LEGAL? Feds prioritize 'underrepresented groups' in awarding federal research grants

The National Institutes of Health are offering grants to researchers from “underrepresented groups.”

One expert questioned the legality of such a qualification.

The National Institutes of Health, which routinely awards federal taxpayer dollars to professors and other academics, is now offering grants to researchers from “underrepresented groups.”

In May 2020, the agency posted a funding opportunity called “Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research,” with the goal of enhancing “the diversity of the research workforce by recruiting and supporting students, postdoctorates, and eligible investigators from diverse backgrounds, including those from groups that have been shown to be underrepresented in health-related research.”

“NIH’s ability to help ensure that the nation remains a global leader in scientific discovery and innovation is dependent upon a pool of highly talented scientists including those from underrepresented groups, and others who will help to diversify the workforce to help further NIH’s mission,” continued the description.

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The agency explained that fostering diversity in scientific research “is a key component of the NIH strategy to identify, develop, support and maintain the quality of our scientific human capital.” 

According to the grant description, Black, Hispanic, American Indian, and Native Hawaiian researchers are underrepresented in biomedical research.

Awards can be “used to cover cost increases that are associated with achieving certain new research objectives,” though they “are limited to no more than the amount of the current parent award, and must reflect the actual needs of the proposed project.” 

Each individual administrative supplement could range between $5,000 and $100,000. 

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In addition to funding the full salaries of researchers from ethnic minorities, grants could cover annual travel expenses of up to $3,000 for baccalaureate and master’s degree holders, $4,000 for graduate students, $6,000 for students in postdoctoral training, and $10,000 for “investigators developing independent research careers.”

The NIH states that it will consider “demographic characteristics of participants” to determine funding eligibility.

National Association of Scholars Director of Research David Randall told Campus Reform that on the first impression, the NIH’s grant program violates nondiscrimination law.

“While one cannot predict what judges will do to allow discrimination, enterprising lawyers will doubtless be making phone calls to prospective clients,” he said.

Randall pointed out that “American merit-based science produced the nuclear bomb, the transistor, and the polio vaccine.” Equity-based science “would need to produce extraordinary benefits to exceed those produced by merit-based science.”

Campus Reform reached out to the NIH for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft