Notebook: December 20, 1995
Federal Budget Cuts May Sting
$4 Million Deficit Projected for 1996
Olmec Artifacts at Art Museum
New Austerity Threatens Support for Research and Student Aid
As the congress and President battle over balancing the budget in seven years and appropriating funds for fiscal year 1996, Princeton is bracing for cuts it may see in federal support for research and student aid. How many federal dollars Princeton can expect this year and in the years to come remained uncertain in mid-November as Congress enacted its second continuing resolution, a temporary bill to fund the government through December 15.
As of November 20, only six of the 13 regular appropriations bills had been enacted; only one of these six-for energy and water projects, including the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab-directly affects Princeton. The energy bill, signed November 13, provides $244 million for fusion-energy research, a 34 percent decrease from last year's $368 million. The PPPL, which last year received $87 million, is likely to receive about $66 million this year, said Robert K. Durkee '69, the vice-president for public affairs. In September the PPPL laid off about a third of its staff, more than 200 people, in anticipation of the severe budget cut.
Because most of the appropriations bills that fund research and student aid at Princeton are stuck in the legislative process, it's difficult to determine how Princeton will fare. Nevertheless, through looking at the present Senate and House bills, Princeton can estimate what it's likely to receive in federal dollars this year.
The budget eventually approved will probably include a cut of 40 percent in programs that support research in the humanities and arts in addition to the 34 percent cut in fusion-energy research. But some agencies on which Princeton depends-in particular the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation-will likely be funded at close to FY95 levels, as will programs supporting student aid, said Durkee. But if inflation is taken into account, that will still mean a loss in real terms.
Associate Provost Allen J. Sinisgalli estimates that federal support for research at Princeton, excluding PPPL, could decline 4 to 5 percent this year, with more significant reductions possible in the years ahead. Excluding funding for PPPL, last year the university received $67.5 million in federal support for research. The university's total budget for sponsored research was $86.4 million.
Although in the short term Princeton may fare reasonably well, said Durkee, the seven-year budget resolution that Congress adopted earlier this year suggests that Princeton over the next several years will face more significant reductions, particularly in support for research and student aid. "After you account for inflation, support for research could decline in real terms by about one third," he said. For people whose research is supported by federal funds, he added, "the worst is yet to come."
The worst already came for the PPPL, which is funded almost entirely through the Department of Energy. The anticipated $66 million for FY96, said Durkee, will allow "some operation" of the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor, which has produced the most power ever in a fusion-energy experiment. This level of funding will also enable PPPL researchers to work on designs for the next-generation reactor.
In anticipation of possible cutbacks in the years ahead, federal agencies that fund research may begin to scale back their commitments now. Princeton is already seeing the result of that in support for graduate students, said Durkee, and "some departments, particularly in the sciences, are scaling back on the number of graduate students they are admitting because they don't know what the future will bring." About one fifth of the university's support for graduate students comes from federal grants.
Princeton wants to sustain the size of the graduate school, said Durkee. "So if we do begin to see a significant decline in federal support for graduate students, we need to find new resources to help support them." The university has included $50 million for the financial support of graduate students in the table of needs of its new $750 million campaign.
Federal student-loan and student-aid programs will probably not be eliminated this year and will only decline slightly below current levels. But if the government adheres to the seven-year budget resolution, the cost to students for federal loans could increase significantly in the future, making it difficult for students and families to meet the costs of a Princeton education.
And if the government significantly cuts its student-aid budget, it may affect the university's ability to meet the full need of each student, said Durkee. Last year the government provided about $1.7 million of Princeton's $24 million scholarship budget. It would take a sizable endowment to make up that amount, said Durkee. How Princeton will respond to these possible situations is hard to assess now, he added.
Along with the battles over each appropriation bill, the federal government is addressing significant questions about the role and nature of government and about what kinds of investments the country wants to make, according to Durkee, who along with other Princeton administrators and trustees has been trying to educate members of Congress about the importance of funding basic research and student aid. "We really don't know where the large questions will come out," he said.
The Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, which last year received $87 million, is likely to receive about $66 million this year, said Robert K. Durkee '69, the vice-president for public affairs. In September the PPPL laid off about a third of its staff.
Due to a variety of factors, including a decline in federal support for education and research, the university anticipates a deficit of more than $4 million in its current year's overall budget of $542 million-"if we make no alterations in our operations," said Provost Jeremiah P. Ostriker. "Our current estimate of the deficit, though a small fraction of our total operating budget, is large enough that it must be addressed on a timely basis."
Explaining the projected shortfall, Ostriker pointed to the Department of Energy's cut in funds for fusion, which resulted in a "substantial and painful" reduction at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab in September, and, more generally, to the anticipated decrease in federal funding for research and student aid at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Other factors influencing the projected deficit are an unusually low faculty vacancy rate (more professors are being carried on the payroll because fewer are taking sabbaticals, which are usually funded by outside sources) and an unusually high percentage of undergraduates on financial aid. "These trends are more likely to accelerate in the next several years than be reversed," said Ostriker.
The university will achieve some savings through a hiring freeze for administrative staff that will remain in effect through next June. In addition, said Ostriker, "We will make an effort to achieve some savings through reorganizations and consolidation of functions." During this "hiring pause," as he called it, senior staff positions that become vacant will remain so except in cases where an appeals committee grants an exception. Other vacated staff positions will be subject to review before being filled.
The university "will not scrimp," said Ostriker, in areas where cuts would endanger the quality of teaching and research. It will maintain salary rates for faculty and staff and levels of financial aid to undergraduates and graduate students. The size of the faculty will not be cut, and maintenance on buildings will not be deferred.
Ostriker said that an "informal survey of our sister institutions" found that most are facing similar budget problems.
Princeton closed out the 1995 fiscal year with a surplus of about $100,000.
This shaman in a transformation pose (circa 800-600 b.c.) is one of over 250 objects, including sculptures, bowls, and regalia, on display through February 25 in the Art Museum's exhibit "The Olmec World: Ritual and Rulership." This is the first major exhibition to present a comprehensive interpretation of the beliefs, rituals, and concept of rulership of the earliest of the great Mesoamerican civilizations (circa 1400-400 b.c.). "The Olmec have received relatively scant attention despite the extraordinary beauty, power, and technical brilliance of their objects and their seminal influence on the later civilizations of the Maya and the Aztec," said Allen Rosenbaum, director of the Art Museum. Through art the Olmec people visualized their ritual and spiritual relationship with the supernatural. A great number of the objects on display have not been exhibited publicly. In conjunction with the exhibit, the Art Museum has published an illustrated catalogue, which includes essays by leading scholars and entries for each of the works on display.
Hurricane model: Researchers at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) have developed a new computer model that more accurately predicts the path of hurricanes and can save millions in evacuation costs. This year the National Meteorological Center, which runs operational models for the National Weather Service, replaced its old QLM hurricane model with GFDL's model, because it is 20 to 30 percent more accurate in predicting the path of storms. For a three-day forecast, GFDL's model decreased the error in miles by nearly 30 percent, from 325 miles to 230. "Every mile being warned is a significant cost," said Morris Bender, a GFDL researcher, who with Robert Tuleya and Yoshio Kurihara, the project director, developed this model. This season GFDL's hurricane model was the "best performer of the models in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific," said Bender. The GFDL researchers have also successfully run it on some typhoons in the Western Pacific; next season the Navy will use their model for tracking those storms, said Bender.
Agates: Peter J. Heaney, an assistant professor of geological and geophysical sciences, has discovered that the iris-banding pattern of agates (a type of glassy, semiprecious stone) arises from the alternation of two crystal configurations of silica. His discovery about the structure of agates was published in the September 15 issue of Science magazine. Iris banding can be seen with an electron microscope as dark and light striations. The pattern they create is the result of a self-regulating chemical process. Scientists are especially interested in understanding how nature creates agates in order to apply similar self-regulating processes to synthetic materials. Heaney worked with Andrew Davis of the Enrico Fermi Institute at the University of Chicago, who coauthored the Science paper.