Pathbreaking: Advancing research at UConn
through the Fin de Millenaire
March 30, 1998
by Robert V. Smith
The historian, Jacqueline Peterson, is fond of referring to historical scholarship as "revivifying the dead." Recently, UConn geographer John Allen collaborated in the production of a PBS special that memorably revivified Meriwether Lewis and William Clark's 1804-1806 journey -- a journey that shaped America's destiny.
The Lewis and Clark story, apart from personal bravery and dedication, is one of pathbreaking -- not just exploration but research and scholarship. The latter goals were mandated by President Jefferson who believed that enlightened understanding -- in fields from the humanities to the natural sciences -- was a key to America's future. Similar dedication to inquiry and understanding is no less important to the University of Connecticut and the citizens of Connecticut as we move toward the 200th anniversary of Lewis and Clark's legendary odyssey.
Since research and scholarship play such critical roles in the mission of the University, it is important for our academic community to craft a vision for its future. The Office of the Vice Provost for Research and Graduate Education and the Research Foundation will assist this effort, working with the academic deans, department heads, the Research Advisory Council, and the faculty to help refine and implement the research components of the University's strategic plan (Toward 2000: Change). Our vision, goals and actions will also be shaped by the recommendations of the Chancellor's Task Force on Research, which completed its work in 1996.
In this essay, the word "research" is used to embrace all university-based scholarly and creative efforts from those of natural scientists to social scientists to humanities scholars and artists. We recognize that this broad range of scholarship and creativity is essential to the life of a research university, but we also understand that to achieve excellence with limited resources, the University community must make choices of areas of emphasis within fields and among cross-disciplinary efforts. This quest, sometimes referred to as "selective excellence," requires continual planning and assessment. The planning efforts will rely on the documents noted above and others prepared through the Chancellor's office, the Research Foundation, and the academic units. The assessment efforts will include the program launched by the Chancellor's office in 1997.
In the following sections, I offer suggestions on how the University's assessment program may assist us in achieving selective excellence in research. I also offer ideas on how the University's research efforts may address national and international cultural, economic, and intellectual imperatives. The essay ends with thoughts on how the Office of the Vice Provost for Research and Graduate Education may assist in advancing UConn's research mission and how this office will continue to be responsive to the needs of the University community and society.
Assessment and Selective
Organized research units by their nature span disciplines and address problems that are not as readily tackled by individual disciplinary units such as departments. If they are to serve their missions well, such units should be flexible and able to quickly address emerging issues and opportunities. Such dynamism requires organizational, functional, and resource flexibility. Thus, we should consider whether the budgets of these units should be used to hire tenured faculty other than the individual leaders of the units.
In terms of resources, we should look at ways of using a portion of the University's indirect cost recovery dollars to support organized research units and their initiatives. To meet this objective, we will develop advisory groups (consisting of deans and faculty from the Research Advisory Council) to assist the crafting of appropriate policies for the management of each of the broad-based organized research units. We will start with the units that have most recently been involved with the Critical Technologies Program, such as the Biotechnology Center, the Environmental Research Institute, the Marine Science and Technology Center, and the Photonics Research Center. Beyond these centers, we should consider codifying consistent policies for the use of indirect cost recoveries to assist research development at department and school or college levels and including organized research units that report at these levels.
Organized research units are also important in addressing economic imperatives of our state, nation, and world communities. For example the Biotechnology Center is focusing on aquaculture research because of the dramatically expanding demand for fin fish and shell fish at a time when world stocks of these resources are dwindling. More specifically, the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization projects that yearly worldwide demand for fish products by the year 2000 will exceed supplies (obtained through traditional "catch" methods) by 35 million metric tons. Thus, our Biotechnology Center -- through its remarkable research on tilapia fish and shell fish growth and by its record of attracting aquaculture industry to Connecticut -- is serving a broad-based economic imperative, while developing methods to help increase the world's food supply.
Because of their potentially important roles in addressing cultural and economic imperatives, it is critical that we nurture high quality and effective organized research units or modify such units where societal needs have changed, and create new units as new needs arise. Here again, assessment and our dedication to selective excellence will be important components of our strategies to advance the University's research mission.
Most critical to that mission are what may be referred to as intellectual imperatives, represented primarily by faculty-directed fundamental research, scholarship, and creative efforts. These types of more traditional efforts -- individually oriented and departmentally based -- are vital to graduate education and serve as important building blocks for applied and interdisciplinary research. Thus, we must be sensitive to the needs for fundamental research, from the nanostructure efforts in physics to colonial American scholarship in history to multicultural creative efforts in the visual arts. And, like interdisciplinary research, individual and department-based research should be subject to periodic assessment and modification. Much of this work will be accomplished through the University's assessment program. The results of these assessment efforts will offer many members of our community the ability to contribute to a development paradigm useful in evolving new research initiatives: 1) thinking and reviewing broadly, 2) finding focus, 3) pursuing excellence, and 4) developing interconnections. Through this paradigm and its antecedent planning, implementation and assessments, we will ensure vibrancy in the University's research enterprise. This quest for vitality, however, will only be nurtured if individual researchers are supported in their efforts to secure research-related resources.
