The MBL has framed its move to join the University of Chicago as a win-win, and on a recent trip to Woods Hole some long-time scientists told me it was an inevitable move. There was some nostalgia thanks to the Laboratory’s 125-year history of independence (it was founded in 1888), but in general there seems to be agreement that the MBL was spiraling toward a budgetary ocean trench it would not have escaped alone. At least half of its yearly operating budget of around $40 million came from federal sources, including the NIH and other granting agencies like the National Science Foundation, so dropping grant rates left an ample hole for the University to fill.* Full financial details of the arrangement were not disclosed, though one of the first steps will be a competitive grant program from Chicago’s coffers that will help fill that NIH gap as well as the savings from "the University's favorable insurance rates, financial strength, and high-performing investment management," according to a press release.
As MBL President and Director Joan Ruderman said in an email, the affiliation is “a strategic move that benefits both institutions and allows us to create a stronger foundation for the lab’s scientific and financial future.”
But of course, not every institute will find a buyer or a rich university willing to take responsibility for their financial future, meaning the NIH’s drop in funding has the potential to severely wound a significant sector of the U.S. research enterprise. That may be good news for squid, but it’s bad news for science.
Correction (9/11/13): This sentence was edited after posting to more accurately state the sources that supplied funding.