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Shaheen, UNH profs: Trump cuts hurt research

DURHAM — President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would cut research funding for colleges and universities throughout the country, but University of New Hampshire professors say even maintaining level funding is not enough.

UNH professors and students Thursday met with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., in Huddleston Hall at the university. Their message was that research at UNH and similar institutions provides a net economic gain when sufficiently funded.

Professors said that in the past, American universities were global leaders in many scientific research fields. Recently, however, funding has fallen short of desired levels and other countries have begun to pass the United States.

“I used to be very proud to go to international meetings and be going as a U.S. citizen,” said Harlan Spence, director of the Institute for the study of Earth, Oceans and Space at UNH. “At that point, we were looking in the rearview mirror at other nations and partners behind us. Now I see a lot of tail lights.”

“We should actually be fighting for more funding, not accepting less or the status quo,” added Martin Wosnik, associate professor of mechanical engineering at UNH. He said many countries, including China and some in northern Europe, have passed the United States in research areas like marine renewable energy, his focus area.

Shaheen sympathized with the dozens of professors whose programs stand to lose funding under Trump’s proposal, and said work is being done to restore funding in whatever budget is adopted.

“This is an uncertain time,” Shaheen said, emphasizing that Trump’s proposed budget will likely not be passed as is. “I learned very early (in my career) the importance of this research university to the state of New Hampshire and to the work that you do nationally. I am deeply troubled by the disconnect that we seem to be hearing out of Washington in not understanding the importance of research in the nation to job creation, to addressing the challenges that we face in this country.”

The senator said she is concerned about the message Trump’s proposal sends to the rest of the world.

“While I think most of us believe that the president’s budget is dead on arrival ... it’s also a message about what we value in the U.S.,” she said. “It sends a message internationally, it sends a message here. That’s what I find most concerning.”

Eric Chapman, director of the New Hampshire Sea Grant Office, said his fisheries and aquaculture programs are a part of the “zeroed-out club” under Trump’s budget, meaning the office would lose all of its federal funding.

Chapman said the Sea Grant Office takes a $1 million budget and turns it into about $6.6 million of economic impact in the state each year, including 43 jobs and 21 businesses either created or sustained.

“We’re taking those dollars and making a difference,” Chapman said.

Shaheen said she would use the stories she heard Thursday when discussing the budget with other federal legislators during the budget process. She compared the possible funding battle to the failed attempt by Republicans to pass the American Health Care Act, which she said was a result of community members making their opinions known to elected officials.

“That was not just about the people in the House, it was about what they heard from the people back home and what the message was, what they were seeing on television every night, what they were hearing from constituents,” Shaheen said. “It’s not just about the views of our individual federal delegation, we have to make sure that all the elected officials in the state of New Hampshire know where you stand on certain positions.”