Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Letter from Robert B. Gagosian, President and Director
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Tioga crew, WHOI personnel and members of the Smith family along with others who supported the new coastal research vessel, gathered at its launch in March at Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding in Somerset, Massachusetts. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, WHOI Graphic Services)
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Bob Gagosian encourages Jim Moltz, chairman of the Board of Trustees, at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new laboratories being built on the Quissett Campus. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, WHOI Graphic Services)
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From left, Bob Gagosian, Corporation Chair Tom Wheeler, and Board Chair Jim Moltz were among those attending a formal trustee event in New York on January 6, 2005, the 75th anniversary of the Institutionís incorporation. (Photo by Elas Ruiz)
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In 2004 we made significant strides in affirming the leadership position of our Institution and in preparing for difficult times for federally funded basic research.

We took major steps to enhance our science and education, both ashore and at sea.

On the Quissett Campus, we broke ground (photo at right) for much-needed new laboratory space, adding 80,000 square feet to relieve crowding of our scientists and to accommodate newer technologies. The project is on time and on budget, with occupancy scheduled for late 2005. We also provided 10,000 square feet of space in the village for our Deep Submergence Group.

We signed a $21.6-million cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to build a replacement for the venerable and industrious submersible, Alvin, which was 40 years old in 2004. The replacement sub, which will be the deepest diving and most technically advanced in the world, is scheduled for launch in 2008. We also began the design phase for a hybrid remotely operated vehicle, an innovative mix of free-swimming and tethered vehicle designs, which will operate to the deepest ocean depths of 36,000 feet—deeper than Mt. Everest is high.

Tioga, our new coastal research vessel, completed its first eight months of operations, logging 75 trips in support of WHOI science and our at-sea education for undergraduate summer student fellows, and for media outreach.

A joint grant from NSF and the National Institute of Environmental Health and Sciences funded a new $6.5-million Woods Hole Center for Oceans and Human Health based at WHOI and operated jointly with Marine Biological Laboratory and MIT. The center will coordinate research at the intersection of oceanographic, biological and environmental health sciences.

An external review committee for our graduate education efforts reported that “the MIT/WHOI Joint Program remains a (if not the) top educational program covering all the marine sciences and engineering”—a ringing endorsement of the quality of our faculty, staff, and students. In addition, WHOI rated in the top ten U.S. institutions for postdoctoral researchers nationwide in a reader survey conducted by the magazine The Scientist.

A changing attitude toward science
While I’m proud of our accomplishments, we face new challenges that come from a changing attitude toward science in the United States.

In 2004, a modest increase in NSF ocean sciences funding did not keep pace with demand for important research. A rising percentage of highly rated proposals are being turned down, which has a demoralizing effect on our scientists.

As we anticipate declining research support from federal agencies, my focus remains on controlling nonscience expenses while building sources of revenue. Here, there is some good news. With the support and efforts of our Board, our fund raising passed $115 million toward our campaign goal of $200 million. The campaign enters its public phase in 2005.

Thanks to the talent of our trustee investment committee and a rebound in Wall Street, by 2004 we recovered the endowment principle lost in the market downturn since 2001, while distributing more than $13 million per year since then to support our science. Our endowment ended 2004 at $291 million, with a 12% annual average rate of return, outperforming our benchmark. On the expense side of the balance sheet, our discipline in controlling administrative costs contributed to positive financial results. We are also addressing increasing health care and retirement benefits costs.

A priority for 2005 will be to promote recognition of the importance of our science. Gone are the days of my youth when science, while perhaps not widely understood, was at least widely valued. We can no longer assume the importance of our work is self-evident to the public and those in government. Peer-reviewed journal articles are no longer enough. The public must hear if we are to win its support for science. Congress must hear. The White House must hear. I believe that if the science community does not advocate for science, no one else will.

Advocating for science
Our Ocean Institutes, with their mission to communicate the importance of our work, are pioneering an approach that will make our research and its benefit to society broadly understood and appreciated. This step is essential to win further federal support for research.

The continuing success of our researchers requires that they write ever more proposals, eroding the time spent on science. Today, the average WHOI researcher writes four to six proposals a year and some write as many as a dozen. Those that are funded, are often at a level below what they need to achieve their scientific objectives.

In this environment, private funding increasingly enables science that likely would not have happened otherwise. Today about 20% of the Oceanographic’s science is underwritten by private sources and we are working hard to increase that figure. Private funding is needed to maintain our ability to do high-risk, high-reward science that catalyzes our scientific leadership and pays dividends to society in the long run.

There is some good news in the research arena, despite difficulties with the NSF budget. The crossroads we stand at today, on the threshold of the 75th anniversary of our Institution, presents opportunities we have not encountered in decades. The recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy promise to reinvent our country’s policy and funding framework for ocean science. Congress has renewed consideration of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy recommendations, with hearings likely to stretch until July 2005.

What would implementation of the Commission recommendations mean for WHOI?

We are uniquely prepared to take advantage of a renewed emphasis on oceanography.

First, we have an unmatched scale of sea-going expertise— ships, tethered and autonomous vehicles, buoys and observatories, and we are building a new human- occupied submersible.

Second, we have a unique partnership of science and engineering. We don’t just buy new technology off the shelf and adapt it. We invent it, design it, build it, test it, and deploy it.

Third, we have excellent academic programs that cultivate the inventive minds we will need in the future.

A renewed emphasis on ocean science would mean reinvigorated demands placed on ocean scientists and engineers. Not only are we qualified to meet these demands, the Ocean Institutes have proved their ability to incubate new ideas, and multiply small private investments into major federal support.

For 75 years, researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have proved their adaptability. During World War II, we did mainly defense-related work. During the height of the Cold War, our scientific and technical innovation kept our Navy a step ahead of the Soviet navy.

Today, we are in another time of change and I am confident that the world-class creativity and enterprise we nurture in our extraordinary village will lead us productively into new waters.

Robert B. Gagosian
President and Director

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