26, No. 17, April 5, 2007
Future of Campus Research Board discussed
Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
An article in the March 15 issue of Inside Higher Education raised concerns among some UI faculty members that the Campus Research Board, which helps support research by scholars at Urbana, could be disbanded or its funding reduced.
In a March 27 e-mail message to faculty members, Charles Zukoski, vice chancellor for research, said that he is seeking the advice of the Research Policy Committee about possible restructuring of the research board’s policies and how best to direct its funding in Fiscal Year 2008, which begins July 1, to “support strategic initiatives and build excellence by increasing our capacity to establish transformative scholarship and research programs.”
“This long-standing and valued campus resource is feeling the financial impact of five years of campus budget reductions and rescissions,” Zukoski wrote. “In addition, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research faces significant demands for resources allocated toward strategic campus priorities, including faculty recruitment and retention. These financial pressures cannot be reconciled without significant reallocations. … The question before us is how to build and sustain excellence within the available budget.”
Funds for the Campus Research Board are primarily institutional money, with a small percentage of indirect cost reimbursements from funding agencies, supplemented by several endowments, including an endowment from the Arnold O. and Mabel Beckman Foundation.
The research board oversees three programs: a grant program that provides annual awards up to $25,000; the Scholars Travel Fund, which provides funds for scholars in targeted areas to present original papers at scholarly meetings; and the Humanities Released Time program, which enables departments in the humanities to hire teaching assistants or other instructors to take over a portion of faculty members’ teaching responsibilities so they can work on specific research projects.
The 15-member Research Policy Committee includes eight faculty members nominated by the Urbana-Champaign Senate; Richard Wheeler, dean of the Graduate College; a representative from the Campus Research Board; an undergraduate student and a graduate student.
Zukoski said he also will seek advice from the college deans, department heads, Chancellor Richard Herman and Provost Linda Katehi. Among the issues to be discussed is the balance of allocations to the research board relative to other funding mechanisms, such as the Critical Initiatives in Research and Scholarship and funding for faculty recruitment and retention.
Zukoski said it is “enormously unlikely that we would get rid of (the Campus Research Board). It’s much, much too valuable, and it would be too abrupt just to kill it for next year.”
During Fiscal Year 2006, the research board’s total expenditures were $3.4 million, which included $700,000 for awards made in FY05 that was carried over. More than half – 52 percent – was awarded to scholars in the fine and applied arts and the humanities; 48 percent was distributed to other disciplines across campus. The board makes about 230 awards each year, with grants averaging about $10,500. The awards are viewed as a critical source of seed funding or gap funding by scholars who have limited departmental and external resources.
The board’s funding was cut more than 23 percent in FY07, but if the board’s awards disappeared altogether, “it would mean that people in departments like mine would have virtually no way to get research assistants when we need them because we don’t have the funds within the department, and the research we do isn’t grant supported, so we don’t get (external) support for them,” said Richard Schacht, chair of the department of philosophy. “In the sciences, people just take for granted that they’ll have research assistants because they make provisions for them in their grants. We have equipment needs, travel needs, research assistant needs, and there’s no place other than the research board to turn to for these things.”
Schacht raised some of those concerns during the senate meeting on March 26, and Herman assured senators that the campus administration values all its scholars and will continue to support their work.
One option that administrators may explore is hiring grant writers, Herman said.
Additionally, Herman, Katehi and senate members are creating an informal working group that will develop a campus-level initiative aimed at fostering creative innovation and excellence in arts and humanities scholarship and inquiry, one of the goals in Herman’s strategic plan for the campus.
Faculty members can submit their feedback and ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org for the Research Policy Committee to consider as it explores issues relative to the Campus Research Board.