Sees bright future despite economic challenges
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
portrait of Dan Reed
Dan Reed

University of Iowa Vice President for Research and Economic Development Dan Reed told more than 100 faculty members Monday night that despite considerable challenges facing researchers, his faith in their collective ability to do great things remains unshaken.

“The future is what we make it—and I believe that the future of research can and will be bright,” Reed said during his inaugural State of Research Address in the Art Building West auditorium.

Reed’s address followed a welcome by Alexandra Thomas, clinical professor of internal medicine and president of the UI Faculty Senate (one of the event’s co-sponsors), and introductory remarks by UI President Sally Mason.

“Today’s uncertainties and challenges are not necessarily the same ones we faced 10, 20, or 100 years ago,” Mason said. “But our public universities—one of the great achievements of American society—have always risen to the challenge of leading our communities, our states, our nation, and the world into new discovery. That’s what we have done at the University of Iowa, and we will continue to do so as we move further into the 21st century.”

In his presentation, Reed discussed federal research funding trends, the need to more creatively and aggressively pursue new funding streams, and the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration.

While he said dollars aren’t the sole measure of research and scholarship, he said taking a sober view of the funding landscape is a first step toward developing a new strategy for growing the research enterprise.

Displaying a chart showing federal nondefense research and development funding over the past 40 years, Reed said the National Institutes of Health doubled its budget during the period 1998 to 2003 but that inflation has eroded much of those gains and comparable support for physical sciences research never materialized.

“The United States has fallen from second to 10th among Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries in support for research and development as a percentage of GDP since 1992,” Reed said. “My honest assessment is that flat is the new normal, which means appropriations will be just enough to offset inflation.

“By dollars, research at the University Iowa is dominated by Department of Health and Human Services funding, mostly from the NIH, and that is down for the fourth consecutive year,” he added. However, “This does not mean we cannot grow our share of the pie.”

For example, he said the university continues to diversify its funding portfolio and investigators are increasingly seeking industry funding.

And he said a large number of initiatives have been launched or are in development to sustain, support, and foster research and scholarship, including:

  • Ideation workshops and salon dinners to catalyze discussion
  • Internal funding to foster new directions
  • Process streamlining
  • Research data mining and visualization

“There’s much to celebrate, but much more we can do,” he said.

Noting that the address was held in the recently restored Art Building West, damaged by the flood of 2008 along with dozens of other campus buildings, Reed said the university community has proven its resilience and creativity time and again in the face of disaster and challenges.

“In a time of crisis the university, the community, the state and the country came together to respond,” he said. “This building and the rebirth of the arts campus are testimony to our commitment and resolve.”

He said some of Iowa’s greatest discoveries and contributions to society emerged during economically challenging times. The university started educational television in 1933, created the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills in 1935, launched the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1936, and began modern blood banking in 1939.

“Many of these innovations were developed during the Great Depression, when the future looked bleak,” he said. “They profoundly shaped our institution and our society.”

He said research’s future success would depend on having a clear vision, developing a thoughtful strategy, and taking action. It also means focusing on the university’s strengths.

“We must define and differentiate ourselves,” he said. “If we do not, others will.”

He said that whatever lies ahead, he is committed to scholarship, discovery, and preservation of the university’s core intellectual values.

“There is enough talent and skill in this room to change the world,” he said. “We need only the will and the shared commitment.”