Director's Weekly Reports
Whenever I talk about Lamont I always try to remember to emphasize the essential role that our graduate students play in maintaining the quality of of everything we do. We received further testament to how exceptional our students are when we learned that for the SECOND time this year an AGU Outstanding Student paper award will be presented to one of DEES finest, Karen Wovkulich - for her paper entitled "Arsenic remediation enhancement through chemical additions to pump and treat operations" that was presented at the Fall Meeting in San Francisco. I doubt seriously that another institution in the US has received two of these awards this year. This is excellent - and many congratulations
The Federal stimulus package that the Senate-House Conference Committee has agreed to contains a total of $3.5B for NSF, including $2.5B for research and Related Activities (i.e. the Research Directorates), $300M for Major Research Infrastructure and $400M for Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction. NSF has to spend this in 120 days (I think that's right) so I expect it will go to programs for which they already have fully reviewed proposals. It will have long term impact over the next 2-3 years as it will relieve pressure on programs - allowing managers to fund the backlog of
activities that have been held back for lack of funding. This is really important and very very good news for us all!
The House passed this earlier today - the Senate may vote as early as this evening. It is almost too good to be true!
So this was a very good week to receive a visit from Tim Killeen, the Assistant Director for the Geosciences at NSF - he had an excellent visit on Wednesday, and I believe went away impressed. Interestingly, he had never before visited Lamont.
Last Friday on the NPR Science Friday web site, the top three video stories, led by Rusty Lotti and Peter Demenocal talking about the Core repository - a great piece, were all Lamont. Many thanks to Kevin and Kim for engineering all this.
Public visibility for the importance of our science is so important - especially as we are (at this very moment, on this very day) fighting against an amendment to the Federal Stimulus package (put forward by Senators Collins and Nelson) to delete all funding for NSF from the Bill.
The visit by NSF Division Directors Julie Morris and Bob Detrick went very well today, though, not surprisingly, their schedules were extremely hectic. Next Wednesday, Feb 11th, their boss, Tim Killeen, Assistant Director for Geosciences at NSF will be visiting and will be giving a talk in Monell in the afternoon. Perhaps we will know about the Stimulus package by then.
As reported last week, I met with the CU Senate Faculty Affairs Committee (FAC) last Friday. Earlier this week I was informed of the result of their vote on the Lamont Research Professorship plan. It was unanimously in favor. This is a major step forward. The FAC will now take this proposal forward to the next meeting of the full Senate - which takes place on February 6th (which creates a scheduling nightmare for me because that is the day that Julie Morris and Bob
Detrick are visiting from NSF). Nevertheless - there is nothing more important than this, so I will attend the Senate meeting in order to handle any questions that come up. If we clear the Senate, then the next step will be the drafting by the Provost's office of the formal language to be added to the University's statutes, establishing these new positions. This language will then have to be approved by the President and the Trustees.
Well - this is one of those weeks that started off very well - Obama's inauguration on Tuesday. And ended very badly (at least for me) because I had to squeeze in an emergency root canal on a very painful tooth - in between an interesting new donor visit on Thursday morning, a CU Council of Deans meeting on Thursday afternoon (at which was
announced the endowment payout rules for FY09/10 - sorry not public info til next week), and most importantly by far, on Friday afternoon (after the exciting root canal experience) the meeting of the CU Senate's Faculty Affairs Committee at which the vote was taken on the Lamont research professor initiative (I do not have the results yet but I believe them to be extremely favorable). This latter meeting caused me to miss the Faculty meeting this afternoon - which I really did not want to do.
The current version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009 that will be chewed upon by the Committee on Appropriations within the House of Representatives over the next couple of weeks includes additional funding of $3 billion for the National Science Foundation, $600 million for NASA Earth Sciences and $600 million for NOAA. Wonderful numbers of course, but this is a long way from becoming law. Nevertheless 'hope' is now a fashionable word - a
Presidential election was fought about it after all - so we should have some (hope that is!).
Speaking of Presidents, next Tuesday is the inauguration of Barack Obama, and this is clearly an historic event that we should not miss. Therefore it will be televised, starting at around 11 am, on the big screen in the Monell Auditorium. With concurrence of your supervisor everyone is welcome to come and enjoy the moment.
I write this from Concepcion Chile where I have been for the last three days at a meeting of the Partnership for Observations of the Global Ocean (POGO). Whenever you get Directors of Ocean Institutes from Russia, Japan, Korea, Germany, UK, Mexico, China, US (SIO and WHOI, as well as NOAA), Chile, South Africa, Canada - all in the same
room - there assuredly is some interesting conversation. The goal of the group is to build the international partnerships to advocate the national and international entities that will organize and support - establish and sustain - an operational global ocean observing system. It is a long and slow and difficult business. Unquestionably, the most rewarding part of the three days is the opportunity for one-on-one conversations with the interesting and diverse set of Directors - some are old friends and some I am meeting for the first time.
Happy New Year - a year that I hope will mark the beginning of a new era for the nation. It will undoubtedly be a tough year for us at Lamont. The global financial crisis will result in reductions in gifts, and at best we expect income from our endowment to be flat at 08 levels. But the Federal scene looks good, and providing the new administration does indeed sign off on the pending NSF appropriations bill as approved by the House and Senate - that will result in a double digit percentage increase - then some of the immediate pressures on our key programs should be relieved. Certainly 09 will be a year of important change, and although I am optimistic that most of this change will be for the good, the reality is that whenever a massive bureaucracy like the Federal Government changes its priorities then some turmoil will result - we must be agile in recognizing the new opportunities and adjusting to them quickly. (What new programs will Jane Lubchenko start at NOAA in 2010? How will DoE reshape its basic research agenda in energy and the environment? How (and/or when) will NSF implement its new emphasis on Economics, Energy and the Environment?) We have the talent and the ability to take advantage of all these possible new programs, which perhaps will more than compensate for possible reductions in private income.
I flew out to AGU on Saturday and have been constrained by a rigid schedule of meetings, dinners and events ever since arrival. I think I managed to make it to three science sessions, and was able to visit poster sessions a couple of times. I was engaged with recruitment efforts, two important meetings with excellent LDEO benefactors, an NSF oversight committee, a couple of meetings with NSF program managers, an OOI Advisory Committee - not to mention the LDEO Alumni Association reception, which was, as usual an unparalleled success. Barb Charbonnet and I had lunch with Oleg
Jardetsky on Wednesday at the Stanford Faculty Club and were amused by his stories of the planned return of Condoleeza Rice to the regular Stanford faculty in the Political Sciences Department. On Thursday afternoon I had a good meeting with Bruno Goffe - the Earth Sciences Director at INSU/CNRS in Paris and arranged a day long visit to LDEO in the spring. Apparently Sarkozy is pushing for more University-based research in France and encouraging international cooperation.
Well, the Campus Life Committee was right, again. Last Friday's Holiday party was one of the best attended and most enjoyable events in years. I thought it was scheduled way too early, but I was wrong - I think everyone had a great time and thank you to the many folks who helped organize it.
It was sad to say goodbye to Karen Bocsusis on Tuesday, as she leaves us for a well deserved retirement, after over three decades of loyal service to several generations of Lamonters. It was the week for 'goodbye' parties: the Geochemistry Division is losing two of its great junior scientists - Katherina Pahnke who is chasing the sun to the University of Hawaii, and Meredith Kelly who will chase the snow to Dartmouth College up in New Hampshire.
We suffered a great disappointment when the Senate Academic Affairs committee had to postpone its meeting at Lamont - previously planned for today. Discussion of the Lamont Research Professor plan was to be the primary agenda item. It will be rescheduled in January.
