Academia Under Trump

While many scientists tweet or blog about their disapproval of Donald Trump, not all scientists oppose the new president. What does a Trump administration portend? In academia, I worry about two areas: campus climate and science funding.

Maintaining a campus climate that welcomes students of diverse backgrounds -- including international students, historically underrepresented minorities, and LGBTQ individuals -- is a challenge. Trump’s campaign revealed a commentary that is hurtful or at least apathetic. He has neglected consequences of this rhetoric, thereby inviting harassment and violence. Dozens of incidences of discriminatory action have been reported on campuses since the election. Trump’s victory might hinder progress on diversity.

At UIC, diversity is a central part of its mission and a driving factor that motivates 4 out of 5 undergraduates to attend. Graduate student diversity is already lacking across the nation, particularly in the sciences. In UIC’s Graduate College one third of the students obtaining doctorate degrees are international graduate students and underrepresented minorities. Will international students continue to choose UIC to study, and will prospective students have difficulty acquiring their visas? Should we expect lower application rates when Canada is an attractive alternative? Will our institution and others be hindered in recruiting students of diverse backgrounds? President Obama actively promoted and funded initiatives to increase diversity within STEM. I don’t expect as much from Trump, although he lacks an overall scientific agenda.

The scientific community always hopes reductions in federal spending don’t occur. Current Office of Science and Technology Policy advisor John Holdren regrets the inability to do better on budgets and has no advice to offer his successor. Who will Trump select as his top science advisor? So far, I find Trump’s cabinet nominations are inexperienced and ill-informed. How could research funding -- for example, on climate change -- persist under his nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruit, the current attorney general of Oklahoma, who has been involved with energy corporations in a lawsuit against the EPA? The scientific community speculates that Trump may revoke the Clean Power Plan, resulting in less regulation for carbon emissions, and reduce Earth science funding within NASA. If Trump is not convinced of climate change, what science does he accept? What are his opinions on other research in STEM, and what is his budget plan? Given that Trump has yet to deliver an agenda, many scientists have concerns for their careers, and if their research will continue to receive funding. For example, both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence’s views on abortion leave the scientific community to worry about reduced funding in studies involving stem cells and gene editing.

What can scientists in the academic community do? Given that public opinion is the driving force of democratic decision-making, can we rest assured that, as expressed by Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association of the Advancement of Science, “Even an anti-establishment president-elect is not going to thumb his nose at the public”? Perhaps more institutions can create statements to affirm values within the community. UIC has reiterated its “commitment to access, equity, inclusion and nondiscrimination” through various offices and programs on campus. This year, UIC leadership hosts Campus Conversations, a series of lectures and discussions based on social justice issues. As individuals, we should take action by communicating with our legislators to advocate for science.