It Pulled The Plug On Two Engineering Centers, Provoking Debate Over Its Program Goals
The National Science Foundation’s announcement in 1985 that it hoped to set up a network of up to 25 university-based engineering research centers set off a frantic scramble to snare a center—and a roiling debate about the value of the idea. After all, Director Erich Bloch’s vision to spend a half-billion dollars over the next decade on projects intended to improve both U.S. industrial competitiveness and the training given the next generation of engineers raised the pulse of academics accustomed to NSF’s strong support of individual researchers.

Three years later, the passion hasn’t abated. But disappointment and disillusionment have replaced the initial excitement. In March, the NSF decided to withdraw its support over the next two years to two of the six original centers, saying they were "doing a poor job." The centers, in turn, have...

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