UVa Snags $27.5 Million Computer Research Grant

Kevin Skadron

Thanks to a $27.5 million grant from the Semiconductor Research Corp., the University of Virginia’s Department of Computer Science is tackling one of the most pressing problems in computer science and engineering — the so-called “memory wall,” reports the Daily Progress.

As health care, science and technology systems grow more and more data-intensive and analytics become more sophisticated, current computer systems are unable to feed data to the processor fast enough, wasting time and energy. That gap between needed power and ability, first articulated by UVa professor emeritus William Wulf and graduate student Sally McKee, is often called the “memory wall.”

The 20 faculty members on Skadron’s team will investigate how to rebuild the entire computer processing system, from better memory chips and wiring to new software that can process complex and fragmented problems. They are focusing on several specific areas of application, including advanced genomics, new cancer biomarkers and predictive home health care.

“The volume of data here, as well as the ways that we have to mine it, are basically impossible to work with in today’s systems,” Skadron said. “But if we can make that tractable, we can help do things like diagnose cancer patients.”

From an economic development perspective, the grant sounds like unalloyed good news. Kevin Skadron, chairman of the computer science department, says that he expects the university will garner some intellectual property rights from the research, providing funding for more research and innovation at the university. Who knows, perhaps UVa’s computer science school will form the nucleus of a Charlottesville-based innovation ecosystem that spins off new enterprises and highly paid private-sector jobs.

The program also could contribute to Virginia’s workforce development. According to a university press release, the center will create opportunities for undergraduate students to get involved in research as well as internships with companies that are program sponsors. Tens of thousands of IT jobs in Virginia are going unfilled, and this program conceivably could increase the supply of qualified workers (although it’s not clear if Ph.D.s with expertise in computer design match up with the skills demanded by Virginia’s IT companies).

Before we get too excited, it’s also worthwhile asking, “Who’s paying for all this?” As the Daily Progress notes, “Over the past few years, UVa’s School of Engineering & Applied Sciences has been pouring investment into cyber infrastructure.”

In other words, UVa had to make a big investment to get the computer-science program to the point where it could attract the “memory wall” research grant. How big of an investment? The Daily Progress did not think to ask, and UVa apparently did not volunteer a number. Moreover, there is the matter of overhead. Research contracts typically allocate a negotiated percentage of the grant to cover overhead such as lab space, computers, the labor-intensive grant-application apparatus, and general administration. It would be useful to know how much this research grant pays for, and whether it fully covers all costs.

In recent posts, Bacon’s Rebellion has asked to what extend university R&D programs are subsidized by undergraduate tuition. Interestingly, the new Center for Research in Intelligent Storage and Processing in Memory, or CRISP, will fund positions for about 100 Ph.D. students. One might infer from the wording of the press release that the graduate-student positions will be fully funded by outside money. If that inference is correct, perhaps we can likewise assume that graduate student stipends are not being subsidized by undergraduate tuition. But we don’t know for sure until someone asks.

UVa and Virginia’s other research universities are not accustomed to much oversight of their research programs. Research institutions have been free to pursue their dreams of R&D glory by running monies through an accounting black box. Meanwhile, state policy is to foster university research, even to support it with General Fund dollars, in the name of economic development, so no one in state government is asking questions. 

The Daily Progress reporter didn’t ask where the money is coming from, what investments UVa made to reach the point where it qualified for the grant, and what ongoing obligations it might incur that aren’t covered by the grant. That’s no slight on the reporter — until a few months ago, I would have assumed that the grant meant, “Whoopee! Free money!” Indeed, I still don’t pretend to know how the system works. But I am going up the learning curve, and I’ll keep asking questions.

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26 responses to “UVa Snags $27.5 Million Computer Research Grant

  1. How can one man hate his alma mater so?

  2. This is great news for U. Va. and for the Commonwealth. U. Va. has tremendous potential to be a leading national research university as does VT and that is critical to the 21st Century economy.
    Virginia ranks 30th among the states on patents per capita (or per 100,000 population) and the initiatives at VT, GMU and, now, U. Va. will be critical to our economy competitiveness as general government spending wanes and Virginia needs a more diverse plan for economic development.
    U. Va back when Physics Professor Frank Hereford was president made several bold moves to be more competitive nationally only to be pulled back by politicians…..”don’t do that to Mr. Jefferson’s school.”
    Congrads to U. Va.

