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Bush no friend to tech, say Stanford panelists

The Bush administration is starving the U.S. tech industry of two crucial ingredients, according to members of a panel of academics and entrepreneurs at Stanford University: foreign students and research grants.

"If you make it difficult for foreign students to come here or work here, you will have a dramatic influence on education in the United States and the quality of industry," said Mark Horowitz, a professor of electrical engineering at the university and the founder of Rambus. "The U.S. is becoming less attractive for graduate students."

Academics often are hostile to politicians, but Stanford has typically not been a hotbed of leftist resentment--former Reagan Secretary of State George Schultz has an office here after all, as does former Defense Secretary William Perry. The engineering faculty is crawling with millionaires who founded companies while climbing up the tenure ladder. Silicon Valley is also a hotbed of limousine libertarianism. In other words, it's the sort of university where you're not going to see massive protests over capital gains cuts or multibillion dollar weapons programs. So hearing such strong statements against a conservative president is slightly novel.

The problem, according to Horowitz and others, is that the U.S. tech industry has thrived by being able to attract the best students from all over the world, who graduate and then start companies. If the pipeline gets squeezed, they will start to attend school in China or Europe.

Funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have also declined, according to Mendel Rosenblum, another Stanford professor and founder of VMWare. Grants from the agency in the 60s, 70s and 80s were instrumental in funding the development of technologies that subsequently exploited by companies such as Sun Microsystems. There has been a dramatic decline in funding and the timeline is much shorter, The Internet, for instance, was originally a DARPA program. Horowitz noted that he's had funding from a DARPA project every year, but next year he will not get any grant money.

Netscape founder Jim Clark was the most outspoken.

"We do have a unique environment here and I hope it survives eight years of bad government," Clark said. "Urge all of your friends to vote democratic."