Universities eye research funds

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Scientific research and the ability to guarantee Missouri is able to compete with neighboring states in the quality of research on a university level was on the agenda at the house special committee on general laws, April 6.

House Speaker Catherine Hanaway (R-Warson Woods) has sponsored a bill that would allocate a portion of state funds to be used with university and private funds to bring endowed professors to Missouri’s research universities.

“The ultimate purpose of this bill is to provide proper funding resources to recruit the best scientists for our public universities,” Hanaway said.

Unlike some proposed bills, this one would not require bonding or the state to raise taxes in order to fund.

Twenty-five percent of the tobacco settlement money set aside by the government for life science in higher education would be used to fund this program.

Hanaway said the bill would create a system of checks and balances among the universities, private donators and the state.

Steve Lehmkuhle, vice president for academic affairs for the MU system, spoke in support of the bill.

“This is people reinvesting in people,” he said.

Lehmkuhle said since 1997, MU has added 120 endowed positions, 96 of which are currently filled.

The total cost of these endowed professors has been $12 million. The amount of money brought in by these professors has been $98 million. Life science professors account for half of the endowed professors and for $72 million of the money brought in.

“There is no better way to take the state’s investment and produce a higher return,” Lehmkuhle said.

“Great cities need great universities,” said Martha Gilliland, chancellor of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “We don’t want our investment to go to another state, for instance, Kansas.”

Gilliland also noted that this would hold those in the private sector accountable, asking them to put their money where their mouth was.

She said that hiring endowed professors creates an economic engine that produces money that would otherwise not be there.

Science research, the chancellor said, creates new drugs, and that creates more money for the state.

Missourians would benefit from the increase in access to health resources.

Possible opponents of the bill questioned the total dollar the state would be responsible for.

“Doesn’t the University’s portion of funding come from the state as well,” said Rep. Dahlman (D.J.) Davis (D-Odessa).

Gilliland said the university’s portion would be taken out of the university budget, money coming from the state, tuition, miscellaneous money, and federal received by the university.

“I represent Kansas City and I can tell you first hand it is a constant battle to keep business on our side of the border,” said Rep. Bryan Pratt (R-Blue Springs).

“Johnson County, Kan. is not East St. Louis.”

“How many professors at UMKC are endowed,” Davis said.

“What is their commitment to education, we know they get money, but do they teach?”

“They teach the same number of classes as the other professors,” said Gilliland.

David Welte, a private practice attorney representing the Stowers Institute, also spoke in favor of the bill.

“The Stowers Institute sits right across the street from the University of Missouri-Kansas City,” Welte said. “The institute is funded by the generous donation of $1.5 billion from Jim and Virginia Stowers, and each year two-thirds must be spent in endowments.”

The institute founded in 2000, currently employees 240 with the average salary being $70,000.

Fifty percent of the $44 million operating budget of the institute is the result of the work done by the research scientists employed.

“The Stowers Institute has already generated more income than the initial donation and continues to,” Welte said.

“It is a perpetually never ending endowment.”

The Stowers Institute is in support of the bill because of the quality of researchers it would create.

“We cannot achieve a high level of excellence without a strong research university,” Welte said.

“We need great scientists to collaborate with in order to create great science.”

He said $2 million is available right now for such endowment research, as the bill would propose.

No final decision was made on the bill.