  3. Good questions, Jim. Such bitter irony, isn’t it, Peter?

  4. the other thing … who, outside of a given institution – public or private has the background/knowledge to really question the “right-ness’ or “wrong-ness” of choices that UVA makes?

    Take poor old Dominion.. they don’t trust the SCC to know what the right or wrong choices for Dominion ought to be.. but here we have folks who know almost nothing about how higher ed operates who say they can decide if something is a “good” idea or a “bad” idea.

    I’m all for the “transparency” and “holding them accountable” but don’t the folks who ask the questions also need to have some credible background that put some credence in their questions?

    I have little idea of – the “knowledgeable’ pros and cons of UVA plans but on the surface of it – it sounds like they are focused on the right things.

    Here – take a look: ” Virginia House budget includes $40 million for new Virginia Tech cybersecurity program”

    http://www.roanoke.com/news/politics/general_assembly/virginia-house-budget-includes-million-for-new-virginia-tech-cybersecurity/article_2e44fd9b-cec2-543c-9c07-4656d8b9acd5.html

    LORD! LORD! yet MORE money thrown to the wind!!!

    Oh the HORROR! 😉

    • “the other thing … who, outside of a given institution – public or private has the background/knowledge to really question the “right-ness’ or “wrong-ness” of choices that UVA makes?”

      I am always mindful of the loop of the Ph.D. University offers doctoral degrees, gains teaching and research assistance from those students, and then, where are the majority of Ph.D. holders employed? At university. I don’t think you will hear much disapproval of any finding emanating from within this echo chamber.

      Additionally, it has to be true that grantors shop their options on where to place their bets. I’ve always been curious as to whether there is quiet bidding among R & D universities. Do they jostle with each other, lowering the profitability to the school, similar to municipalities offering tax rebates to coax new business to relocate?

      I think that transparency and oversight in the realm of R & D at Virginia public universities could take the simple form of questions. Gauging by the inquiring minds of Bacon readers, you don’t have to be from within to grasp potential pitfalls or misrepresentation. I would like to know that the Board of Visitors at UVA in engaged in asking a lot of questions, rather than rubber stamping everything as feel-good news.

      • Lift –

        You make a whole series of excellent points above. For example:

        The echo chamber you speak of is one reason why far too often there is far too little imagination and innovation at public research universities. Every one within the public research university systems is caught up in the echo chamber, whether that echo dictate political correctness, lack of innovative scientific thinking, or fear of writing down independent thoughts on paper for fear of losing one’s chance at tenure, or kind of advancement at all, including fear of challenging group think that might interfere with a sponsor’s research project.

        Hence public research universities waste vast amounts of other peoples money as researcher get paid ever more money, and waste costs of their futile work running down wrong rabbit holes while spending other peoples money, including vast amounts of undergraduate students tuition. Sponsored research hardens these awful trends in group think, worthless research, and harmful research validating nonsense.

        And so, for another example, take peer reviewed papers by tenure track professors. These people are captives of the system, and the marionettes who run the corrupt system of tenure. Thus most post doc graduates, by far the best people quit the systems, and those who stay willingly behinds are forced by their professor masters to seek the approval of their masters. This includes not least, becoming ever more specialized in nonsense, while one keep working in the some trenches, ruts and rabbit holes, as they validated the often obsolete or useless work of their puppet masters.

        And of course there is fierce competition between public research universities. You see it today between UVA and Virginia Tech. Each one running after the same often dwindling amounts of limited research opportunities.

        In this buyers markets huge amounts of direct and indirect research costs are being paid for not by the sponsor of the research but by the university itself, using student tuition and taxpayer monies to make up the shortfall, because only then will that university, in particular certain professors, get the work, instead of a competitor university.

        So everyone, including the university and many in it, takes a big loss but for the professors grabbing the work, the Administrators overseeing the monies, the president and Board who are seeking revenues and rankings, and the sponsor’s who are seeking to avoiding risks and cost with the lowest bid, and sometimes getting rich off of massive public losses. Meanwhile the universities lose ever more money while those running the show within and outside the system get wealthier and wealthier.

        • Correction to last sentence of fourth paragraph above:

          This includes not least, junior post docs and tenure track professors becoming ever more specialized in the nonsense built by their puppet masters, while each junior seeking tenure must keep working in the some holes, trenches, ruts and rabbit warrens dug decades before by their masters, as they validate that often obsolete or useless work of their puppet masters.

