As part of the communications strategy, one of the initiatives has to involve saying clearly, "Here is what we are doing to change things ourselves, on our campuses, in industries, and in our departments." Once you have said that, then others may be more willing to listen to you say, "and here is why we are still important to the public at large." But if your message is just "this worked really well in 1960, and if you give us enough money it will work really well now," the answer will be that it is not 1960. I wish it were, but it is not.

So, what kinds of things ought now to be done? The answer, which is perfect for this group, is to focus more on education—not to the exclusion of research, but with the intention of changing the culture through students. Do you want to know how? You focus most—and in the case of mathematics, it has to be a lot—of the attention on students who are not going to be math majors. Consider all of those people who crowded through introductory calculus classes. Guess what? They graduated—and went on to work in a congressman's office, telling him how to vote on science budgeting. Most congressional staffers, especially those handling issues that are not the top priority for the member, are in their early- to mid-twenties. Maybe new distribution requirements, or at least better advanced placement courses, are part of the answer, but in all seriousness, that is your best entree. Focusing on better educating the non-mathematics majors works better than an article in the New York Times, and even works better than a TV program.

If you want to get people interested in your discipline and have them understand why it is important, you have them right there—they are in your classrooms every single day. If you want to change the culture, that is who you should turn to. To press the point, there must be a focus on nonmajors. If all a 25-year-old knows about research is that it has kept her from ever seeing her professor, then good luck getting to meet that person's congressman or ever getting any kind of money. And that is not an unreasonable attitude for a lot of students to have today. If you do only one thing, emphasize teaching, which will have lots of ancillary benefits that are more important than lobbying. This is the one thing that the academic community has to offer that other constituencies do not have, both in terms of selling yourselves and the very important education component for undergraduate and graduate students. You already have direct access to all of the people you are trying to influence—access that so far, social workers, defense contractors, and none of the other lobby leaders have.

One message that I would emphasize, and that is extremely important, relates again to this internal universe of "you." When members of Congress look at science and mathematics, they look at it in terms of their overall attitude toward academia, not just in terms of research. If the academic system seems to be broken in terms of tuition, or in terms of indirect costs, or political correctness, or whatever, that will not be the sole determinant, but it will have an impact on all of you. Members of Congress do not ask "How much do we give to mathematics?" At the appropriations level, they do not get below (or at least we try to keep them from getting below) the funding line for research for NSF, called "Research and Related Activities." Members do not go to the directorate level unless there either is some special problem or some special need they are trying to address. At the authorization level for the science committee, where those individual accounts do have to be considered, we generally follow the Administration. If we lower the macro level, we lower everything proportionally; we generally do not try to second-guess field-by-field decisions.

It is important to recognize these perspectives and to play from your source of strength: you have access to students. For both the students' sakes and for your sake, that strength should not be frittered away.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement