Our universities deserve better

From an editorial Sunday in the Fayetteville Observer:

Our state leaders often talk about “intellectual capital” and the value of the higher education and research institutions in our midst. But too often, it seems an abstraction whose heft is largely unknown.

On Wednesday, the intellectual gravity took on human form when Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for research that reveals how cells repair damaged DNA. The discoveries are leading to new treatments for cancer.

Modrich works at Duke University. Sancar is at UNC Chapel Hill.

It’s not the first time in the Nobel limelight for either institution. Such is the level of work at Triangle universities.

And yet, when we listen to public-policy debates, we don’t hear anyone discussing how we can better support the work of brilliant researchers like Modrich and Sancar. Instead, we’re preoccupied with athletic scandals, cuts in operating funds and attacks on tenure rules.

There are political scraps over who will lead our university system and which party will get the plum jobs.

And all the while, people at the universities are leading the world in research.

Maybe we should pay more attention to that.