          It is a horribly corrupt, wasteful and inefficient system, Medieval almost, the scribe monks of the Middle Ages who spent their working lives rewriting the same manuscripts telling the same old tales over and over again. And now, like back, their it is costing the public ever vaster amounts of money to keep this corrupt and voracious system going.

          Making matters far worse long term is the fact that typically, on the corrupt one are willing to put up with the corrupt system. So the most corrupted rise to the top of Academic while everyone else either leaves in disgust for real work, or burns out altogether.

      • Lift –

        You made a whole series of excellent points above. My earlier comments to your important observations were riddle with typos, syntax problems, and false auto corrected words, and were otherwise incomplete.

        So here I will start again, trying to do justice to your thoughts.

        The echo chamber you speak of is one reason why far too often there is far too little imagination and innovation at public research universities. This is because so many researchers within our public research universities are caught up among the echoes of those chambers they labor in, echoes that dictate to them political correctness and ideologies, and a litany of other strict markers that have been laid down by the ambitions and work of their superiors who hold their futures and reputations in their hands.

        All of these echoes and markers create demands the breed within junior researchers a chronic lack of innovative scientific or humanistic thinking, as well as an inbuilt fear of writing down truly independent thoughts on paper for fear that these notions will aggravate one’s superior and thereby cost one his or her one chance at tenure, or even any future recommendation at all within the Academy. Hence most of those who are coming up within the Academy fear challenging most all kinds of group think they encounter and fear to in anyway give even the appearance of interfering with or undermining the work of their superiors and/or the expressed goal of a sponsor’s research project. The great majority who succeed in such a system thus become ideologues and sycophants at the same time.

        Hence public research universities waste vast amounts of other peoples money doing busy work or chasing lost causes as their researchers nevertheless get paid ever more money, and waste ever more costs in their pursuit of their futile work done while running down wrong rabbit holes and spending other peoples’ money, including vast amounts of undergraduate and graduate students tuition, that goes into the pockets of those falsely claiming to be their professors while it amounts to a total loss to their students, taxpayers, and indeed often sponsors and funders of all sorts. And here this includes not only taxpayers and students whose monies subsidize the work without in their knowledge, much less consent, but also Alumni giving gifts, and some well intentioned sponsors. Hence, too this often illicitly sponsored research can easily run amuck as it hardens these awful trends Academia in group think, worthless research, and harmful research that validates nonsense or bad science. Indeed, history has proven over and over again that this fatal flaw in endemic to the Academy and the way it has worked since Copernicus, Galileo and before.

        For another modern day example, take peer reviewed papers published by tenure track professors. These junior professors writing these papers are far too often captives of the research system of higher education, most particularly captives of the marionettes who too often run the corrupt system of tenure primarily for their benefit. The last thing these superiors want to see is their own prior work and reputation undermined. Their greatest ambition instead is to see their life’s work praised, reaffirmed and built into a history of their field of research and study.

        Thus the most serious and ethical of doctorate students and post doc graduates, the best young people in the field, far too often quit the system altogether. They simply refuse to live the lie imposed on them and their work. And those who stay willingly behind within the system are typically corrupted, forced by their tenured masters to become supplicants, instead of independent searchers of the truth who break the molds of bad science. The ranks of these weak left behinds includes not least, those junior post docs and tenure track professors who become ever more captive of the past as they specialized ever more deeply in the nonsense built by their masters, as, seeking tenure, they must keep working the holes, trenches, ruts and rabbit warrens dug decades before yet going nowhere but into new absurdities. Hence the thousands of heavily researched books and papers that no one reads, or that lead others on still more fools errands. Hence, the ideologues that run so many of these programs and departments, indeed whole colleges and universities today.

        It is a horribly corrupt, wasteful and inefficient system. It is Medieval, often like the dutiful scribe monks chained to their desks in the Middle Ages, working away their lives rewriting the same manuscripts telling the same old tales of their masters over and over again, mostly rubbish. Yes, a few of those manuscripts are priceless today, and some of those too are tragically lost, often intentionally destroyed to make space for the most recent rubbish despite the work of scribes protected for generations by the ramparts of isolated places of rigor and faith.

        But now, like most often back then, our modern system of higher education, run by an entrenched academy, is busy burning the great works of the few great men who went before, so as to madly make space for more high priced rubbish of their own, earning often for themselves fortunes for their private advantage, while costing the public ever vaster amounts of money to keep this corrupt and voracious system going for the benefit of those few high priests running their corrupt game.

