
Information access. The news media have reported that in its initial attempts to assess the threat of terrorists developing harmful chemical, biological, or other agents of mass destruction, the Office of Homeland Security has expressed an interest in requesting or requiring limitations on scientific publishing, especially the publication of data sets and methodologies that might lead to the duplication of certain results. The risks and benefits of such action must be clearly understood. The shift from the current "right to know" principle to a system under which much information would be available only to those with a "need to know" threatens to erode some basic democratic principles and the basic framework of scientific interactions.
The traditions and structure of U.S. research today depend on replication and refutation, which require that sufficient data and methods be published in peer-reviewed journals. Openness has enabled the vast majority of advances in civilian applications and innovations in the past 50 or more years and makes our research system the envy of the world. An open research system has led to new knowledge and thus innovations that will continue to drive the economy, ensure national security, and fight terrorism. Open communication of results influences national policies in environmental protection and public health, and it protects against fraudulent results, sloppy science, and political biases guiding important policy decisions.
There may be some circumstances, however, that warrant restrictions, but the onus for blocking publication should be on the government through a process that is clearly defined, free of arbitrary edicts, and clearly understood by the research community. This issue calls for a new partnership between the government and research universities to set criteria and standards for any kind of restrictions on publishing of research results.
Missiles and medicine. The second significant risk is the increasing emphasis on defense and health in the FY 2003 R&D budget. Such a limited focus, at the expense of support for other fields, may have long-term consequences for research universities and the nation. Today, defense and health R&D make up more than three-quarters of the federal R&D portfolio (which totals $112 billion for FY 2003), with both sectors increasing. Research universities perform about 11 percent of the nation's total R&D and more than half of federally funded fundamental research. The federal government funds nearly 60 percent of the R&D performed by universities, and this percentage is going down. Moreover, nearly two-thirds of federal R&D at colleges and universities comes from the National Institutes of Health, a reality that strongly influences the mix of science and engineering disciplines in their R&D portfolios. Other disciplines such as engineering and the physical sciences now account for only 15 and 9 percent respectively of the total university R&D portfolio, far smaller shares than in past years.
These kinds of imbalances mean that our universities might not be training the right mix of scientists and engineers and other scholars that we will need to bolster national security and economic growth in many areas in the next generation. Pointing out this imbalance is not to suggest that there should be less funding for health R&D; rather, there should be more nondefense R&D in many other disciplines. Perhaps it is even time for the science and technology community to help out its other research colleagues and call for increases in federal funding for specific areas in the humanities. The FY 2003 budget request for the National Endowment for the Humanities was a paltry $127 million, of which less than 10 percent goes toward research.
Although a missiles and medicine approach is an understandable response for a counterterrorism agenda, it is only a beginning. There is no question that the S&T community must provide leadership in research areas that lead to threat reduction. A comprehensive R&D agenda will require investments in many other areas and a better balance to encourage new ideas. Although we cannot predict how rapid shifts in funding priority may directly affect the economy or national security in the short term, we can assert that any dramatic decreases in funding in some areas and resulting imbalances of research across disciplines are likely to have negative effects on the kind of research done in universities, as well as the kind of training scientists and engineers receive. Such redistribution needs to be carefully considered.
A new partnership between the government and research universities could identify important and significant foci for research and innovation. We need to develop forums and engage in serious discussions with our government leaders to make the case for carefully considered research priorities. By working together, we can avoid pouring money and people into some areas simply because things can be done but miss defining what needs to be done.
Tracking foreign students. The U.S. government is concerned that potential terrorists may pose as students in order to enter the country. As a consequence, the Homeland Presidential Directive states that, "The government shall implement measures to end the abuse of student visas and prohibit certain international students from receiving education and training in sensitive areas, including areas of study with direct application to the development and use of weapons of mass destruction."
According to the State Department's Mantis list, a procedure designed for all government programs to ensure several security objectives, the "sensitive" areas could include nuclear technology, missile technology, navigation and guidance control, chemical and biotechnology engineering, remote imaging and reconnaissance, advanced computer/microelectronic technology, materials technology, information security, lasers and directed energy systems, sensors, marine technology, robotics, advanced ceramics, and high-performance metals and alloys. This list describes a large portion of the research and graduate education portfolio in science and engineering in the nation's leading universities. If implemented without careful consideration, this policy will be risky to our national security for many reasons.
At least since World War II, the United States has prided itself on being a magnet for the brightest students from around the world. Foreign students earned 9.9 percent of bachelor's degrees, 19.9 percent of master's degrees, and 27 percent of doctorates in the United States in 1999. In engineering, foreign-born Ph.D.s comprised 45 percent of the total. Foreign students earned 46 percent of doctorates in computer sciences and 31 percent in mathematics. After studying here, many of these students stay and make significant contributions to the economy. This pool of talent is distributed across academe, industry, and all levels of government. In academe, for example, foreign-born Ph.D. holders comprised 28 percent of the scientists and engineers. Others return to their home countries and make positive contributions there. The United States benefits from the work of those who stay and from the close relationships with those who return home.
