Skip to main content

Northwestern Concerned About 'Fiscal Cliff'

Illinois research universities warn of cutting investments in research, education
Article at

EVANSTON, Ill. --- The three largest research universities in Illinois appealed directly to Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) Nov. 8 to work with Congressional colleagues in the weeks ahead to avoid budget actions that would harm America's long term competitiveness "by slashing valuable investments in scientific research and education."

Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro, University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer and University of Illinois President Robert A. Easter wrote a joint letter urging Durbin to work with his legislative colleagues to prevent the automatic triggering of "sequestration" cuts as part of the so-called fiscal cliff. 

Taken together, the three research universities "received more than $1 billion in research funding from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation last year alone, leading to significant advances in the life and physical sciences and computing," the presidents wrote in their letter.

Unless Republicans and Democrats in Congress agree with the White House on tax increases and spending cuts, the "sequestration" cuts in defense and non-defense discretionary spending automatically will go into effect in early 2013 in an effort to force all sides to control spending and help bring down the deficit. The "fiscal cliff" is a reference to more than $600 billion in tax hikes and widespread domestic spending cuts to take effect after Jan. 1.

The three presidents warned that these budget cuts -- if they were to take effect -- would not only severely hurt employment numbers and scientific research in Illinois, they could also harm prospects for innovation that fuel the economic engine of the nation, while reducing assistances to students by $2.5 million at the three institutions. 

Here is the text of their letter:

Dear Senator Durbin

We write to urge you to work with your congressional colleagues in the lame duck session and beyond to avoid budget actions such as sequestration that will harm our nation’s long-term competitiveness by slashing valuable investments in scientific research and education. Illinois has much to lose.

As the three largest research universities in Illinois, our institutions received more than $1 billion in funding from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation last year alone, leading to significant advances in the life and physical sciences and computing. Our state, home to Argonne and Fermi National Laboratories, leads the nation in funding from the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, receiving more than $1 billion per year.

Many recent studies have highlighted the negative impact sequestration would have on employment. Illinois, currently home to almost 15,000 high-paying jobs in the life sciences supported by NIH, would rank among the top ten states hardest hit by cuts to NIH, which estimates it will slash up to 2,300 grants to meet sequestration goals. Illinois ranked fifth among all states last year in NSF funding, yet NSF estimates it will eliminate up to 1,500 grants to meet sequester goals, resulting in the potential loss of $20 million for our institutions in 2013. Researchers across the country already face a challenging funding environment due to the $1 trillion of discretionary budget savings over the next nine years already achieved as part of the Budget Control Act signed into law in August 2011.

Federal funding for basic research does so much more than sustain high-paying jobs in our state. It provides the fuel for innovation and prosperity in our nation’s economic engine. Federal funding helps Illinois’ leading research institutions and national laboratories attract and retain the most talented researchers and faculty. And, of course, it solves our nation’s most pressing grand challenges, allowing us to remain competitive in the global economy, improve healthcare for our people, protect our food, environment and water resources, address critical energy challenges and maintain our national security.

We are also concerned about the impact of sequestration on student aid programs sponsored by the Department of Education. The sequester would reduce assistance to students by $2.5 million at our threeinstitutions next year. Sequestration would impact thousands of students at our institutions by reducing direct tuition assistance, work-study opportunities and other programs targeted towards enhancing college access and affordability.

We recognize the challenges you face in your mission to secure our nation’s long-term fiscal health. Federal research funding and student aid are not the primary drivers of our debt, but major spending reductions in these areas will undermine our ability to train the next generation of workers for the types of jobs that will grow our economy. We pledge to work with you in this effort and appreciate your thoughtful consideration of preserving programs that sustain our nation’s investment in research and access to higher education.


President Robert J. Zimmer, The University of Chicago
President Morton Schapiro, Northwestern University
President Robert A. Easter, University of Illinois