Every year Bowdoin professors and students receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal research funding. However, with a new administration in Washington, the College could soon see some of that funding disappear.
President Donald Trump’s budget proposal combines increased spending on defense with cuts to discretionary spending. Those cuts include $5.8 billion from the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
As Congress considers the new budget in the coming weeks, President Clayton Rose plans to meet with Maine’s congressional delegation to discuss the potential changes. Rose declined to comment on when the meetings would occur.
“Issues that I plan to discuss with them on my visit include immigration, Title IX and issues of funding for arts, the humanities and the sciences,” Rose said.
Interim Dean for Academic Affairs Jen Scanlon stressed the importance of the College’s federal funding. Four Bowdoin professors are currently using grants from the NIH and one professor currently receives project funding from the NEH.
“We count on support from the [NEH], the [NEA], the National Science Foundation and also from private foundations,” she said. “If there’s a shrinkage of federal funding then there’ll be more pressure on those private foundations, so everybody will feel the squeeze.”
Examples of funding for research include $50,400 from the NEH to study the history of diabetes, $299,273 from the NIH to study an oral fungal infection and $10,000 from the NEA to help fund the Bowdoin International Music Festival, which performs to traditionally underserved groups in and around Brunswick.
Associate Professor of Biology William Jackman’s lab received a $300,000 grant from the NIH for cellular analysis of hedgehog signaling in zebrafish tooth development.
Due to their remarkable ability to regrow their teeth throughout their lives, zebrafish may hold the key to human teeth regeneration.
“The idea would be that eventually we would know enough about organogenesis that we could just cause a new tooth to grow in an adult human,” said Jackman. “Its pretty sci-fi.”
However, Jackman worries about the potential funding cuts and, as someone familiar with the grant process, fears that they could disproportionately hurt Bowdoin’s chances at getting future funding.
“Even in the final [grant] application that was accepted there [were] a lot of comments about how Bowdoin is an excellent school for a liberal arts college, but how productivity of the professors isn’t what it would be at a research university,” said Jackman.
He also noted that there is a perception among some grant-givers that smaller schools like Bowdoin are not fully committed to research.
“There’s definitely this kind of bias that we do a lot of teaching here which, from their perspective, is not necessarily a good thing,” he noted.
As for his zebrafish research, Jackman is thankful for the money from the NIH which allowed him to pay students, purchase expensive kits for extracting and synthesizing specific pieces of DNA or RNA, buy chemicals and get a new microscope with 3D-imaging capabilities.
“We’re doing competitive research here, and it’s not just a facsimile of something,” said Jackman. “It’s the real deal.”
The Bowdoin Corporate and Foundation Relations Office declined to reveal how much money the College receives from the federal government for research, only saying that Bowdoin was awarded over $42 million in the past 10 years between both private and public sources of funding.
Editor’s Note April 29th, 12:25 pm: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that a professor’s $50,400 research grant to study the history of diabetes is funded by the NEA. It is funded by the NEH.