To the editor:
Recently, a proposal for a substantial multi-year federal research grant for a prestigious department at the University of Utah was presented. The committee charged with deciding whether to appropriate the federal funds wondered if the state would contribute its fair share of funding when the federal grant runs out.In response, University President Chase Peterson reviewed the school's track record of making do with severely limited funding through interdepartmental cooperation, private donations, and partnership with industry. However, he admitted that when placing such triumphs before state leaders, he is often met with a pat on the back and an admonition to go out and do it again. Would continued funding be available from university resources? Reassurance was hard to give, especially in light of the current tax rollback initiatives.
This incident presents only a slice of the difficult situation in Utah. The state has been swelling in economic doldrums for years - small wonder we suffer from a collective inferiority complex. Is a rollback of state taxes the solution?
A business leader viewing such stagnation in his or her company would not expect things to be turned around overnight. The source of business growth and expansion is research and development - innovating and staying on the cutting edge of technology.
In the United States, universities with the best research programs stand at the forefront of technological advancement. At the University of Utah, the most successful departments not only spin off new industries to market their innovations, but draw invaluable national media attention, projecting a reputation of excellence which improves outside perceptions of our state. Money invested in such programs returns to the state many times over.
Yet with all their potential, Utah's universities have been forced to fight a disheartening battle to justify their existence. Funding cutbacks have caused many of the best faculty to give up and go where they can be better appreciated.
Revitalization? Expansion? The question is more of how long universities can survive. Tax protesters engage in their share of exaggeration when they say taxes are "only" being rolled back to 1987 levels - those 1987 levels were also 1984 levels! With no tax increases over a period of three years, many state programs including our universities were gasping for funds by 1987.
Our state heritage of cooperation and self-sacrifice proves we can do without when we need to. Let's forget the tax rollback this year and support leaders who will invest our tax monies wisely in areas which will brighten the state's economic future. Universities are only one fruitful investment area. What about tax abatement for business growth? Surely we can become much more aggressive in providing incentives for companies to give our state a try.
Dr. Robert M. Cundick, Jr.
Salt Lake City