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Aoun rallies presidents to support homeland security funding

Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun is leading a group of university presidents in support of critical research funding in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security budget. Aoun and 11 other presidents sent a letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano last Thursday urging the Obama administration to restore deep cuts in the Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate, which funds a range of technological advancements designed to guard against terrorist attacks and disasters.

The Science and Technology Directorate has a track record of funding university research, including institutions such as Northeastern that are among the 11 universities nationwide designated as DHS Centers of Excellence.

In the letter, Aoun and his fellow presidents wrote that this funding is essential to the basic research that leads to critical breakthroughs in national security.

“The University Programs Centers of Excellence initiative, through which universities undertake applied research on a fast-turnaround basis, has demonstrated a significant positive return on investment,” the presidents wrote. “In conjunction with industry partners and national laboratories, university contributions in developing new security technologies — from advances in explosives detection to development of underwater sensors to mitigating the effects of natural disasters — argues for additional investment.”

The university presidents noted that these vital research investments also spark the innovation that is critical to growing the nation’s economy. Steep reductions in funding, they wrote, could lead to significant private-sector job losses and a weakening of efforts to ensure the nation’s security.

The group also expressed a shared commitment to working in partnership with Secretary Napolitano to produce the innovation solutions necessary to preserve America’s future safety. This letter serves as the first step of what will be a yearlong effort to advocate in Washington for Department of Homeland Security science and technology research funding for fiscal year 2013.

The letter comes on the heels of Aoun’s visit to Washington in September, when he met with Secretary Napolitano and other senior DHS officials about Northeastern’s longstanding commitment to security research and the opportunities presented by the university’s recently-unveiled George J. Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security. The Kostas Research Institute will build on its strength in explosives detection, cyber security, underwater robotics and national resilience.

Aoun’s leadership in forming this coalition aligns with Northeastern’s commitment to use-inspired research that solves global challenges in security, health and sustainability.

Aoun has taken leadership roles in addressing other critical higher education issues on the national stage. Last February, he led a coalition of higher education leaders throughout the country to urge the Obama administration to preserve the Perkins student loan program, which benefits more than 500,000 low-income college students each year.  In 2010, Aoun led a group of college presidents in urging caution amid the U.S. Department of Labor’s plan to regulate unpaid internships, in which he argued for protecting the value of experiential learning — a signature of Northeastern’s educational model.