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October 4, 2001

Boehlert: Terrorism increases importance of R&D in New York

New York's research institutions may be asked to add new priorities to their research agendas in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks, U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-New Hartford), chair of the House Science Committee, said in an Oct. 1 speech to presidents of colleges and universities in the State University of New York (SUNY) system.

But the main charge given universities as a result of the terrorism will be to intensify existing R&D efforts and improve research institutions' engagement with the rest of society, he added.

Boehlert gave the speech at a meeting of SUNY presidents at the SUNY central administration in Albany.

"As in previous times of crisis, our nation will turn to its colleges and universities for help," Boehlert said. "We look to our universities for leadership, for ideas, for information, for education and training, and, if worst comes to worst, for soldiers."

"Academia, as a leading generator, analyzer, repository and purveyor of human knowledge and insight, will necessarily have an impact on whether and how our world actually changes," he said.

Boehlert outlined a number of research fields in which national interest has increased, and in which New York's institutions will be called to help:

Shortcomings in current research in this area reflect several factors, including inadequate research funding in academia, government and industry as well as bureaucratic squabbling among different federal agencies with interests in this research funding, Boehlert said.

Even as they embrace these new priorities, however, New York's research universities should sustain their emphasis on ongoing problems and traditional academic values, Boehlert added.

For example, if the nation acts to screen visa applicants more thoroughly and better track visitors to our country, "we must not imperil the openness of our universities, which are magnets for students around the world, many of whom choose to settle in the United States.

"Foreign students who remain here are absolutely critical elements of our science and technology workforce, and those who return home often increase the goodwill toward the U.S. in their home countries," Boehlert said.

The main R&D priority for New York and its universities is to continue effects to expand and improve ongoing research and development initiatives, Boehlert said.

He praised proposals this year to invest significantly in high-tech research in biotechnology and other areas in which New York State's university, government, and industry research institutions have existing strengths and a commitment to expanding.

New York must make such investments to keep pace with other states, Boehlert noted.

"That's what our economic competitors are doing, with gusto," he said." And as our national economy falters, New York needs such centers [of excellence] more than ever."

He noted, for example, that California plans to invest $400 million over four years in new multi-disciplinary Institutes for Science and Innovation located on University of California campuses.