NOTE: The next Research Council meeting will be held on Monday, November 24, at 3:30 p.m. in the 8th floor Board Room, Andy Holt Tower.
Comments by Bill Blass: Blass called the meeting to order and stated that the APEC report co-chaired by Prados and Burstein is located on the Chancellor’s Discussion page (easily accessed from the UTK homepage), AAUP homepage, Burstein’s homepage, and the Context homepage (http://loki.uri.utk.edu/context/oct97context/features/apec.html), and encouraged the RC to read the report as well as the Chancellor’s charge to APEC. Blass will initiate discussion later since the document shortchanges the importance of the research mission of UTK as the land- grant/flagship university in Tennessee. Blass read from the Chancellor’s charge, which asks for and protects ideas presented by researchers.
Comments by Mike Devine: Devine reported on the status of RO/RC Research Committee. Budget cuts have caused a lot of self-examination and re-examination and RC members should pay close attention to change that is underway. Undergraduates are very important, but the six or seven thousand graduate students are critical to our ability to function as a research institution. He shared the NRC’s last major 3-year study and cited UT’s ratings against THEC peers in 18 graduate programs. Our doctoral programs ranked low by comparison. One of our better departments ranked 6th out of 10 and our very strongest program ranked 4th out of 12. None rose to the very top, although we were above average for a state- appropriated institution and ranked mid-range for faculty salaries and tuition. Devine advised that we look at our departments individually and not compare one department to another. Devine and Blass have discussed the need for a focused self-study of research activities and a decision has been made to form the Research Self-Study Committee, which has been approved by the Chancellor and will be chaired by McSween. The Chancellor intends to update UT’s Five Year Plan based in part on recommendations made by this committee, which will report first to the Vice Chancellor for Research and the Research Council. Among other matters, Snyder wants to examine how indirect cost recoveries can be used for more direct support of research, but needs strong faculty support to accomplish this goal.
RC’s Comments on Devine’s Report: Baker commented that she has installed a pointer on the RC homepage to the NRC report. Sheffield said UT, Austin, benchmarks funding for the campus building program. Devine remarked that UT, Austin, is one of our peers and data suggests we’re not doing as well with our funding. Walker stated that data in the NRC report are based upon perceptions but contains a tremendous amount of hard statistics collected from universities and a copy is available in the Office of Research. Baker stated that the Library has other material available ranked by quantitative methods, such as the Gorman Report. Adcock, a graduate of UT, Austin, said that Texas state appropriations to students are modest and cited the Robert A. Welsh Foundation for Chemists, which provides a continuous inflow of money and provides research support annually for faculty—a $25-30K/year grant to virtually every moderately productive chemistry faculty member from appointment until retirement. Adcock commented that our “seed money” is virtually non-existent. Alligood added that support staff actually helped professors teach classes in other universities where she was previously employed; at UT there is an “us-them” attitude and less direct staff support. The graduate school should have a productive faculty, but we can’t keep cutting faculty and support staff and expect high productivity. Additionally, we need to recognize faculty contributions. English said that having good faculty doesn’t necessarily insure the best students. Out of his department’s stipend budget of $140,000, $40,000 have been cut from stipends at UT. He stated in his field, most schools pay around $13,000 to graduate students over a 12-month period for a half-time M.S. stipend. Jensen remarked that some schools pay up to $17,000 for M.S. stipends. She also noted that using aggregate expenditures per graduate students potentially has a “fallacy in composition” problem, because it doesn’t necessarily reflect the allocations going toward graduate programs. If UT underfunds graduate programs, our graduate enrollment will continue to drop. Schwarz recently visited NC State. He noted that Plant and Soil Sciences pays around $14,600 including added insurance benefits for graduate student and family. UT offers botany students only around $11,000+, which affects our ability to attract quality graduate students.
Devine said this information needs to be communicated to APEC. Research is now high on the agenda and UT has put a lot of money in undergraduate scholarships, which has resulted in a “pogo effect” where “we’ve met the enemy and it’s us.” NRC data gathered in 1993 or 1994 and published in 1996 must be read in context of 3-4 years ago. Sheffield recommended that the committee look at attracting good research students. Jensen remarked that the budget cuts have resulted in underfunding of graduate programs and it will be difficult to sustain graduate programs with current “soft money” levels. Fisher suggested examining the cost of generating each graduate student. Alligood said that state stipends target master’s and doctoral students rather than undergraduates. Devine remarked that the Chancellor is examining state funding and Vice Chancellor Peters is trying to meet the graduate student enrollment goal and determine what units attract quality graduate students. Walker said THEC’s formula has recognized this discrepancy, but the administration hasn’t made the effort to determine the problem’s origin.
Walker commented on concern expressed at the last RC meeting about internal competitions. EPPE fund has no deadlines and a one month turnaround time. Jodie Wehr’s replacement, Valerie Cook Bales, will start on November 3 and he will discuss the procedure for scheduling competitions with her. The Office of Research should have a date out by next week for the externally controlled NSF Major Instrumentation Program and the Summer Graduate Research Assistantships. Chancellor’s Research Awards will take place early next year or by the end of this year. Faculty have produced a lot of exhibits and publications and he will recommend another article be published in Context. He advised any faculty trying to obtain external funding attend one of the “Strategies for Winning Contract and Grant Funding” workshops scheduled for November 10 and 12 and should contact his secretary, Carla Poore, at 4-2474.
Financial Report: Maples, Office of the Controller, presented a financial report. There is a new government regulation which can be viewed on the Controller’s Office homepage. Cost-accounting standards (CAS) is a report of costs assigned to government contracts. He sent out a 50-page disclosure statement with a due date of June 30, 1997, and a revised copy has been sent to campus business offices and members of the RC. UT is not consistent on handling indirect cost-sharing, although UT has not spent government money unwisely. If direct costs are incurred, charges should be reported as direct costs. UT does not have a fiscal policy on cost-sharing or cost transfers and we need to find unlike circumstances that are allowable. He needs input on how to educate departments and principal investigators on being more consistent with federal reporting guidelines. UT has submitted a compliance statement to DHHS and Maples has drafted a more user-friendly disclosure statement for adequacy and completeness. Maples gave a presentation last week to the Chancellor’s staff and will make a second presentation next week to vice chancellors; Peters will issue the information to deans, who in turn will distribute to colleges.
Devine commented that we need to make proposals more attractive for funding by documenting more cost-sharing with federal government, but that it is currently not being reported correctly. Walker said cost-sharing should be planned for up front. English commented that faculty depend on other UT employees, such as their business offices or fiscal officers, for accounting procedures and it sounds as though faculty need more information about the mechanics of cost- sharing. Blass requested that the Special Projects Committee work with Maples on his educational task(s).
Infrastructure Report: Baker briefly commented that faculty are concerned about indirect costs being returned to research and that the graduate school has placed limitations on foreign graduate student enrollment, which seems counterproductive.
Concluding Remarks: Blass encouraged members to read and respond to the Forum homepage, composed by the Special Projects Committee co-chaired by Jensen and Baker and will begin the next meeting with a discussion about Maples’ financial report.
Adjournment: 5:05 p.m.