Legislature looks to compete with top-tier schools in luring ‘bright minds’
Gov. Bill Ritter is expected to sign a bill this week to allow state-supported universities an unlimited number of long-term research contracts.
The legislation, co-sponsored by Representative Randy Fischer and Sen. Bob Bacon, both Democrats from Larimer County, would repeal an existing law limiting the number of contracts a school can have at one time to six.
The bill has left its final reading in committee and awaits the governor’s approval.
“We have a situation in Colorado where universities are limited by law the number of contracts a school can enter into,” Fischer said. “This creates a problem with retention. Some of our state’s best and brightest minds are being lured away to other schools because we can’t compete.”
Each university is limited to six contracts of five years or more and most are occupied by non-research staff contracts, such as sports staff and university officials.
Currently, state universities can only offer tenured teaching positions to researchers. This is an unattractive option to some.
“Unfortunately, most of the university contracts are being held by exceptions that have been made, and not utilized to capture valuable scientists and research dollars. To most scientists, the requirements of being a professor do not fit with the scope of their research interests,” Fischer said.
Fischer said the bill would not further tax university resources because it stipulates that any costs incurred with new research contracts, such as salaries and laboratory equipment, must be paid for with the grant money awarded to the contract.
“It isn’t our intention here to invite universities to spend money they don’t have on research. The intent is to bring more money to the schools with grant dollars and world-renowned scientists,” Fischer said.
Bacon is also drafting legislation for matching research money granted to schools through private or public donations with state dollars up to a certain amount.
This comes in concert with the recently established Collabratory, a cooperative research venture between CU, CSU, the Colorado School of Mines and the Golden-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory to explore renewable energy sources.
The general assembly established a fund to match up to $2 million in donations with state money annually to the Collabratory.
“Our state must match research grants to all universities as much as we can because there are some federal grants that require a state match in funds. Colorado hasn’t been doing that, and opportunities have been passing us by,” Bacon said.
The Collabratory agreement is one way lawmakers attempted to stifle a potential increase in competition for research grants between state schools.
Fischer said he believes any interstate competition that comes as a result of the bill could only be a good thing for the state.
“A little healthy competition brings researchers from around the world to Colorado. I think that it will encourage more cooperative research in the long run,” Fischer said.
The Collabratory is already having an effect on the research capabilities of Colorado schools, both through increased funding and pooled resources.
“We already have three major proposed projects that we could not have done as individual institutions,” said CU Vice Chancellor of Research Susan Avery. “I am excited about the possibilities this opens for new research, new educational opportunities for students, and new partnerships that ultimately should position Colorado as the intellectual and economic leader in renewable energy.”
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Cassie Hewlings at email@example.com.