An amendment proposed by a U.S. senator that would have prevented the National Science Foundation from funding political science research and put the University’s political science program in jeopardy failed this week, much to the relief of some University officials.
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., proposed an amendment last month that aimed to “prohibit the National Science Foundation from wasting federal research funding on political science projects,” according to Coburn’s senate Web site.
The amendment was intended to be tacked onto the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, which doles out government funding to different federal agencies, but was voted down last week.
GW has received more than $1 million in the last decade for political science research, department chair Forrest Maltzman said.
Maltzman said he is “greatly relieved” that the amendment failed, adding that the department currently has around $250,000 in grant applications pending.
If the amendment passed, he said, it would have complicated efforts to employ student research assistants and attract graduate students, in addition to hampering research.
“Without this support, the ability to contribute the sort of cutting edge [research] the department has become known for would be curtailed,” Maltzman said in an e-mail. “On top of this, these grants have enabled us to employ student research assistants. Without this [money], it would be more difficult for us to attract and train top-tier graduate students.”
Maltzman said money from the NSF has specifically been used to fund projects studying topics ranging from the free market in China to the role of partisanship in Congress.
Members of the political science department fired back against Coburn’s assertion that political science research is less valid than research in other academic disciplines.
“The average person’s life is greatly affected by politics,” said John Sides, assistant professor of political science at GW and one of the authors of the blog The Monkey Cage, which many professors contribute to. “Political science seeks a systematic understanding of politics. For example, political science can tell the average person why their representatives or their government generates particular policies, policies which can in turn affect the person’s well-being.”
The University has often promoted the strength of its political science department, noting its location in D.C. and proximity to political centers of power as selling points. In January, The Hatchet reported that the University’s political science program was one factor named by high school guidance counselors and admitted students that increased interest in the University.
University President Steven Knapp acknowledged GW’s strength in research, and disagreed with Coburn’s belief that political science research was less valid than research in fields like biology.
“In all my comments about the importance of research, I stress that the term ‘research’ applies to the intellectual discoveries and contributions we make across the whole range of disciplines,” Knapp said in an e-mail. “I very definitely include political science among those disciplines, and in fact it is one of our areas of particular distinction.”
Knapp added that he disagrees with Coburn’s beliefs that political science is not worthy of funding from the NSF.
“I also think the study of political science is important to the growth and maintenance of democratic institutions and certainly deserves federal support,” Knapp said. “As a university, we sustain scholarly work in many fields that do not enjoy as much federal sponsorship as we would like to see – including my own field, English literature.”