Just a normal week - no trips - simply 28 separate appointments in my diary - so the week has flown by. One of the most interesting events was a breakfast down in the city on Thursday morning for the Columbia Campaign Committee - an overwhelmingly positive and optimistic occasion. From among the many reports that were presented, I learned that both the Medical School and the Journalism school have reached their campaign fund-raising targets three years ahead of schedule..., (around $1B and $100M respectively) - so folks - yes, there is hope!
I was in DC just for the day on Monday, with Dave Goldberg, meeting with the other members of the US Implementing organizations for the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program - trying to decide upon a good strategy for navigating through the huge funding uncertainties of the next few years. Not sure how much progress we made - often these discussions end up being therapy for the participants more than anything else.
Speaking of funding uncertainties: one of the primary items on the ExCom agenda on Wednesday was a discussion of how the Observatory should adjust its budget to ready itself for the inevitable decreases in revenue from the endowment. No decisions as yet, but one thing is clear - given we are spending - campus wide - substantially more than $1M per year on utilities, then energy conservation is one of the most obvious and effective ways for us to save money. Pat O'Reilly is going to be sending out information in the coming weeks about how to make progress with this. A ten per cent decrease in energy use could have a dramatic impact on our budget woes - as well as decreasing our inevitably-too-large carbon foot-print.
I gave another presentation on the Research Professor initiative to a large group in the Faculty room in Low Library on Tuesday. It was one of Nick Dirks meetings of all the Chairs and Directors within Arts and Sciences. My perception was that it went well - an important factor being the strong and unqualified support received from Steve Goldstein representing the faculty of DEES. So, now the next step is the Senate Faculty Affairs subcommittee on December 12th.
Of course there were many other agenda items at this meeting, the most prominent of which were the cost saving steps that Arts and Sciences is planning to take in response to the economic downturn. Naturally we are engaged in similar discussions internal to Lamont - it is a very difficult and uncertain time - and we must strive to find a path that navigates judiciously between the classic path of denial - doing nothing until the sky falls - and unnecessary over-reaction to a crisis that in fact will impact an institution like Lamont quite differently from most other units within the University.
I ran out of time today.
But it has been a good week. A couple more significant steps forward with the Research Professor initiative.. I met with the co-chairs of the Senate Faculty Affairs subcommittee, and they have decided to schedule their next meeting for December 12th here at Lamont, at which time I will make a formal presentation to them asking for their endorsement as we go forward to the full Senate. I also met with members of the Executive Committee of the Faculty of the Arts and Sciences, and will be engaging in a continuing dialog with them in the coming weeks - again asking for their endorsement of our plans.
It is not possible to comment upon the events of this week without talking about Tuesday -we should all be forever proud of this day - no matter our political inclination. Our democratic system - so often the source of delay, inaction and frustration - worked the way it should.
Washington is now awash with the transition process, but it will be sometime before we know much of decisions that are important to us. Non-cabinet level political appointments (like for example the Administrators of NOAA and NASA) on average take 8-12 months to be filled - Senate ratification being one key source of delay. But we may see some early decisions on the structure and authority of any new White House science advisory structure - which should provide insight into the role that research and education will have within the new President's inner circle.
The Obama transition team is trying to move quickly - they have already approached our representative organizations in DC (principally UCAR and Ocean Leadership) with a deadline of November 12th for input and advice on key climate-ocean-environment leadership positions.
We hosted the MARGINS Program national steering committee on Monday, under the leadership of Geoff Abers - they are preparing for a major review in the coming months that will shape the size and direction of the program for the next decade. Needless to say everyone is hopeful that the arrival of a marine geophysicist (Bob Detrick) as the new Division Director for the Earth Sciences Division (he starts on Monday) will result in renewed interest from the solid earth side of NSF in the support of ocean margin research.
I was fortunate to spend time with Lee Goldman on Tuesday ( Exec VP for Health Sciences and Dean of the Faculties of Health Science and Medicine) - he runs the Medical center which constitutes something close to half of the whole of CU. The subject of the meeting was exclusively our initiative to establish research professorships at LDEO - we share many of the same issues (though on a slightly different scale!) - and I was very pleased by how much understanding and support that I received - a very positive step forward.
