Going to D.C. for RIA


On Wednesday, I made my first visit to Washington, D.C., as president of MSU.

The focus of my trip was our ongoing effort to bring the Department of Energy’s Rare Isotope Accelerator (RIA) project to Michigan State University. You can find out more about that at: http://frib.msu.edu/.

There’s some understandable nervousness on campus among those who rely on any kind of federal funding or support right now. When President Bush submits his budget to lawmakers on February 7, he’s expected to propose few increases and perhaps significant cuts.

The RIA project is of particular interest here because of its potential to bring jobs and economic benefits to the state. So we hope not only to see it sustained, but moving forward.

Wednesday was a warm, sunny day in the nation’s capital, particularly welcome coming from the deep freeze of a Michigan winter. I was accompanied there by Konrad Gelbke, who has been spearheading the RIA project at MSU, leading our uphill competition with an established national DOE laboratory—Argonne.

We began at a breakfast with members of Michigan’s Congressional delegation in an ornate conference room in the Longworth House Office Building. Congressman Mike Rogers introduced me, and I’m happy to report that Mike has agreed to root for MSU’s football team in all but one game next season, but to support MSU’s academic endeavors even on that game day. And given that he was a member of the University of Michigan ROTC, you can guess which game that will be.

We had a brief, but fruitful discussion underscoring the delegation’s strong support for bringing RIA to Michigan. These folks have been key to our efforts over the last four years, and every year their resolve seems to redouble. Each has played a different role depending on committee assignments, and all have made calls, written letters and offered ideas, guidance and unqualified support.

We had a couple of hours before our next RIA meeting, so Howard Gobstein (MSU’s man in Washington) and I headed over to New York Avenue and the offices of the Association of American Universities (AAU), the policy/advocacy organization for the nation’s top 60 research universities and two from Canada.

Nils Hasselmo, the president of AAU, introduced us to the staff and some of the issues on which they’re working. We talked a bit about the work of the Cherry Commission and how it relates to national policy issues, including the work AAU is doing to bring visibility to the need to support the great public research universities like MSU and University of Michigan. Nils comes to AAU having been president of the University of Minnesota, so he understands our effort to reinvigorate the land-grant ideal and make it meaningful for the 21st century.

Next, we had a lunch convened by Governor Jennifer Granholm’s Washington office and the Michigan Business Group. It was an opportunity to meet with DC officers of companies based or doing business in Michigan, representatives of University of Michigan and Wayne State University, and with MSU President Emeritus Peter McPherson, who has played a critical role in advancing the RIA project since its inception, and who continues to be a strong advocate for the project and its next steps.

The governor wasn’t able to attend, but she phoned and spoke to the group with characteristic passion about how important RIA would be to the future of our state. Her remarks echoed similar sentiments expressed by former Governor Engler at past meetings. Over the years, Michigan’s DC office has been an incredible partner in framing RIA as one of Michigan’s highest priorities—it’s really a state of Michigan effort, and not just a Michigan State effort.

Finally, it was back to Capitol Hill for office visits with Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, then on to the airport with Konrad for our flight home. We got a lot done in a very short time, and I hope to build on it the next time I’m in town.


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