As part of an effort to maintain a more active presence on Capitol Hill, President Robert Zimmer has appointed A Scott Sudduth to the newly created post of associate vice president for federal relations, the University announced earlier this month. The creation of the Office of Federal Relations was one of several initiatives recently discussed by Zimmer in a letter sent to the campus community late last month.
Sudduth, who will take office June 1, will leave his current post as head of federal relations at the University of California system. Sudduth was recruited through a nationwide search, said David Greene, vice president for strategic initiatives.
“It became clear rather quickly that Scott was in an elite group,” Greene said, adding that there is a great deal of excitement among the administration over Sudduth’s appointment.
Sudduth is taking office while the nation’s universities come under increased scrutiny by the federal government in recent months. Cuts in research funding and Senate efforts to obtain information about university endowment management have been among those that have directly affected the U of C. Some lawmakers have expressed concern that college costs at some of the nation’s wealthiest universities have increased significantly despite expanding endowments.
A central priority for the Office of Federal Affairs will be to increase University transparency and public understanding of its endowment practices, Sudduth said in an interview with the MAROON from his Washington office.
“I think the debate has revealed a lack of understanding about how endowments work,” Sudduth said. “There will be an effort by my office to expose the important role that endowments play in funding major research institutions like the U of C.”
Greene said that universities nationwide have been partly to blame for misunderstandings about their finances. In response, the D.C.–based office will create a system of accountability for the U of C, he said.
“Universities in general have not been especially adept about communicating policies and priorities. This is the kind of thing that comes up very quickly when Congress begins to investigate endowment payouts,” Sudduth said.
Another priority for Sudduth in the coming year will be to explore funding sources for both the Argonne National Laboratory and Fermilab, which have annual budgets of $500 million and $300 million respectively, according to a University press release in April. Both laboratories, in joint partnerships with the University and the U.S. Federal Government, recently suffered from federal budget cuts by the Office of Science.
The cuts were the result of Congress’s second consecutive failure to pass the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI), a program conceived by the Office of Science in order to increase funding for basic science with the intention of reestablishing the role of the United States as a global leader in research and innovation, said Robert Rosenberg, associate vice president for public affairs communication.
“In a very partisan town, the ACI was the one thing that everyone agreed on,” said Don Levy, vice president for research and for national laboratories and a professor in the chemistry department. “If this goes for a third year without funding, it is likely to be pushed to the very back of the table.”
In addition to his role as a representative of the University of Chicago’s individual interests, Sudduth will take part in broader conversations regarding the overall state of higher education in the United States, Greene said.