It was our privilege to entertain Stephanie Comer and her husband on Campus on Monday afternoon - Taro gave an update on the successful pCO2 measurements that are being made continuously from the Comer family motor yacht - Turmoil - as she travels the world's oceans, and it was a great opportunity to show off the Comer Building now it is
populated and beginning to function as a real research facility.
Scheduling conflicts forced me to miss the Chilli cook-off - apologies to everyone - I am confident it was more fun that whatever it was I was doing on Wednesday afternoon!
The Effort reporting education session on Wednesday morning - presented by Naomi Schrag, Associate Vice President for Research Compliance and Richard Ruttenberg, Associate Controller - was attended by only two folks who were not part of Admin. I hope (naive soul that I am) that this means that all questions pertaining to this important process have been satisfactorily answered!
The press release went out yesterday announcing that Walter Alvarez of UC Berkeley is the winner of the 2008 Vetlesen Prize (see our web page for details). I am extremely pleased with this selection - Walter is a wonderful person (and an ex-Lamonter - Doc Ewing's last post doc apparently) - and we greatly look forward to hosting him for the medal
ceremony, to be presided over by Lee Bollinger in Low Library on November 21st. It is a testament to his continued active involvement in geological research and education that it took me a week to track him down and give him the good news - because he was in the field outside cell phone coverage.
It has taken too long for me to live up to a promise that I made to everyone at a Lamont-wide meeting in early 2007 - but finally we now have a new full-time position in the Director's office with the title Assistant Director for Academic Affairs and Diversity. Dr Kuheli Dutt joined us on Monday of this week to take on this new role. She will have a steep learning curve in the coming months as she learns the unique characteristics of this complex organism that is Lamont, and I hope everyone will offer help and support as appropriate. Kuheli's appointment is one of the most substantial steps we have taken in our mission to continuously improve the quality of the work environment on campus. Naturally she will be working closely with Robin Bell and the ADVANCE program.
There was a great fire in Rome in 64 AD, and Nero was in the city at the time, but whether he actually played some kind of musical instrument while the fire was raging is somewhat uncertain. (He certainly did not play a fiddle - they were not invented for another thousand years or more). In stark contrast, however, it seems quite certain (because it was reported in Nature [Global Carbon Project, 2008] and who doesn't believe everything they read in Nature?) that the rate of increase of CO2 levels in our atmosphere is increasing - I repeat - the rate of increase is increasing - (2.2ppm per year in 2007 versus average 2.0ppm per year for 2000-2007 versus average 1.5ppm per year for 1980-2000). While this is going on (and the world financial markets are collapsing), our nation is debating whether the husband of a vice presidential candidate engaged in vengeful action against the supervisor of the ex-husband of his wife's sister.
Sometimes I worry about our future.
Open House last Saturday was a great event. Despite the cold early start to the day the afternoon was beautiful and we had over 3200 folks exploring our campus. Attendance was down from last year. I do not know anybody who knows why - but it was nevertheless a wholly successful day. The only organizational crisis of which I was aware was the lack of bottle openers and cork screws at the post-event party. This omission served to emphasize another of Al Queda's
destructive impacts on our world - the significant reduction in the number of air-travel-weary researchers who routinely carry a Swiss army knife in their pocket.
The dinner to celebrate the award of the Vetlesen Prize for 2008 will be held (in the Low Library) on November 21st. I am not free to announce the identity of the awardee (who will receive a cheque for $250,000) for another week or so, but as in previous years we have identified a great leader in our field whose name will add further prestige to the Prize and to the great Foundation that supports it.
Speaking of awards, I was extremely pleased to learn this week that our own Won-Young Kim has won much deserved recognition from the Seismological Society of America for his outstanding contributions to observational seismology by winning the Jesuit Seismological Association Award. The Jesuits played a substantial role in the early development of global observational seismology, and to have Won-Young honored by such an historic group is indeed a testament to his contributions.