The foundation battles to get the best and the brightest

WASHINGTON--William WuIf is the kind of person who believes that when you’ve been supported by a system, you have an obligation to give something back someday. So the University of Virginia computer scientist was sorely tempted when the National Science Foundation asked him to come to Washington for two or three years to run its computer and information science and engineering directorate. As a young professor, Wulf had benefited from NSF grants during’ 13 years at Carnegie Mellon University. Now, as a rotating administrator, he would be able to nurture others.

But there’s giving back and giving back. Wulfs endowed chair at U.Va. came with a salary well above $100,000 a year, while the NSF is legally barred from paying more than $12,500 to its assistant directors. Luckily, the university made Wulfs choice easy: it offered to cover the income...

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