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NSF Report Could Strip Funding From IU-Run Observatory

These telescopes are in danger of losing funding following a National Science Foundation report.

Once a decade, the National Science Foundation commissions a committee to recommend how it should prioritize its funding. One of the recommendations in the most recent report suggests taking about $1.2 million in federal funding from the WIYN Observatory in Arizona, jointly operated by scientists from Yale, IU, the University of Wisconsin and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory. John Salzer chairs IU’s astronomy department and is the chair of the WIYN Board of Directors. He says de-funding the observatory would be a huge blow to IU researchers…

“This is how we do things. It’d be the equivalent of taking the chemistry department and shutting down all of their laboratories. Or going to the music department and saying ‘we’re taking away all of your auditoriums.”

The National Science Foundation’s Director of the Division of Astronomical Sciences Jim Ulvestad says that’s not the aim of the report.

“Our goal is not to put anyone on the guillotine and yet we can’t fund everything we would like to fund,” he says.

Still, Ulvestad says the NSF pays close attention to the recommendations it gets.

“If I were any of these observatories that were recommended for divestment,” says Ulvestad, “I would say that it would be an appropriate strategy for them to be out seeking other partners.”

IU’s John Salzer says WIYN Observatory officials are pursuing possible agreements with other funders, but couldn’t go into specifics.

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