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Tom Schieffer Op/Ed – Research: Investment in the Future

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By Tom Schieffer


In the not-too-distant future, a physician may be able to use a pen-size, light-sensitive scanner to detect whether someone has skin cancer, saving the patient a painful biopsy.

A city may use a system of super-thin membrane filters to improve its water purification process. Or, there may be new breakthroughs in the design and performance of wind turbine blades, enhancing the role of renewable energy in powering Texas’ future.

These are but a few of the hundreds of research projects now underway at state-supported universities in Texas. Many will come to fruition, not only improving our quality of life but also creating important products and jobs.

Texas researchers are to be commended for their work. They are some of the best and brightest minds in the world and are tremendous assets to our state. But we must attract more high-quality, university research if we are to compete successfully in an increasingly knowledge-based, globalized economy.

So-called Tier One universities, those that commit more than $100 million a year to research, are key to this effort, and Texas lags behind other major states in this important endeavor. California has nine Tier One universities, and New York has seven. Texas has three – the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M, which are state-supported, and Rice University, which is private.

Texas now has a new tool to close that gap – and none too soon – thanks to voters’ approval of Proposition 4, which I endorsed, on the November 3 constitutional amendments ballot. This amendment created the National Research University Fund, which will provide a dedicated source of funding to create more Tier One universities in our state.

This fund will be crucial as seven other state universities, now classified as emerging research universities, work to boost themselves into Tier One, or major research status. They are the University of Houston, Texas Tech University, the University of North Texas and University of Texas campuses in Arlington, Dallas, El Paso and San Antonio.

To tap into the new funding source, these universities will have to continue to demonstrate their commitment to research with top-flight faculty, high-achieving students, high-quality graduate programs and strong research budgets.

Investing in our universities is investing in our future.

The development of more Tier One universities in Texas will give our brightest high school graduates more top-level choices for college educations in their home state, easing a brain drain of Texas young people to prestigious schools elsewhere.

Science and technology are making more and more jobs obsolete every day. With the right support, these universities will be world leaders in research and development, opening the doors to Texas’ future prosperity by being on the cutting edge of that change.

Tom Schieffer is a former United States Ambassador to Australia and Japan, former president of the Texas Rangers baseball team, former Democratic member of the Texas House and former trustee of Tarrant County College. He is a Democratic candidate for governor.

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