        And, like so often in the past, what makes matters far worse in the long term is the fact that typically the corrupt one are the ones that inherent the power and ill gotten prestige of an ever more refined corrupt system. So the most corrupted individuals rise to the top of Academy while the best people leave in disgust for real work, or are destroyed by it.

        A perfect example of high corruption in high places is when all but three percent of those said to be in the field of research are said to have reached consensus on a broad and major issue that creates a problem only they can solve at the great expense of everyone else, and enrich themselves alone, irrespective of the cost to everyone else. This is much of what we see at work today in the Academy, the one place where real profit and loss is irrelevant, while revenue and reputation are paramount.

        Of course there is fierce competition between public research universities. You see it today between UVA and Virginia Tech. Each one running after the same often dwindling amounts of limited research opportunities. This causes the game to spin ever faster, and more viciously.

        In this buyers markets huge amounts of direct and indirect research costs are being paid for not by the sponsor of the research but by the university itself, using student tuition and taxpayer monies to make up the shortfall, because only then will that university, and in particular certain professors and allied enablers, get the work, instead of a competitor university.

        So everyone, including the university and many in it, take a big loss but for the professors grabbing the work, the Administrators overseeing the monies, the president and CFO seeking revenues and rankings, and the sponsor’s who are seeking to avoid risks and cost with the lowest bid, and hoping to getting rich himself off of massive public losses. Meanwhile, the public universities lose ever more money, while those running the show within and outside the system get wealthier and wealthier.

  5. Ahh, the memory wall. Quite controversial since it depends on CPU speeds continuously outpacing DRAM speeds. While almost everybody agrees that there is a memory wall there is quite a bit of debate as to how important it will be. In their paper, Wulf and McKee predicted that computers would hit the memory wall within 10 years (their paper was written in 1994). Intel slipped that theory a bit of a mickey with its multi-core architecture introduced in 2002 (as I recall). “Mr. Grove, tear down that (memory) wall!” But the memory wall is beginning to rear its ugly head again, especially for “memory bound” applications. I think time will prove Wulf and McKee right.

    Speaking of Wulf and McKee, what became of that dynamic duo? Professor Wulf was relatively easy to research. He blew a gasket over the temporary firing of Teresa Sullivan and took his memory wall and went home.

    http://www.readthehook.com/104300/resignations-begin-esteemed-computer-science-prof-pulls-plug

    Apparently, he still lives in Charlottesville but, at age 78, he’s probably no threat to start the next Google by turning the Shenandoah Valley into Silicon Valley East.

    Dr. McKee is also unlikely to kick start Central Virginia’s technology revolution since she is a professor at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. Apparently, Dr. McKee left Virginia for a post at Intel in Oregon shortly after wrapping up her post-doctoral work in Charlottesville in 1996. I suspect the researchers being financed with this funding will follow a similar path.

    All of which brings me to the real issue. Memory systems are real things that are very, very hard to make. You need incredibly sophisticated factories and hundreds (thousands?) of engineers. While it’s great that UVA got this research money it’s a long shot that $27m of research funding will create the next Corsair (Freemont, CA) or Kingston (Fountain Valley, CA) or Micron (Boise, Id) or G Skill (Taipei, Taiwan). Charlottesville is a “city” of 48,000 people surrounded by a large county of 105,000 people. That’s about 150,000 people spread across 725 sq mi. I just don’t see a computer hardware revolution starting there. Software? Maybe, but just maybe.

    Our top universities are in the wrong places for economic development. Nice places but not conducive to meaningful economic development on a reasonable timeframe. If the Thundering Herd of Corruption in Richmond, a wholly owned subsidiary of Dominion Resources, wanted to use our universities for economic development purposes they should probably form a state university system (like in California) and consciously prescribe that technology focused research be done in urban schools and campuses. That would have a chance of success.

  6. “the other thing … who, outside of a given institution – public or private has the background/knowledge to really question the “right-ness’ or “wrong-ness” of choices that UVA makes?”