The data show that our native-born students either are not sufficiently interested in or are not being inspired to pursue science, engineering, and mathematics degrees. If access to foreign students is blocked, who is going to do the research of the future, and who will teach in the universities? This is a serious question that has direct consequences for the nation's long-term national economic security. If the United States decides to restrict access to foreign students, it must develop new policies immediately to prevent a net loss of science and engineering personnel at all levels in the next generation. There can and should be more such interactions with government leaders to reach solutions that serve national needs. Again, working in partnership with government, educators must consider the options and develop some new policies to manage this serious risk to our future national security.
U.S. leaders have recognized that something must be done to better ensure that holders of student visas are actually studying in educational institutions, and partnerships are starting to emerge. After some initial difficulties, the higher education community responded positively and worked closely with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and other public officials to address the vulnerabilities in the nation's student visa program. The higher education community is now meeting regularly with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which is implementing the Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
Proposal for action
Implementing SEVIS efficiently and effectively, however, is not the solution to our increasing reliance on foreign-born researchers and technical workers. We need to inspire more young Americans to pursue careers in science and engineering. We therefore propose a contemporary version of the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) that would be responsive to the current challenges we face.
The NDEA, which provided significant financial assistance to U.S. students pursuing graduate degrees, directly resulted from an increase in the perceived risk to national security that occurred after the launch of Sputnik in October 1957. NDEA marked a change in national science policy in response to national security concerns, and it increased support for large numbers of students who became scientists and engineers from the late 1950s throughout the 1970s. As rocket scientist Wernher von Braun noted in congressional testimony at the time, the challenges "require a new kind of soldier, who may one day be memorialized as the man with the slide rule...It is vital to the national interest that we increase the output of scientific and technical personnel."
One result of the federal actions that followed was a rise in Ph.D.s awarded annually by U.S. colleges and universities from 8,600 in 1957 to 34,000 in 1973. The careers of many leaders of today's scientific community were launched in part or in whole by NDEA support. The nation needs a program geared to current challenges and conditions that can yield comparable results.
There may, however, be an even more compelling reason for a new federal initiative to draw U.S. students into science and engineering. Our homeland defense and national security needs should motivate us to tap into the large pool of women and minorities who have been underrepresented in science and engineering. Some critics of the research university argue that the encouragement of foreign students to enroll in U.S. graduate and research programs reflects the nation's unwillingness to provide significant incentives to our own young people, especially women and minorities, to become serious about science and engineering careers. They argue that as a nation, and as research universities, we are unwilling to spend the needed resources to prepare, recruit, and then support all kinds of students to pursue these careers.
A contemporary federal initiative that would be consistent with the president's call for national service could finally tap into that huge sector of the population that has not been readily welcomed before. A governmental call would draw on our most talented young people from all sectors of society to explore areas of scholarship that are important to national security: all fields of science and technology, security and intelligence, defense, foreign relations, and economic development. Our nation needs well-educated students in all of these areas.
In recruiting young people to fill clearly identified roles in the national interest, we must be careful not to lose sight of the broader purpose of education. In Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, E.O. Wilson provides his vision of what education should achieve in the next generation of students: "Every college student should be able to answer the following question: What is the relation between science and the humanities, and how important is it for human welfare? Most of the issues that vex humanity daily--economic conflict, arms escalation, overpopulation, abortion, environment, poverty--cannot be solved without integrating knowledge from the natural sciences with that of the social sciences and humanities. Only fluency across the boundaries will provide a clear view of the world as it really is." Preparing this truly well educated student is our most risky business in the next generation, and we must step up to the challenge now. This is, therefore, yet another important area that should be discussed within the framework of a new partnership between government and research universities.
We are reminded of H.L. Mencken's famous quote: "For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong." Balancing long-term and short-term needs, attending to national and global interests, and integrating science, engineering, social science, and humanities in a dangerous and rapidly changing world will not be easy. That is why we emphasize the need for close collaboration between government and universities. Negotiating this obstacle course will require long discussions among the wisest members of both communities. The path may be complex and messy, but at least it has a fighting chance of being right.
Although we recognize that the translation of goals into policies is never straightforward, we also think it is essential to have clear goals in mind as we move forward. We believe that the scientific and technological creativity and innovation that support our national security in so many ways--economic, military, health, environment, education--will advance if we adhere to three broad goals:
- The free flow of information should not be restricted without considerable deliberation and acknowledgement of risks to the overall R&D effort.
- The nation's research priorities are broad enough to enable exploration and discovery into new areas from which unanticipated benefits may be derived.
- We must create pathways for U.S. students as well as the brightest foreign students to study and succeed in our research universities.
Our universities have much to offer in this new globally oriented world. The university research community, as well as our government, must work together to address these new challenges constructively. If we do not, we will become a weaker country, and we will have allowed the terrorists to progress. If we are able to work together in ways that are respectful of each other's needs and strengths, we will emerge as a much stronger country, as well as a much better country.
M.R.C. Greenwood is chancellor and Donna Gerardi Riordan (firstname.lastname@example.org) is special assistant to the chancellor for higher education and science policy at the University of California at Santa Cruz. This article is adapted from Greenwood's William F. Carey lecture at the AAAS R&D Policy Colloquium in Washington, D.C., on April 11, 2002.