Lamont Weekly Report, November 21, 2008

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 spent Wednesday and most of Thursday in DC at a meeting of the Trustees of Ocean Leadership - one of our most important representative organizations in Washington. Frankly I was extremely surprised by the positive nature of some of the news. Leon Panetta (ex White House Chief of Staff and ex Director of OMB) is on the Board - he remains very well connected on the Hill and with the Obama transition team, and is experienced with the process of administration transitions.

As we all know, NSF is operating under a 'Continuing Resolution' right now (i.e. they do not have a 'real' budget and are restricted to spending at a level 90 percent of last years budget). Current wisdom is that this will remain the case until March, but also that the NSF 09 funding bill will be ready for Obama's signature at the end of January. The key numbers here are as follows:  Presidents request for NSF overall and for OCE respectively are $6065M and $311M. Both the House and the Senate have increased these requests to $6854M and $354M - healthy increases.  All the Trustees were very pleasantly surprised to hear Leon Panetta say that he believed that these new increased funding levels for FY09 were "pretty realistic". We will find out in March (most likely) whether Mr. Panetta's optimism is well placed……….or not.

There was also a lot of discussion about the transition process - more specifically about the key political appointments - there are no specifics here. All kinds of speculation of course, but the folks who actually know what is going on are not talking. Mario Molina (Nobelist - co-author of the 1974 ozone hole paper, now at UCSD) is leading Obama's OSTP transition team - he is certainly a friend to our discipline. Monica Medina (ex NOAA General Counsel) and Sally Yozell(ex NOAA, currently with Battelle) head the NOAA transition effort.

And of course there are many reports on the major science programs that Ocean Leadership manages - the Ocean Observatories Initiative achieved a major success by progressing with flying colors through a major week-long Design Review process managed by the NSF MREFC office.  And finally the Ocean Drilling program is ready to start operating again at a significant level.  It seems certain that the JOIDES Resolution will leave the Singapore shipyard in January to start essentially a full year of operations in 09.  This will be a very good thing!

The highlight of the week of course is the Vetlesen award ceremony this evening down at the Low Library. It was wonderful to host this year's awardee, Walter Alvarez, at Lamont on Thursday, and I hope everyone saw his wonderful talk in Monell.  President Bollinger will be presenting Walter with his beautiful solid gold medal and cheque for $250K later this evening.

And we should remember that today many thousands of miles away, Wally Broecker is receiving the Balzan Prize in Italy - November 21st is clearly a popular day for medal-giving.

On Monday I go back down to DC for a daylong meeting with the other leaders of the US Implementing organizations for the ocean drilling program.  And soon after that Thanksgiving will be upon us.

Have a great weekend,