October 11, 2013



The White House and House Republicans are nearing agreement on raising the debt limit. The question now is how many weeks before the prospect of default looms again. As of tonight, the House GOP is offering a six-week extension and President Obama insists on more time. The White House press secretary also "rejected the GOP proposal to tie the debt ceiling to broader budget talks," CQ reports. The House is coming under pressure from, among others, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine (right) who is working with Sen. Joe Manchin (D, W.Va.) on a bipartisan plan to extend the borrowing limit through the end of January. The New York Times reports that it would "include a stopgap spending measure at sequestration levels that would reopen the government and finance it through the end of March."

Having backed off their effort to defund Obamacare, House Republicans now want an overhaul of entitlements and the tax code similar to a proposal by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. He seeks a “down payment” on debt reduction through a combination of mandatory spending cuts and tax simplification, according to CQ.

Meanwhile, until a stopgap funding measure is agreed to by all sides, much of the government remains closed.

DON'T OVERLOOK RESEARCH AND STEM: The Task Force on American Innovation, which comprises the higher education lobby and numerous associations and business groups with a stake in federal support for R&D, is urging that any solution to the fiscal crisis ensure "sustained and robust support for scientific research and STEM education."

DYSFUNCTION DEPLORED: Sounding a note of weary frustration, higher ed groups put out a statement saying: "We are deeply concerned by the growing resignation of the American people to this 'new normal': the idea that Washington is so broken and dysfunctional that it cannot be fixed, only ignored or ridiculed. . . . We call on higher education institutions around the country to engage in conversations, lectures, and events, both on and off campus, that bring together students, business and community leaders, and the public. We should focus attention on the processes that ensure responsible government and sound budget policy."

'It’s my time': With those words, Rep. Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.), 82, announced he would not seek reelection in 2014. A former Appropriations chair and current chair of the defense appropriations subcommittee, he "seemed increasingly out of step with the changing climate of Washington," according to the Tampa Tribune. In the House since 1970, he "brought home projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars that created jobs and helped define the region as a hub for military contractors, marine science and public education," the Tampa Bay Times editorialized.





(The chart below, from a new OECD report, shows R&D spending as a proportion of gross domestic product in the 1990s -- indicated by black diamonds, and the current decade -- blue vertical stripes.)

(Source: Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development)


30 states increase higher ed spending

(From the Chronicle of Higher Education)


PENTAGON's number 2 STEPPING DOWN: Physicist and former Harvard Kennedy School faculty member Ashton Carter, passed over for the top job in favor of Chuck Habel, plans to leave at the end of the year. Speculation about a successor includes mention of Michèle Flournoy, who resigned from the Pentagon's top policy job early last year, and Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics. According to Foreign Policy, BAE Systems' Linda Hudson and the CIA's general counsel, Stephen Preston are also cited by Pentagon-watchers as possibilities.


LOOK TO STATES AND INDUSTRY: That's one of the themes that emerged in press accounts of a convocation this week on the future of U.S. research universities. The session followed up on a major National Research Council report by a panel led by engineer and Bank of America Chairman Chad Holliday. Inside Higher Ed quotes Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities, as saying, "The federal government is stuck in the mud and it’s not going to get out for some time," and adding: “My confidence in our advocacy is waning.” Lee T. Todd Jr., former president of the University of Kentucky, said, “This is probably not the right time to go to the federal government with a new agenda full of initiatives." Former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine cautioned that "industry focuses on 'D,' not on 'R.'" According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, he said it's crucial to emphasize the importance of research in economic development. Rep. Rush Holt (D, N.J.), left, exhorted: "Ask not what research universities can get from this country, but ask what research universities can give to this country,"

ACADEMIC FREEDOM, REALLY? The China Nine research universities have joined AAU and two other international associations in a statement of 10 characteristics of research universities that includes "[t]he responsible exercise of academic freedom by faculty to produce and disseminate knowledge through research, teaching and service without undue constraint within a research culture based on open inquiry and the continued testing of current understanding, and which extends beyond the vocational or instrumental, sees beyond immediate needs and seeks to develop the understanding, skills and expertise necessary to fashion the future and help interpret our changing world."

ROBUST, RESILIENT . . . is the medium-term outlook for Southeast Asia, China, and India, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. "The region will continue to play an important role in global growth." Indonesia will grow fastest (6 percent), , followed by the Philippines (5.8 percent); Malaysia (5.1 percent); Thailand (4.9 percent); and Singapore (3.3 percent).

RECOGNIZING A TOUGH JOB: The Nobel Committee didn't single out chemical engineer Marcelo Kós in awarding this year's Peace Prize to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. But his role as head of the inspection division, currently working to destroy Syria's CW stockpile, surely figured in the committee's decision. The Guardian, a British newspaper, writes that the prize recognizes "more than 16 years of difficult, dangerous and largely unsung work and one of the greatest success stories in the long, patchy history of multilateral efforts to make the world a safer place."





Jim Plummer, left, Stanford's longest-serving engineering dean (15 years), will step aside at the end of this year, take a sabbatical, and "return to research as a professor in the Electrical Engineering department," the university says in a press release. "During his tenure, the percentage of undergraduates pursuing a degree in engineering has grown from 20 percent to nearly 35 percent."

. . . AS A NEW DEAN TAKES OVER AT HOPKINS: T.E. (Ed) Schlesinger, who has headed Carnegie Mellon's electrical and computer engineering department since 2005, will succeed Nick Jones as dean of the Whiting School. Johns Hopkins says Schlesinger's department "now has approximately 100 faculty members and an annual budget of more than $50 million. He has fostered research collaborations with top corporations and global programs in Silicon Valley, Portugal, Rwanda, China, Singapore, and India." Also, "he is a leader in research related to the development of heat-assisted magnetic recording, viewed by many as the next generation technology for magnetic hard disk drives." Jones is now provost at Penn State.


SURVEYING PROGRAM WINS ABET NOD: Michigan Tech's bachelor's degree in surveying engineering, which features industry partnerships and equipment ranging from LiDAR scanners to UAVs, has earned accreditation.


A National Research Council panel heavy with engineers is looking into where the Pentagon finds personnel with advanced degrees and whether it still needs its own graduate programs. Called for by the FY 2013 Defense Authorization Act, the study will probe, among other things, "the costs and benefits of maintaining such educational institutions, including costs relating to in-house research," and "the ability of private non-Department of Defense institutions (public and private) or distance-learning programs to meet the needs identified."

ENGINEERING ETHICS: A new report, Practical Guidance on Science and Engineering Ethics Education for Instructors and Administrators, presents papers and a summary of discussions from a December workshop that focused on "goals and objectives for ethics instruction, instructional assessment, institutional and research cultures, and development of guidance checklists for instructors and administrators."


YOU WON’T WANT TO MISS. . . the Global Engineering Deans Council (GEDC) Annual Conference in Chicago, Oct. 20-22, 2013. It promises “a diverse program of inspiring sessions on recent developments in Online Digital Education, Global Aspects of Research, Engineering Accreditation, and Trends in Engineering Education will be presented, all from international and global perspectives. We will have more than 150 deans from around the world and all six continents joining us.” Keynote speakers include Dan Mote, president of the National Academy of Engineering; Seeram Ramakrishna, director of the Center for Nanofibers & Nanotechnology, National University of Singapore, and Tae-Eog Lee, dean of education for the 3.0 Initiative at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). Find out more.

LEADERSHIP EDUCATION: Jack Selter at the University of Central Florida invites academic leaders in engineering “to participate in a national study assessing the state of undergraduate engineering leadership education in the U.S. It is critical that we have your input as it will help establish a current baseline of current programs and provide guidance for a future action plan in the field. Please either cut and past the below URL into your browser and it will open or highlight the URL and right click your mouse and select Open Hyperlink.


The AF SFFP offers hands-on exposure to Air Force research challenges through eight- to twelve-week research residencies at participating Air Force research facilities for full-time science and engineering faculty at U.S. colleges and universities. For information regarding stipends, eligibility requirements, and application instructions, please visit http://sffp.asee.org. The online application will be open through November 29, 2013.

PRESENTATIONS AT THE ENGINEERING DEANS INSTITUTE, held in New York, are now online. Check them out here.

The ASEE Today section of Prism welcomes brief reports from Council, Section, and Division leaders providing highlights of their meetings. These reports should be brief – no more than 200 words – and provide the meeting’s date, location, and the name of the group that convened it. Submissions should be sent to editorial@asee.org, allowing at least six weeks for publication. Contact m.matthews@asee.org.

The 2013 Public Policy Colloquium focused on advanced manufacturing, with Thomas Kurfess of OSTP bringing the administration’s view.  (“We’ve got to improve the reputation of manufacturing and think about developing an educational baseline for manufacturing.”). Other speakers gave examples of successful partnerships in this area. 

As funding for basic research (and the work of ASEE members) is threatened, Science Magazine’s Jeff Mervis delves into detail about sequestration. (“Sequestration is not an asteroid that’s about to hit the earth and annihilate life as we know it. (But) it’s a drastic reduction…that’s what’s gotten people’s attention.”)

Toby Smith of the Association of American Universities gives an update on the political climate.  (“The degree of polarization between democrats and republicans is the highest level ever; it exceeds the polarization between the two parties that existed just after the Civil War.”)

See all nine videos on the YouTube playlist.  

SPECIAL OFFERS: Extra printed copies of the Summer Prism, marking ASEE's 12th Anniversary, can be ordered for $5 a copy by contacting editorial@asee.org.

Deans and department chairs can provide Prism magazine, ASEE's prize-winning flagship publication, to members of their corporate advisories boards at a cost of $50 per subscription. As a bonus, advisory board recipients of Prism will also receive a copy of eGFI -- Engineering, Go For It, ASEE's guide to engineering for high school students. Contact Tengiz Sydykov (t.sydykov@asee.org)


The online application process opened in October 2012 for the Naval Research Enterprise Internship program, a 10-week summer research opportunity for undergraduate rising sophomores, juniors, seniors, and graduate students. Interns work under the guidance of a mentor at a participating Navy laboratory. Stipends are highly competitive. Permanent residents are accepted at certain labs; otherwise, U.S. citizenship is required. Apply at: http://nreip.asee.org/

KEEP ABREAST of ASEE's Retention Project by clicking here for updates.

EDITOR: Mark Matthews; DESIGN AND LAYOUT: Nicola Nittoli