Following a visit to the UC Santa Barbara Weimbs Laboratory on Monday, March 7, Congressmember Lois Capps held a roundtable discussion on proposed cuts in the federal budget for research and development.
The lab she toured focuses on biomedical research, including efforts to find new medications and maybe a cure for polycystic kidney disease. The Weimbs Lab has undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral, and international students working in tandem; it was purposefully built as an open space for the collaboration of ideas. It relies on federal funding and grants
Pierre Wiltzius, the dean of science at UCSB, took part in the roundtable conference at the Life Sciences building afterward, with several other distinguished professors and a couple of graduate students. In her opening remarks, Capps said she considers the research at UCSB vital to the economy. She cited the paying jobs in the research labs—providing income for around 750 people—as well as the highly paid jobs that can result from working in a UCSB lab. “Innovation and education is what this institution is about,” she said of UCSB.
If Congress’s proposed budget-cutting bill were to pass, over a billion dollars would be cut from the National Institutes of Health funding, $350 million from the National Science Foundation, and $1.5 billion from the Department of Energy, which funds physical sciences.
According to Capps, UCSB has received over $200 million in federal funding from organizations like the National Science Foundation. Capps added that she hoped that there would be a strong reaction from the public, as well as from people on campus.
The budget cuts would also take away from the 6,900 UCSB students who are currently receiving Pell Grants. That investment alone is $29 million, just at UCSB, said Capps.
“We have two missions: educating young students, and doing research at the top level,” said Wiltzius. “We are keenly aware of the discussions happening right now, and we’re nervous.” The National Science Foundation provides 41 percent of UCSB’s federally funded research, followed by the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and the National Health Institute, he said. The NIH is the fastest-growing component of the funding. “The cuts are nothing short of catastrophic,” Wiltzius said.
Professor Les Wilton said that even temporarily reducing funding makes a lab lose momentum. Retraining and reorganizing have to be undertaken when people are fired or laid off, making it a tremendous waste of time and money. He and others cited the inefficiency of cutting funding from a long-running project.
The cuts could also discourage future students from entering the sciences, the speakers said, and cost the U.S. its competitive edge in scientific research.
When asked what the average person could to do to help, Capps said, “Gather in groups and raise the voices to convince other members of Congress. Help students understand that they’ll have to protect this.”