Issue Date: November 10, 2008
Research Foundations Cut Back
THE CAMILLE & HENRY DREYFUS Foundation announced last month that it is suspending three of its scientific research funding programs due to endowment losses. In the wake of the global financial crisis, other foundations are also facing difficult choices, but not all are cutting back.
The Dreyfus Foundation will honor current awards but will not accept new applications for two programs to fund starting faculty or for a program to promote emeritus faculty working with undergraduate students. The move is "to secure the foundation," which has no source of income other than what comes from endowment investments, says the foundation's executive director, Mark J. Cardillo.
The foundation's endowment was worth about $120 million at the end of 2007. Cardillo declined to specify how much the fund lost in recent weeks, but executives of other foundations say they are generally seeing endowment declines of about 20%.
The Petroleum Research Fund (PRF), managed by the American Chemical Society, also warned last month that it may have to postpone funding of 2009 proposals to 2010. A clause in the PRF trust agreement mandates that the fund can use only investment income—it cannot withdraw endowment funds—if the endowment drops below $400 million, which it did on Oct. 10. Like other foundations, PRF normally distributes annually 5% of a three-year rolling average of endowment value.
The Welch Foundation and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), however, are not cutting programs at this time, representatives say. "We realize that basic research in particular is a long-term process, so we don't like to start and stop," Welch President Norbert Dittrich says. The Welch endowment was $614 million and HHMI's was $17.5 billion as of Aug. 31. The Keck Foundation declined to comment on how the economic climate might affect its programs.
The Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement (RCSA) is also maintaining its grant programs and will launch two interdisciplinary research initiatives this year, President James M. Gentile says. Prior to September, the RCSA endowment was about $170 million. RCSA is trimming administrative costs through measures such as freezing salaries.
The RCSA board did debate cutting programs at a board meeting on Nov. 1, Gentile says, but ultimately it decided that in a difficult science funding climate, it is imperative that the board maintain current funding levels. "We sucked it up and said we have to continue funding, even if we do have to spend some of our endowment funds," Gentile says. He adds that "foundations are caught between a rock and a hard place, between being a foundation in perpetuity and a foundation in needy times."
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