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Posted on Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 4:44 p.m.

University of Michigan could lose $40M in research funds if federal policy takes place

By Kellie Woodhouse

University of Michigan head of research Stephen Forrest anticipates that the Ann Arbor school would lose $40 million in research funding if Congress follows through on a policy that would drastically reduce federally funded research.

Sequestration, a series of automatic federal spending cuts scheduled to begin March 1, would cut national federal research funding by $12 billion in 2013.

James Woolliscroft and Stephen Forrest.JPG

U-M medical school dean James Woolliscroft and vice president for research Stephen Forrest.

File photo |

"It is a meat cleaver-approach to solving budget problems," Forrest told U-M regents during a Thursday board meeting. "We don't know what the future's going to look like. It's certainly not going to be very robust."

Lawmakers in Washington D.C. are locked in a debate about whether to stop the policy, which is expected to cut defense and domestic discretionary spending by $1.2 trillion.

Forrest has been one of many higher education officials lobbying lawmakers to stop the cuts from taking place. He says whether or not the policy takes effect, federal research is likely to decline in coming years.

"We are one of the biggest players at the table in the federal funding portfolio. They listen to us," Forrest said.

U-M is heavily dependent on federal research funding. The federal government awarded U-M $825 million in research funds in fiscal 2011-12, amounting to nearly 67 percent of the school's overall $1.24 billion research budget that year.

"We are all watching very closely," said U-M President Mary Sue Coleman.

During a faculty meeting Monday, Forrest echoed his concerns before dozens of research faculty. He said sequestration, which overall represents a 5.1 percent decrease in domestic and defense spending, will cause U.S. research to slow while other countries are ramping up their efforts.

"The way I look at it is this puts a permanent dent in our research competitiveness forever, because we carry that 5 percent forward," Forrest said. "It seems clear that a pull back in government spending will really slow the economy, maybe to the point of recession."

During the Monday meeting, Forrest made a prediction about sequestration:

"I think it's going to probably happen, but I think it's going to be rolled back shortly thereafter because a lot of nasty things are going to happen."

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.



Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 1:18 p.m.

How much is in the University's endowment fund? I'm assuming it is in the billions...why can't the University offset any cuts with the surplus in the endowment during these tough financial times?


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 2:16 p.m.

I'm sure they can. The problem is, in my experience, no department will ever suggest cutting spending because they won't need as much next year. They are all in the sphere of empire and career building. Not saying this is wrong but it human nature to want to prosper. No one gets promoted for downsizing.


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 12:19 p.m.

Maybe local residents and politicians should work to CUT funding to the UM every time they buy up private property and take it off the tax rolls? Buy a building? Lose 40 milllion in grants!


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 12:08 p.m.

Frankly, until these politicians can get their act together, I suggest that all cuts start with the President, White House staff, and the rest right on down the line. The budget has been on the agenda for over four years and they still can't come together and resolve the situation. It is very disturbing to say the least.

Jay Thomas

Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 4:33 a.m.

If I was receiving all that money I'd be smiling too. Yuck it up.;)


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 3:44 a.m.

What many people don't seem to understand is the following. The University of Michigan, like most other major research institutions in this country, employ thousands of scientists whose mission at the University is to drive science forward by seeking cures to diseases, solutions to our energy problems, creating new technologies you will use in your household tomorrow, and advancing scientific progress on a multitude of fronts. The engine that drives this is not tuition dollars, but federal research dollars from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, etc. Major cuts to these grants means major cuts to each individual investigator. The University will not get to choose which "fringe" research programs get cut should sequestration go through. Rather, each individual investigator will lose funding for individual studies. It is estimated that NIH grants will take a hit of ~11% ( For the average Michigan faculty with two NIH grants, these cuts could force the loss of one research job for every 1-2 faculty members. And I'm not bemoaning the loss of faculty jobs- these are technicians, research staff, graduate students, post-docs. These are the middle class workers who will be most directly affected. These cuts may be based on future funding, but what that means is that for a 5 year grant which has been planned and budgeted for 5 years, sequestration will cut the budget on the remaining years of that grant, making it all the more difficult to fulfill those research goals. This will make it difficult to show progress for the next grant renewal, which will make proceeding to the next discovery all the more difficult. I respect anyone's opinion regarding tightening the belts and tightening the budget, but those opinions should be make with a full understanding of where the money comes from, who it goes to, and who will be affected most by its loss.


Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 11:49 p.m.

The U could do with a lot less dough than this, and in a lot more places. They have more money than they can figure out how to spend. Too bad they keep increasing tuition and housing.


Sat, Feb 23, 2013 : 2:41 p.m.

Well, some recent actual data would be the hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars the U seems bent on spending on buying, building, and renovating. Less recent, but still valid, things like replacing every CRT TV and VCR in the MLB with hi-def flat screens and laser disc players. Because we all know it's a much better learning experience to watch "Como Agua por Chocolate," in all its still-low-def-glory, on a laser disc and hi def flatscreen.


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 3:23 a.m.

Please support any one of your contentions with actual data: how much less could they function with; what would they cut; what would be the impact of the cuts on the university mission and on the income of employees of the U and what would be the consequent impact on the town, county and state. So you are saying that they could spend more, but don't ("...figure out how to spend...")? To bad the state keeps cutting the subsidy which is highly correlated with increases for tuition. Too bad the state can't be bothered to fund a decaying physical plant, which is directly correlated with rising housing fees.

Atlas Shrugged

Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 11:16 p.m.

Why is the medical school dean smiling? The medical school is about $40 million in the hole. The hospital and health center is about $27 million in the hole. Add 'em up, folks. We're not talking about chump change, and the folks in the medical school and hospital/health center aren't talking about anything, at least publicly.


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 2:22 p.m.

Yeah you probably should try and find a photo that is a little less jovial. It doesn't match the tone of this article to have the dean sitting there laughing. To someone that doesn't know any better it looks like this picture is related to the story when it's clearly not. Probably no photo would be better than one like this. Just my $.02

Atlas Shrugged

Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 1:39 a.m.

Kellie.... My question "why is the dean smiling?" was meant to be facetious.

Kellie Woodhouse

Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 12:09 a.m.

The photo is a file photo taken a while ago for an article on NCRC.


Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 11:01 p.m.

At what point do we actually address the deficit? How many times do the elitists in Washington continue to delay putting off what all agree must be fixed. If we can't cut a measly 2% of the annual spending we are all doomed because it will take some massive cuts to get things back in order. There aren't that many MIDDLE CLASS voters who want to see their taxes go up. And folks, that who really has all the money.


Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 10:29 p.m.

Five cents out of every dollar - cut some fat.


Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 10:22 p.m.

I guess thats better than the $60 million they already get.


Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 10:32 p.m.

The article stated that the University received $825 million from the federal government this past year.

Unusual Suspect

Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 10:18 p.m.

Kellie, is it really that UM would $40M in funding, or is it that the amount of the increase would be $40M less than what was budgeted?


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 12:13 p.m.

@jcj: Undoubtedly, the budgeted research spending at the U is greater this year than last, because it has been going up every year. That money is not just given to the U but is because of individual efforts to obtain grant funding for specific projects. Researchers spend a great deal of time trying to obtain funding so that they can pay for supplies, assistants, etc. The pool of researchers is growing, which is mostly why more money is coming in (it's not driven by just one lab getting bigger and bigger). The cuts (yes, they are cuts) will mostly impact the younger researchers who are just getting off the ground as they will not have other funding sources for support. Trimming fat is fine. Chopping off your ear to spite your face is not.

Mr. Me

Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 5:41 a.m.

$40M is the amount of funds pledged to UM that the federal government will renege on if the sequester goes through (if I understand the math correctly). If the university has to lay people off and otherwise disinvest in the amount of $40M that it planned on receiving well in advance, it's not relevant whether the remaining funding constitutes an increase or decrease over the previous year.


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 4:19 a.m.

Let me try the last couple sentences again. If no one can answer that, then the wrong people are deciding where the money goes. And that IS pretty simple.


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 4:17 a.m.

Kellie It seems simple enough for some to say there will be cuts. How can that be if the answer is not that simple? I have no agenda. I thought my logic was quite simple. Will the U of M get less this year than last? If you no one can answer that, how can then the wrong people are deciding where the money goes. And that IS pretty simple.


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 3:50 a.m.

Kellie, You'll forgive people whose questions are agenda driven and who don't like it when they don't get the answers that their preconceived notions of the world require.


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 3:22 a.m.

