UH is served
up its share of
Congress dishes out moreBy Pete Pichaske
research funds to the isle school
than any other
Phillips News Service
WASHINGTON -- The university that has received more special funding from Congress in the past five years than any other school is not Harvard or Yale or Princeton. It's the University of Hawaii.
The annual survey of "academic pork" by the Chronicle of Higher Education, published this week, found that UH has been showered with $71.9 million in specially earmarked congressional funds since 1995 and an additional $137.2 million in shared funds.
Both amounts are the highest of the approximately 250 schools that compete for research money.
For this year, the survey found, UH's share was $3.5 million -- not even enough for the top 25. But the school will receive $16.1 million in shared funding, again one of the highest totals in the country.
"For a state of its size, Hawaii obviously has done disproportionately well in getting earmarked money out of Congress," said Doug Lederman, deputy managing editor for the weekly Chronicle of Higher Education.
The states and schools that have done well, the survey found, tend to have senior lawmakers on Congress' powerful appropriations committees, where education funds are earmarked. And Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye is both the senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee and a vigorous proponent for Hawaii universities.
"I think that probably speaks for itself," said Lederman.
UH officials concede Inouye's help, but say it's not the only reason they get federal money.
"There's no question having a senator of Sen. Inouye's stature helps in raising the profile of the university," said UH spokeswoman Cheryl Ernst.
"But we also feel we have some real strengths in areas that merit federal attention. We certainly feel the federal dollars are deserved."
She said the school also does well in earning federal money that is awarded competitively.
Inouye, meanwhile, made no apologies for helping UH, which he said cannot compete with schools like Harvard for peer-reviewed grants.
"We're not in that league," he said.
"I've felt it was about time forgotten University of Hawaii got its fair share."
Inouye also noted, "no one has ever challenged any one of these grants by suggesting the University of Hawaii was not qualified to carry out the grant."
So-called academic pork -- money for specific projects awarded by Congress on a noncompetitive basis -- has long been controversial. While some say it is needed to fund valuable projects at less-established schools, critics say it substitutes political clout for objective review when handing out money.
"We feel it subverts the principle of reviewing research proposals on the basis of merit," said Peter Smith of the Association of American Universities. AAU has voted to oppose the practice, although some of its member schools accept earmarked money.
Nationwide, the survey found, the amount of academic pork reached a record $797 million this year, a 51 percent increase from the previous year.
The increase was credited to the budget surplus, a hurried budget process that opened the door to last-minute additions, and growing acceptance of the practice.
While Hawaii has traditionally done well in the hunt for such money, its five-year total is somewhat skewed by the $45 million set aside for an oceanography ship for UH two years ago.
The award, engineered by Inouye, was controversial at the time -- several oceanography experts questioned both the need for such a ship and the way it was funded -- and accounts for nearly two-thirds of the school's total since 1995.
But even without that high-priced project, UH would rank 11th among universities in individual earmarks and first in shared earmarks in the past five years. And Hawaii, as a state, would rank 20th among the states in individual money and second in shared money.
Counting the $45 million, the isles have received more money since 1995 than any state except California, Florida and Louisiana.