    When it comes to computers and software technology I’d guess 50,000 to 100,000 people presently living in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

    Here’s a good list to start with for the Virginia Public University Research Technology Oversight Board:

    AppAssure Software (Reston)
    Applied Predictive Technologies (Arlington)
    Binary Fountain (McLean)
    Booksfree (Vienna)
    Capitol Advantage (Fairfax)
    Clarabridge (Reston)
    ComScore (Reston)
    Cvent (Tysons Corner)
    Deltek (Herndon)
    Geeknet (Fairfax)
    Invincea (Fairfax)
    Logi Analytics (McLean)
    MicroStrategy (McLean)
    Motley Fool (Alexandria)
    Objective Interface Systems (Herndon)
    Opower (Arlington)
    Rosetta Stone (Arlington)
    ServInt (McLean)
    Sogosurvey (Herndon)
    ThinkFun (Alexandria)
    VeriSign (Reston)
    Vision III Imaging, Inc. (Vienna)
    Wrong Planet (Fairfax)

    There are plenty more where those came from.

    UVA = VDOT

    Owned by the people of Virginia. Oversight (supposedly) provided by the General Assembly. Mission is to support the people of Virginia not the fops and dandies who happen to work there.

  7. re: is academic research the same thing as economic development?

    and if it is .. then are all the research universities in the US.. “wrong” to do research and should leave that to the private sector?

    On the other side of the coin – we keep hearing that the private sector is looking for fairly immediate results in the stock market. Investors are not so tolerant of companies expending huge dollars on “research” that harms their ROI ….and …dividends…

    so here’s the question(s): 1. should higher Ed be doing research even when there are many companies in the private sector already in those fields?

    2. – if the answer is yes – who are the folks that should decide what areas of research higher ed should pursue

    3. – who decides how much money higher ed should put towards research?

    so.. should all those companies that DJ named.. be the “deciders” and if they say “nay”.. UVA follows that direction?

    • In an ideal world, universities educate undergraduates and also contribute to Virginia’s innovation economy by conducting R&D — on the condition that undergraduate tuition does NOT subsidize the R&D. Is that reasonable?

      • re: do not subsidize R&D. Is that true? Don’t students themselves benefit from attending a University that is actively engaging in R&D ?

        • Larry, if I recall correctly, you vociferously denied that undergraduate tuition could possibly be diverted to fund research, and now you defend the practice. Do you find some sort of perverse joy in playing a contrarian role no matter what the facts are?

          At Washington and Lee, the grand total of institutional funding for R&D is $0, yet it has the highest value add of any college in Virginia (and in the nation in fact) according to the Economist. But even if we accept your hypothesis that undergraduates are better off attending schools that are doing R&D, that doesn’t mean they should pay for it. They are the least likely to benefit and the least likely to be able to afford it.

          The people who primarily benefit from having research funded by undergraduates are: 1) researchers and support staff 2) the external sponsor who has their project subsidized, and 3) university administrators that push research agendas. The primary impact on undergraduates is: A) they accrue more debt, B) default at higher rates, and C) get less focus on their instruction.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            Thank you Izzo. As usual you are right on target. This private business deal funded on the backs of undergraduate students and Virginia taxpayers is an outrage and a rip-0ff. What a bunch of suckers we all are to sit idling by while being robbed again and again.

      • If the General Assembly provided half the R&D funding for a 5 year Blockchain Technology in Logistics research program at ODU or Christopher Newport AND tied it into the Virginia Port Authority I would be fine with undergraduate tuition being part of the funding. Why? Because that kind of program would have a chance of working and would have a chance of employing some of those undergraduates. Moreover, it would have a chance of creating an industry cluster around blockchain for logistics – especially of the Navy were to be involved. I feel the same way about cybersecurity at GMU or meat pie baking at VCU. Ok, I was only kidding about the meat pies. How about “smart city” technology in Richmond?

        Blacksburg, Charlottesville and Williamsburg are lovely places. I just don’t see the basic ingredients of meaningful economic development coming from those towns. So, if the “Big 3” Virginia public universities want to fund R&D in those places it should definitely not be funded through undergraduate tuition. I’d argue it shouldn’t be funded by the state either. It should be funded by the federal government or by private donations. If it doesn’t have a realistic chance of successful economic development then neither the state nor the users (i.e. students) ought to be paying for it.

      • “In an ideal world, universities educate undergraduates and also contribute to Virginia’s innovation economy by conducting R&D — on the condition that undergraduate tuition does NOT subsidize the R&D. Is that reasonable?”

        Yes, that is reasonable.