Kellie is being as obvious as she can be, or you guys don't understand how grant funding works. My guess is the latter if you don't realize that if your grant amount is supposed to be "x" and you don't get it from the agency then you are being cut. You cannot say it isn't a "cut" simply because last year was different. In that world, inflation doesn't exist and expenses never go up.

Kellie Woodhouse

Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 3:21 a.m.

It's not that simple, because there is baseline federal funding and there is federal funding that is tied to the stimulus package and it's my understanding that federal funding, outside of stimulus funding, is actually going down.


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 3:08 a.m.

Kelly To be clear, I am asking if the budgeted amount for this fiscal year was more than was budgeted for last year. That will tell if this was a cut or not.


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 2:24 a.m.

"...Kellie, is it really that UM would $40M in funding, ..." Suspect, read your first sentence closely. You're missing a word some place.

Unusual Suspect

Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 2:15 a.m.

Kellie, do you really not get the question, or do you not have the information?

Kellie Woodhouse

Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 12:10 a.m.

To be clear, the budgeted amount is based on commitments made by federal agencies to U-M.


Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 11:15 p.m.

Kellie Was the budgeted amount for this fiscal year more than the budgeted amount for last year? We get enough double talk from the politicians.

Kellie Woodhouse

Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 10:55 p.m.

The projected loss is for program operations budgeted to take place this fiscal year (July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013).


Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 10:16 p.m.

i believe they call it KARMA. Here you have the city of A2 complaining that UofM keeps buying property in the city which removes "said" properties from the revenue stream. The city estimates that they have lost millions and millions as the University is getting much more aggresive in their spending. The city was EXPECTING a "certain" amount of revenue, but received nothing from the property that UofM bought. NOW UofM is whining because they were EXPECTING a certain amount from the Feds for Research funding. If the automatic cuts go through, UofM will have to figure out a way to work with what funding they already have. YOU just can't make this stuff up!:)


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 3:47 a.m.

As a side note: U-M is heavily dependent on federal research funding. The federal government awarded U-M $825 million in research funds in fiscal 2011-12, amounting to nearly 67 percent of the school's overall $1.24 billion research budget that year. "We are all watching very closely," said U-M President Mary Sue Coleman. PERHAPS Mary Sue would be willing to give up 10 or 20% or her salary for ongoing research? NOT! (if of course she REALLY cared about research). OR does she really care about her BLOATED salary?


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 3:19 a.m.

"What Mr. Forrest wants you to believe is that we're going to have to drastically cut cancer research. In reality, fringe programs - the ones with the least impact and least likelihood of contributing positively to society - will be cut. That's if the University does it right. If, on the other hand, they act like petulant children and "cut across the board," we'll know where the University's priorities really lie." You understand less than nothing about research funding: 1) the university submits a proposal for funding; 2) if the project is funded, the money is earmarked for a specific purpose; 3) If funding to cancer research is cut, it is cut by the allocating agency, NOT UM; 4) Forrest is not saying specifically, that funding to cancer will be cut, on the contrary, his point is that if the cuts are made on a flat basis, as is likely, the cancer research gets cut with everything else; 5) Forrest has no control over where the cuts will hit other than to lobby both generally and specifically against cuts; 6) where the university cuts will tell you absolutely nothing about the UM's priorities but rather about social priorities determined by voters like you who either lobby or fail to lobby for the priorities they deem pertinent. You are projecting childishness as a potential driver when the university is neither the driver nor the controller of the cuts. It is your post that is childish and uninformed.


Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 10:33 p.m.

What Mr. Forrest wants you to believe is that we're going to have to drastically cut cancer research. In reality, fringe programs - the ones with the least impact and least likelihood of contributing positively to society - will be cut. That's if the University does it right. If, on the other hand, they act like petulant children and "cut across the board," we'll know where the University's priorities really lie.

Concerned Citizen

Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 10:09 p.m.

"What the President is calling a drastic "cut" is simply a decrease in the rate of increase. That's not a cut. Since Washington isn't serious about real spending cuts, the sequestration should go through. And then we should cut more. Much more."


Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 11:19 p.m.

I am waiting for someone to dispute what Concerned Citizen has said. He hit hit spot on. What is being proposed is not cuts just smaller increases. If I make $20 an hour and then I start making $18 an hour that is a CUT. If I make $20 an hour and was looking for a $5 increase, but only get $2 more, this is NOT a cut!