It’s as if the Bobcats just punted from the 50-yard line on the second down. That’s how we should feel about a recent proposal by MSU’s administration to curtail neuroscience research at MSU and change the Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience’s (CBN) mission to a primarily teaching role. This is neither in the best interests of our students nor the state of Montana.

Don’t get me wrong; teaching is fundamental to a university. However, a university is not just a bunch of buildings where faculty pass along words from dusty textbooks. Universities are the places where we expand the frontiers of human knowledge. Scientific research at MSU provides students with opportunities to participate in discovery, it creates new technologies, cures diseases and helps drive our local economy.

Thanks to 125 years of combining higher education with research, MSU is a world-class university. This is evidenced in over $120 million in externally funded research expenditures spread across multiple colleges and departments. For every federal grant dollar awarded to our faculty, an additional $0.44 goes directly to the university to cover infrastructure costs. This means that CBN, with approximately $10M in research expenditures from 7 research active faculty members, brings in an additional $4 million to MSU to help keep the lights on and support further research investments. These grants also directly pay the salaries of numerous research professionals, graduate and undergraduate students who work in CBN labs.

Unfortunately, there are people in the current administration who question the importance of research and its relevance to the mission of MSU. Administrators opposed to research generally make one of two arguments. Some say that with the recent growth of MSU’s student population, faculty efforts are better spent teaching more and larger classes. They say lecturing full-time is a better use of payroll dollars than having scientists working in labs, conducting and supervising research. Other administrators mistakenly claim that research doesn’t pay for itself when you consider the infrastructure costs in maintaining laboratories. These folks are missing the long-term benefits of research.

So what then do MSU’s research active faculty members provide to students and the state that makes research a worthwhile endeavor and a great investment? As head of CBN, I can speak directly to what our strong, active, research department brings to MSU and the state of Montana. We have a growing major of over 300 amazing students and a stellar track record of getting those students into graduate and professional schools. The acceptance rate for CBN students applying to medical or dental school averages 62 and 71 percent respectively, far above the national averages of 40 and 50 percent. In fact, CBN graduates are currently providing health care to Montanans across the state. Several of our students have received national recognition, including recent Goldwater Scholars (the nation’s premier undergraduate science scholarship), Rhodes Scholar finalists, Truman Scholars and Gilman Scholars. What attracts many of these outstanding students to CBN is the research, specifically, the chance to perform groundbreaking neuroscience research under the direct supervision of a dedicated faculty mentor. Working in our laboratories our students obtain cutting-edge research skills on par with those learned at the very best universities in the country. Many of these students are co-authors on peer-reviewed, published scientific papers, greatly increasing their competitiveness for professional or graduate school. Opportunities for undergraduate research like this are far harder to come by at less research-intensive colleges and larger universities where student to faculty ratios are much higher.

Neuroscience is by nature an interdisciplinary field. CBN faculty have teamed up with biochemists, microbiologists, engineers and computer scientists from MSU, UM and across the nation, helping to put Montana on the map as a great place for biomedical research. Four successful neuroscience-focused biotech companies have been drawn to Bozeman because of neuroscience research at MSU. These companies have, in turn, obtained millions in state, federal and private funding, creating even more employment opportunities in the Gallatin Valley.

Finally, as part of our land grant mission, CBN recently partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to establish the Center for Mental Health Research and Recovery (CMHRR) at MSU. Montana has one of the highest suicide rates in the country and mental illness touches many families in our state. The center’s mission is to develop new neural technologies for the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. Achieving this goal requires research active neuroscience faculty working to support CMHRR’s community outreach efforts.

The above is only a snapshot of the successful and vibrant CBN department. Multiply that by the number of excellent research faculty across more than 30 departments at MSU and it becomes clear that investing in research and research active faculty has provided an excellent return for MSU and the state of Montana. We hope that MSU’s administration will work with us to continue this success. If you support neuroscience research at MSU, and its important role in student education, training and job creation in the state, I urge you to contact MSU, your legislators, the governor and the Montana Board of Regents. Go Cats!

Roger Bradley is head of the Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience at Montana State.