President Charles Vest and four other higher-education leaders urged Massachusetts legislators last week to help maintain government's commitment to scientific research, which makes a significant contribution to the state economy.
"To put it simply," Dr. Vest told about 70 state representatives, senators and staff who attended a State House forum last Thursday, "scientific research and education are not mere costs to be cut and controlled; they are essential investments in our future."
The session, entitled "Economic Growth and Economic Security in the 21st Century: The Role of Colleges and Universities," was sponsored by the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Massachusetts (AICUM), in conjunction with House Speaker Thomas Finneran, Senate President Thomas Birmingham and the chairpersons of the Senate and House's Committees on Science and Technology, Rep. Lida E. Harkins (D-Needham) and Sen. David P. Magnani (D-Ashland).
Noting that federal funding for civilian research is expected to shrink 20 percent by the year 2002 while Japan and other Asian countries are increasing their commitment dramatically, Dr. Vest called for innovative partnerships to maintain the high standards of research and education in the United States.
"Government, industry and aca-demia must be in greater discourse and partnership to attain our goals," he said.
Dr. Vest said MIT's Leaders for Manufacturing Program provides an excellent model for joint educational and research ventures between the private sector and a research institution.
He also noted the substantial contribution university research makes to the economic well-being of the nation. In the past 30 years, he said, $5 billion in Defense Department grants to develop computer and communications technology had provided the base for businesses that account for $500 billion of the US gross domestic product. "By any measurement, this is an extraordinary return on the taxpayers' investment."
The impact on the Commonwealth is equally critical. According to a 1989 Bank of Boston study, MIT faculty and graduates founded about 630 Massachusetts companies that employ nearly 200,000 people. A new study in progress suggests that the numbers have grown dramatically. In addition, Dr. Vest reminded the legislators, Lincoln Laboratory has generated 243 patents and spun off 37 companies in the Bay State, including Digital Equipment Corp. and MITRE Corp.
Other speakers at the forum included John Harrington, dean of the Tufts University School of Medicine; Jehuda Reinharz, president of Brandeis University; Thomas Chmura, vice president/economic development at the University of Massachusetts, and John Preston, president of Quantum Energy of Cambridge and former director of technology licensing and technology development at MIT.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 11, 1996.