        But I am confident that it is not happening here. This is a business transaction. A business transaction that is going to cost Virginia taxpayers and very likely undergraduate students a very large sum of money. They will be subsidizing someone else business. Problem is they will be financial someone else business profits it if succeeds. And they will be covering someone else’s losses if it fails. And they will receive nothing, in return. Meanwhile they will be lining some professors and administrators pockets no matter what.

        You can be sure of this because the truth about the transaction will remain hidden from public view and scrutiny. Until that changes, you need to know that the public and the undergraduates at UVa. are paying through the nose for this business venture that will profit other people, and be guaranteed t loss from.

        • Correction to above:

          Problem is the Virginia Taxpayers and the UVa. Undergraduates will be financing someone else’s highly speculative and risky business venture and its profits it if succeeds.

          And those very same Virginia Taxpayers and UVa. Undergraduate Students monies will be covering someone else’s business losses from that risky business venture if it fails. And those Virginia Taxpayers and those UVa. Undergraduate students will receive nothing in return for all of that risk and all their monies ripped out of their pockets and spent for the sole advantage of people posing falsely as their professors.

          Meanwhile those Virginia Taxpayers and students will be lining some professors and administrators pockets no matter what. If this is a false statement UVa. can prove it false.

          Meanwhile, why should we believe this deal is any different from most nearly all deals between public research universities and private interests, whether those sponsors be for profit, or not for profit, according the statistics published for the last 40 years by US government agencies.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            “Meanwhile, why should we believe this deal is any different from most nearly all deals between public research universities and private interests, whether those sponsors be for profit, or not for profit, according the statistics published for the last 40 years by US government agencies.”

            For details see: Feb. 15, 2018 post “The Higher Ed cost crisis at R&D Cost Crisis found here at:

            https://baconsrebellion.com/the-higher-ed-cost-crisis-as-rd-cost-crisis/

        • It is always a good idea to keep R&D in perspective, including who does it. For example:

          According to new estimates from the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science and Engineering, total spending on R&D reached $499 billion last year, buoyed by record levels of business spending. If confirmed, this will represent the largest amount the U.S. or any nation has ever spent on R&D in a single year. It is one of a number of indicators that the U.S. remains the international leader in science and technology even as China poses a challenge to U.S. dominance in the field.

          “Of total U.S. R&D in 2015, businesses funded $355 billion, or 69 percent, continuing a long-term trend of private enterprise financing an increasingly large majority of R&D nationwide. The federal government, the second-largest funder of U.S. R&D, sponsored an estimated $113 billion, or 23 percent of the total.

          us-rd-by-source-of-funding-1953-2015.png U.S. R&D By Source of Funding 1953 to 2015 by National Science Foundation.

          How about some specifics on a micro level. For example, Overall reported global spending on LGBT is now estimated at $424 million. From 2003-2013, reported funding for transgender issues increased more than eightfold, growing at threefold the increase of LGBTQ funding overall, which quadrupled from 2003 to 2012. This huge spike in funding happened at the same time transgenderism began gaining traction in American culture.

          $424 million is a lot of money. Is it enough to change laws, uproot language and force new speech on the public, to censor, to create an atmosphere of threat for those who do not comply with gender identity ideology?” SEE: http://thefederalist.com/2018/02/20/rich-white-men-institutionalizing-transgender-ideology/

          Hence, public research universities do a relatively small percentage of the R&D work in America, substantially less than 20% nationally, and one of the least efficient at that, at $71 billion, total.

  8. re: ” It should be funded by the federal government or by private donations.”

    hmmm…..

    well… I think the Feds DO fund quite a bit… and so does industry… and alumni… why shouldn’t the state and tuition?

    the thing about basic research is … precisely that there is no expectation of immediate pay back… it’s a longer game… and the process involves a lot of spaghetti thrown up on those virtual walls… and “breakthroughs” are not one eureka project…but a series of two steps forward and one step back – across all of higher ed.. the so-called peer-reviewed body of knowledge.. that now is treated as a mega conspiracy by some of our friends on the right..

