Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Statement by the President to the Cabinet and Memorandum on Strengthening Academic Capability for Science

September 14, 1965

Throughout the postwar years, it has been my abiding and actively-supported conviction that the policies of this Nation in support of the advance of science would have a decisive role in determining the extent to which we fulfill our potential as a Nation--and a free society.

On occasion, during these years, there have appeared attitudes almost medieval in their myopia toward the meaning and promise of the growth of human knowledge. Happily, these attitudes have not prevailed and our national policies have been guided by reason, light, and faith in the future of man. As a result, American science today leads the world--free, unfettered, and devoted to the ends of bettering the condition of man in every land.

I say this, by way of preface, because I am proud of the part I have been privileged to play--in the Congress and as Vice President--in opening the doors through which we have moved to some of our most significant scientific gains. Now, in this Office I am determined that we shall marshal our resources and our wisdom to the fullest to assure the continuing strength and leadership of American science and to apply the information yielded by its inquiry to the problems which confront our society and our purposes in the world.

Our policies and attitudes in regard to science cannot satisfactorily be related solely to achievement of goals and ends we set for our research. Our vision in this regard is limited at best. We must, I believe, devote ourselves purposefully to developing and diffusing--throughout the Nation--a strong and solid scientific capability, especially in our many centers of advanced education. Our future must rest upon diversity of inquiry as well as the universality of capability.

This is very much a concern and a responsibility of the Federal Government and all the departments and agencies of the executive branch.

Today the Federal Government is spending $15 billion annually on research and development activities. Nine percent of this--$1.3 billion--is being spent in our universities on research grants and contracts. Additional sums are spent for educational purposes such as fellowship or training grants and the programs provided by the Higher Education Facilities Act or the National Defense Education Act.

The impact of these Federal funds is significant. They account for about two, thirds of the total research expenditures of colleges and universities. The manner in which such funds are spent clearly has a most important effect upon advanced education in this country and upon the future of our Nation's universities.

Almost all of the Federal research money is provided to produce results that are needed now and in the future to achieve our many national goals in health, in defense, in space, in agriculture, and so on. Of the total provided to universities, 34 percent comes from the National Institutes of Health, 23 percent from the Department of Defense, 9 percent from NASA, 6 percent from the AEC, and 4 percent from Agriculture. Only 13 percent is provided by the National Science Foundation-the only agency which supports science and science education as such.

The purpose of the new policy statement I am issuing today is to insure that our programs for Federal support of research in colleges and universities contribute more to the long-run strengthening of the universities and colleges so that these institutions can best serve the Nation in the years ahead.

At present, one-half of the Federal expenditures for research go to 20 major institutions, most of which were strong before the advent of Federal research funds. During the period of increasing Federal support since World War II, the number of institutions carrying out research and providing advanced education has grown impressively. Strong centers have developed in areas which were previously not well served. It is a particular purpose of this policy to accelerate this beneficial trend since the funds are still concentrated in too few institutions in too few areas of the country. We want to find excellence and build it up wherever it is found so that creative centers of excellence may grow in every part of the Nation.

Under this policy more support will be provided under terms which give the university and the investigator wider scope for inquiry, as contrasted with highly specific, narrowly defined projects. These and many more actions will increase the capacity of our universities to produce well-trained scientists and to serve as a source of the ideas on which our national welfare depends.

By adopting this policy, I am asking each agency and department with major research responsibilities to reexamine its practices in the financing of research. I want to be sure that, consistent with agency missions and objectives, all practical measures are taken to strengthen the institutions where research now goes on, and to help additional institutions to become more effective centers for teaching and research.

Memorandum for Heads of Departments and Agencies

A strong and vital educational system is an essential part of the Great Society. In building our national educational system, we must bear in mind all of the parts, and all of the levels--from Head Start for preschool children to the most advanced university levels. At the apex of this educational pyramid, resting on the essential foundation provided for the lower levels, is the vital top segment where education and research become inseparable. The Federal Government has supported academic research in agriculture for over a half century and in the physical sciences, life sciences, and engineering since World War II; the returns on this national investment have been immense.

Of the $15 billion which the Federal Government is spending in research and development activities this year, $1.3, or about 9 percent, is spent in universities. The $1.3 billion, which includes only Federal research grants and contracts, accounts for about twothirds of the total research expenditures of our American colleges and universities. Over 25,000 graduate students in engineering, mathematics, physical and life sciences are supported indirectly by employment under these research grants and contracts. Plainly the Federal expenditures have a major effect on the development of our higher educational system.

The strength of the research and development programs of the major agencies, and hence their ability to meet national needs, depends heavily upon the total strength of our university system. Research supported to further agency missions should be administered not only with a view to producing specific results, but also with a view to strengthening academic institutions and increasing the number of institutions capable of performing research of high quality.

The functions of the Federal agencies in relation to the strengthening of academic institutions are as follows:

a. The National Science Foundation continues to have responsibility for augmenting the research capabilities of academic institutions in all fields of science through the support of basic research and research facilities and through measures for improving the quality of education in the sciences;

b. The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare will contribute to the overall development of colleges and universities and to the development of health professional schools, particularly through programs of the Office of Education and the Public Health Service;

c. All Federal agencies with substantial research and development programs have an interest and need to develop academic capabilities for research and scientific education as a part of their research missions.

To the fullest extent compatible with their primary interests in specific fields of science, their basic statutes, and their needs for research results of high quality, all Federal agencies should act so as to:

a. Encourage the maintenance of outstanding quality in science and science education in those universities where it exists;

b. Provide research funds to academic institutions under conditions affording them the opportunity to improve and extend their programs for research and science education and to develop the potentialities for high quality research of groups and individuals, including capable younger faculty members;

c. Contribute to the improvement of potentially strong universities through measures such as:

--Giving consideration, where research capability of comparable quality exists, to awarding grants and contracts to institutions not now heavily engaged in Federal research programs;

--Assisting such institutions or parts of institutions in strengthening themselves while performing research relevant to agency missions, by such means as establishing university-administered programs in specialized areas relevant to the missions of the agencies.

Funds for these purposes should he provided on a scale and under conditions appropriate to the mission of an agency and in accordance with any Government-wide policy guidelines which may be established.

Departments and agencies should carefully assess the degree to which and the manner in which their existing programs support this policy, and when indicated, should use a larger proportion of their research funds in accordance with the intent of the policy. The means for attaining this objective will be determined by each department and agency. In carrying out the policy, the various Federal agencies supporting research at a university should act in concert to a greater degree in making decisions, so as to make the university better able to meet the collective needs of the agencies and to make the Federal support most effective in strengthening the university.

My Special Assistant for Science and Technology, Dr. Donald Hornig, with the help of the Federal Council for Science and Technology, will follow the response of the departments and agencies to this policy. I have asked him to obtain monthly progress reports and submit them to me.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Statement by the President to the Cabinet and Memorandum on Strengthening Academic Capability for Science Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Simple Search of Our Archives