Yesterday we learned that the University of Colorado Boulder has decided to terminate its Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. As the Center’s founding director (and currently a faculty affiliate), I can characterize this decision only as baffling.
At this very moment, all of us are painfully aware of an emerging global pandemic in the coronavirus. Meantime, in the US, the Trump Administration seems challenged in recognizing basic facts and evidence associated with the virus and its spread. Securing sound technical and scientific advice, creating viable policy options and making wise decisions are absolutely essential — and that means that expertise in science and technology policy is also essential.
It seems obvious that at no point in our history has the intersection of science, policy and politics been more important. It is thus a remarkably poor time for CU Boulder to terminate one of the nation’s first, longest serving and most successful academic units focused on this important subject.
Initiated in 2001, CU Boulder’s science and technology policy center established itself as a national and international leader in interdisciplinary research, education and outreach at the intersection of science, policy and politics. Among its many highlights:
- Was recipient of one of the first multi-million dollar NSF “decision making under uncertainty” grants;
- Hosted a 7-year series on presidential science advisors, bringing each living former (and serving) presidential science advisor to Boulder to meet with students, the campus and the Boulder community;
- Hosted the world’s leading time series of media discussions of climate change, which is referenced in the media and in academic research;
- Worked closely with federal agencies, notably NOAA and its Western Water Assessment, to develop more “usable science” for decision making;
- Has faculty who have collectively published many hundreds of peer-reviewed articles, public commentaries and who are among the most prominently on our campus featured in the media (for instance, appearing about once a day in 2017);
- The center has organized many workshops, hosted many international visitors, and its faculty have often been called upon to participate in expert congressional testimony, US federal agency advisory boards and on international science and policy advisory bodies;
- Hosted for CU Boulder students the Radford Byerly Award and the CASE AAAS Student Workshop Competition — CSTPR students have made up most AAAS Fellows to have emerged from CUB over the past 20 years;
- Hosted an enormously successful graduate certificate program in science and technology policy. Recipients of the certificate have gone on to work as staffers in the House and Senate (and for Ds and Rs); as political appointees in NOAA and State Department, in GAO, in the National Academy of Sciences, in the private sector and in civil society. These graduates and their positive mark on the world are the lasting legacy of the Center.
I could go on. (You can see more about the remarkable accomplishments of this unit in annual reports available here:.)
The campus announcement to terminate the Center was made without consulting affiliated faculty to explore possible opportunities to relocate the Center administratively on campus or to identify alternative sponsors. Instead, the decision was a surprise to all affiliated with the Center. Of note, CU Boulder is the only PAC-12 school without a significant campus school or institute focused on policy, and the science policy center is not the first policy-focused unit to be terminated on our campus for lack of institutional support.
Obviously, the importance of research, education and outreach at the intersection of science, policy and politics is only growing. The field of science and technology policy will continue to thrive, and many universities are now following the early lead of CU-Boulder in creating new initiatives in this area. Regrettably, CU-Boulder is now abandoning this area of focus.