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Letters | RESEARCH FUNDING AT ISSUE

High allowances for universities create formula for waste

Extraordinary waste and privilege is what your article “Research giants win on funding” uncovers. For 25 years I ran a public policy research institute independent of the university system. We raised our money from foundations and individual donors. Our overhead for administration and facilities never ran over 20 percent, and averaged 15 percent.

Too bad the White House melted under pressure from the universities. Even the reform proposal would likely have capped overhead at far too high a level — 50 percent. If research institutes needed special costly facilities, they should be justified as line items in the proposals, never thrown into the overhead category. That’s a formula for waste.

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The postwar 20 percent cap that was in place until 1965 should be plenty for the universities. One of the main differences between those days and now is that administrative salaries have skyrocketed. Before we let fiscal pressures cut food stamps, let’s cut excessive overhead allowances for universities and all organizations that receive public resources.

Charles Knight

Cambridge

The writer is former president of the Commonwealth Institute and is a senior fellow with the Center for International Policy.

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