    I think the politics of higher ed has become uber rancid these days … with bands of “accountability” cretins running amok to root out “abuses” by higher ed……

    Now… even basic research – is openly questioned as to it’s value and utility… and it has to show an ROI or else…

    • In a world where tuition is rising faster than median wages (and has been doing so for years) choices have to be made. Is the primary mission of Virginia’s pubic colleges and universities to perform basic research or to provide an affordable education for citizens of Virginia? If the priority is the latter then clearly our public colleges and universities are failing. The cost of obtaining a college degree for a Virginia resident at a Virginia public college or university is becoming less affordable with each passing year. Jim Bacon has done a fine job of outlining the questions around the cost of research and its possible role in inflating tuition. However, in Virginia, I’d add another complicating factor – the value of research to the state. Virginia’s three best rated public universities exist in locales where using university-based research to catalyze economic development is a fantasy. The “memory wall” research referenced in Jim’s article may well provide economic benefits for the United States. I just doubt those benefits will accrue to Virginia. The researchers and the value of the research will, most likely, have the biggest impact on California.

      Let’s face it – our state legislature is abysmal. Despite the fact that Virginia’s public colleges and universities are assets of the people our elected representatives have shown over and over again they lack the intestinal fortitude to manage those assets. After all, public colleges and universities can’t stuff money into the pockets of our state politicians so why would those politicians waste time on higher ed?

      Making research a catalyst for economic development is hard. In Virginia, it would require hard decisions. This is well above the competence ceiling of our elected officials. Cutting costs is easier. It’s still probably beyond the capabilities of the General Assembly but they might have a chance of doing some good. It seems to me that when you’re dealing with an inept team you don’t try to run sophisticated plays. Cut the costs. Try to keep the education affordable.

  9. R&D in higher ed has been one of those things that has been going on … probably since higher ed came into existence.

    I suspect that not all of it is “top drawer”.. that there is a lot of wild goose chases and going down rabbit holes.. but every now and then someone will advance the knowledge in a particular area and this is basically how it works,

    I worked at an R&D lab and there were people there that worked their entire careers trying to develop more knowledge about something that the military wanted to do that was an obstacle until they found out how to resolve the obstacles and move forward

    It was there many years ago that they were actually part of the efforts to develop packet switching for networking… for internet. It was never one discovery that led to an elegant solution… it was messy and unsatisfying work much of the time but every now and then there was a success and we moved forward.

    I guess you could call it – “throwing money at the problem”..maybe but I don’t know how you make R&D “efficient” or calibrate how much to spend versus ROI… it just does not work that way.

    you could work on something for 20 years with no success then all of a sudden.. some research done on a side area … contributes to a breakthrough in another area…

    Almost all of the technology we benefit from today- was developed that way

    I think there may be some misunderstanding between pure research R&D and what is called system engineering – which is how you take something found out in basic research and put into into a viable system.

    Take something like using solar to produce hydrogen fuel… it can be done in the lab – no problem.. but try to get it to scale to something that utility companies can do… there is still research to be done…

    but if UVA or VaTech were to discover a cost-effective way for solar to generate hydrogen fuel to be used at night when solar was not available – it would revolutionize the whole world of energy..

    So whose going to fund that research or perhaps the question is who should NOT fund that research?

    • “but if UVA or VaTech were to discover a cost-effective way for solar to generate hydrogen fuel to be used at night when solar was not available – it would revolutionize the whole world of energy..”

      Yes, and who would profit from that? Dominion Resources’ shareholders no doubt.

      Of course, for every one idea that becomes a blockbuster there must be 999 funded attempts that fail. And who will pay for those failed attempts? Why the taxpayers of Virginia, of course.

      Turning publicly funded research into economic development requires honest politicians and a sophisticated public-private operation. Virginia has neither.

      • re: ” Yes, and who would profit from that? Dominion Resources’ shareholders no doubt.”

        might depend a little on who has the patent…

        “Of course, for every one idea that becomes a blockbuster there must be 999 funded attempts that fail. And who will pay for those failed attempts? Why the taxpayers of Virginia, of course.”

        that’s the essential nature of R&D… breakthroughs are not guaranteed on any time-frame at all – but if you don’t do the R&D function.. you surely won’t get any.

        If R&D ultimately generates exceptionally important benefits to society including economic – then how should it be funded?

        Should everyone be paying something for it? How about all the folks who now have Smartphones that have become an integral part of many lives and almost all business entities in the economy?

        Is it “appropriate” for taxpayers to each pay some share of that cost via funding institutions that do R&D?

  10. re: tuition for R&D…

    how about room & board for R&D?

    I continue to point out – and DJ confirms.. that there are many less expensive was to get a 21st century education that the economy actually wants than 4 yrs room/board/tuition/student fees/etc ….

    of course virtually none of those other ways do R&D or embed it in their costs.. fair point…

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