Quick Takes: Advice for Obama/McCain, U.S. Poised to Keep Spending Flat, Obama in Effigy at George Fox, Defining the Bishop's Role, Lambuth President Steps Down, NIH Chief to Depart, Equity in Science Prizes, Drug Makers' Payments to Scientists

September 25, 2008
  • The presidents of six national higher education groups have sent a joint letter to the presidential candidates outlining ideas for ways that colleges could work with the next administration. The ideas generally repeat statements that the association leaders have made previously, calling for a renewed emphasis on access to college, greater "transparency" to help prospective students and families make decisions about colleges, support for research and job training to promote economic competitiveness, and backing of international education as a diplomatic tool.
  • Congress is poised to enact a temporary spending bill that would finance the federal government through March, sustaining spending for most student aid and research programs at their current levels but giving a sizable boost to defense spending. Among other things, the stopgap bill approved by the House of Representatives on Wednesday -- which would fund the first half of the fiscal year that begins October 1 -- would provide $2.5 billion for Pell Grants (including to close a $750 million shortfall) caused by increased demand but keep virtually all other domestic spending programs at their 2007-8 levels. The measure would also increase spending on basic defense research by 12.7 percent, helping to bolster scientific support for universities.
  • Students and faculty members at George Fox University have reacted with shock to an effigy of Sen. Barack Obama, hanging from a tree, accompanied by a sign saying "Act Six reject," which refers to a minority scholarship program, The Oregonian reported. University leaders denounced the actions of whoever placed the effigy and sign and expressed support for minority scholarship recipients.
  • The University of St. Thomas has reached a new governance agreement with the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul, almost a year after changes in board structure left some wondering if the university was trying to distance itself from Roman Catholic leaders. A year ago, the university ended ex officio seats for the archbishop and his vicar general, who traditionally served as board chair and vice chair. The university said at the time that it was in no way moving away from its Catholic mission, but some saw it that way, especially because the move followed an appointment of a new, more conservative leader for the Minnesota region's Catholics, Archbishop John Nienstedt. Under a compromise, the vicar general will remain on the board and the archibishop will meet regularly with board leaders, The Pioneer Press reported.
  • Fred Zuker announced that he is leaving the presidency of Lambuth University to devote himself full time to fund raising for the Tennessee liberal arts university, The Jackson Sun reported. In August, professors were told that pledged raises were being eliminated and many have worried about the direction of the university due to the departure of three vice presidents and the chief operating officer.
  • Research and university groups rushed to praise Elias Zerhouni Wednesday after the National Institutes of Health announced that he would resign as its director next month. Zerhouni, who became head of the federal government's primary biomedical research agency in 2002, guided it through the end of a period of huge growth and, for the last several years, through a turbulent period in which financial support for the agency has constricted. He also had to walk a tightrope on the Bush administration's policy regarding research on embryonic stem cells, which policy many scientists opposed, and has recently felt pressure to strengthen the NIH's oversight of the ties between pharmaceutical companies and federally supported researchers. "Elias Zerhouni was the right leader for NIH in trying times," said Robert Berdahl, president of the Association of American Universities. "Through the NIH Reform Act of 2006 and initiatives such as the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, he led NIH in pressing the frontiers of molecular medicine for the benefit of all Americans and, indeed, the world. In an atmosphere of constrained national resources, Elias became NIH's most articulate and effective advocate, and in the past several years succeeded in restoring NIH as a top priority for our nation's leadership. Convinced that the public’s trust is NIH’s most important asset, he strengthened the integrity of NIH and its researchers and has pressed the extramural community to do the same.
  • An editorial in the journalDNA and Cell Biology notes that for many of the top prizes and fellowships in science, women appear to be overlooked. The editorial documents very low percentages of women winning key competitions or awards, and suggests that all journals use "double blind" peer review (in which the identities of both authors and reviewers are confidential), that program directors raise questions when finalists for prizes or honors don't include women, and that selection committees periodically review their procedures to consider whether they are fair to all.
  • Amid escalating concern in Congress about potential conflicts of interest involving doctors and researchers, two major drug companies say they will begin publicly reporting all of their payments to outside consultants, The New York Times reported. Eli Lilly & Co. announced Wednesday that beginning next year it would publish an online database of what it pays to doctors and scientists for speaking and consulting; Merck & Co. followed suit later Wednesday. Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican who has crusaded against biomedical researchers' financial conflicts of interest, has proposed a national reporting system of companies' payments.
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