United to Defend Research and Researcher Values

Anke Schennink
Aug 23, 2017 · 4 min read

University of California researchers are world-renowned for discovery and innovation. Increasingly, those qualities put us on the front lines of attack because of the Trump Administration’s disdain for fact-based science and the dramatic cuts it has proposed to federal research funding. In my role as President of the nation’s largest Union of Postdoctoral Researchers (or “Postdocs”), UAW Local 5810 at the University of California, I’m deeply concerned about what these proposed cuts mean for our members and the public that our research serves. But I also know that through our Union we have the strength to fight back.

President Trump’s proposed budget lays out a staggering $54 billion in cuts to support his anti-science, anti-climate, and anti-immigrant agenda — far deeper cuts than any President, Republican or Democrat, has ever proposed. Specifically, Trump is threatening to cut $15.1 billion from the Department of Health and Human Services, including $7.7 billion (a 22% cut) from the National Institutes of Health. We rely on medical research to cure disease, improve quality of life, and increase life expectancy — research to which thousands of Postdocs have dedicated their careers.

Trump is also trying to eliminate one-third of the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget and slash $59 million in earth science grants from NASA. There is no dispute among the science community that climate change is real and human-caused, and that the time is now to be reversing its course. We cannot ignore the alarm bells. We must be investing in climate science and climate researchers today, or tomorrow will be very bleak.

As researchers we also understand that innovation drives progress and the economy. That’s why many of us are working on the future of green energy. Yet Trump’s budget would essentially eliminate the Department of Energy’s funding for advanced vehicles as well as wind and solar research. These proposed cuts would thwart advances that could help reverse climate change and support thousands of jobs in advanced manufacturing, clean energy, and biotechnology for generations to come.

Postdocs working on federal grants know that slashing research doesn’t simply make government smaller. The UC system received nearly $2 billion in funding from the NIH alone in fiscal year 2016 — Trump’s proposed 22% cuts for the NIH will be felt far and wide. At the same time, the UC system contributes $46.3 billion annually to the California economy and supports a host of job-generating industries that Californians rely on to provide for themselves and their families. The massive cuts Trump proposed would harm our university systems, hospitals, job growth, innovation, and so much more.

And the damaging cuts in Trump’s “skinny budget” aren’t just limited to grant funding. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wants to cut over 40 positions from the Office of Civil Rights, which is responsible for preventing sexual harassment and assault on campuses. Cuts to other cabinet-level agencies would dissolve offices that investigate workplace discrimination and environmental racism. Immigration restrictions, like the travel ban, disrupt research and scholarship and contribute to an increasingly hostile environment where race, nationality, or religion are being used to justify exclusion and oppression. For a research community already plagued by gender and racial inequity, these proposals would exacerbate long-standing problems.

As Congress returns from recess they must take up crafting the budget during the month of September. Early signs indicate that many Republicans in Congress are supporting Trump’s catastrophic proposals. The House has already passed several spending bills largely mirroring the President’s misguided budget — especially in regards to slashing climate science and environmental protection — and only five Republicans joined nearly all the Democrats in voting against the funding package.

Now is a critical opportunity to hold our California congressional delegation accountable. In particular, a number of Republican members have long anti-science, anti-environment and anti-immigrant records. Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher and Steve Knight both serve on the House Science Committee but are unabashed climate change deniers who both received a 0% score from the League of Conservation Voters. Representatives Mimi Walters and Darrell Issa represent UC Irvine and UCSD researchers but refused to oppose the travel ban that impacts many of their constituents. We need real research advocates in Congress who support job growth, fair immigration policies, and clean energy funding, not those who rubber-stamp Trump’s proposals.

The Postdoc Union is invested in the future of disease prevention, environmental protection, climate science, innovation, social equality and so much more. We have a responsibility to speak out and organize against the danger these cuts pose. We must match the Trump Administration’s unprecedented attacks on our public health, our economy, and our planet, with the same unprecedented level of organizing and demonstration. Together, we can ensure Congress funds our research so we can safeguard a future for all of us. The time to act is now!

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