Combining staffs of the current Research Administration and Contracts and Corporate Grants Administration (both currently in the Whetten Graduate Center) and Grants and Contracts Office (currently in the Budds Building), the Office of Sponsored Programs will be led by an executive director who will report to the vice provost for research and graduate education and have leadership abilities and experience in both pre- and post-award sponsored programs administration. The Office of Sponsored Programs will be housed in renovated space on the first floor of the Whetten Graduate Center and will be developed and maintained as a single cohesive unit -- one that is easily accessed by UConn faculty, students, and staff, and by external visitors.
Office of Sponsored Programs staffing and personnel development will include significant cross-training and functioning as teams (e.g., a pre-award team and a post-award team) to ensure system efficiencies and professional growth. The development and growth will also be centered around continual improvement of client service.
While the Office of Sponsored Programs teams will have specific missions, these missions will be integrated and coordinated to effectively serve the development, regulatory compliance, and administrative needs of the University. Supporting these efforts will be a "can do" philosophy and service orientation, with an emphasis on enhancing opportunities for faculty, students, and staff to develop sponsored programs without encumbrances or bureaucratic entanglements.
Besides the development of the Office of Sponsored Programs, we have begun working with the Research Advisory Council to enhance the role of the Research Foundation in University-wide research development efforts. For example, we have rewritten guidelines for the Large Research Grant Program, which provides funding for approximately 70 individual faculty-directed projects per year -- each in the $2,000-20,000 range, to more effectively encourage the development of extramural grant and contract proposals. We are also discussing how recovery and dispersal of indirect cost recovery funds may more productively be used to stimulate new research initiatives.
While assisting development of grant support for research, our Research I university must also be concerned about the publication and dissemination of the results of research, scholarship, and creative efforts. Accordingly, we are discussing the possibility of developing a web-based UConn press that could serve as a new vehicle for peer-reviewed publication of journals, book-length manuscripts, and results of other creative efforts. This proposed goal deserves some elaboration.
There are several reasons for potential development of a web-based UConn press. First, it would provide a set of potential vehicles for publication of University scholarship. These new peer-reviewed vehicles could become alternatives to journals of certain commercial publishers that have exploited universities through price increases extraordinarily disproportionate to rises in inflation. By operating an electronic press, the University could avoid the costs associated with warehousing and inventory losses that commonly plague traditional university presses. At the same time, commitments to an on-line operation would encourage upgrades and development of state-of-the-art management information systems to remain competitive.
There are several other reasons for considering development of an on-line UConn press. One involves the potential to manage a type of "embargoed literature" or temporary archiving of intellectual property prior to patenting. The "embargoed" material might be accessible through the signing of confidentiality agreements for the purpose of peer-review and evaluation (e.g., for promotion and tenure), but would permit the special archiving of materials for the periods (often 10-12 months) that are frequently necessary to secure world-wide intellectual property rights to benefit inventors, the University, and the state of Connecticut.
An on-line press might also provide an outlet for archival and other works that can not otherwise be readily accessed by the public. The National Gallery in Washington, D.C., has developed a computer-based system for accessing and reviewing art works currently in storage, for finding works on display, for inspections of visual art detail, and for production of customized tours. Similar systems, made available through an on-line press, would offer unique opportunities for dissemination of the works of the visual arts and perhaps the performing arts as well.
As we consider new ways of encouraging and nurturing research and scholarship at the University, we also want to be aware of its international ramifications as our lives move culturally and economically towards globalization. Thus, it is fortuitous that the Chancellor has placed responsibility for the newly developed Office of International Affairs under the Office of the Vice Provost for Research and Graduate Education. During 1998, we will hire and ask the new executive director of the Office of International Affairs to work with staff of the office, deans, department heads, and faculty to determine the optimal organizational and functional alignments for the office to best serve the University community's needs in international arenas. We will also ask the executive director and staff to develop plans and methods for effectively integrating the education, development, and research components of theOffice of International Affair.
A Process for
Our vision and planning will also foster discussions on research development with the Research Foundation's Research and Advisory Council and with faculty, students, and staff researchers, through periodic visits with groups across our multi-campus university. Through this process and the planning, development, implementation, assessment, and selective excellence efforts alluded to earlier, we hope to assist the University in its quest for excellence in research -- to contribute to Connecticut, the nation, and our world community.
This is the first in a series of vision statements for various units of the University that flesh out the strategic plan. The text is excerpted from a longer statement. The full text is available through the Advance website. Comments and suggestions regarding UConn research and its future are welcome and can be directed to Bob Smith at (860) 486-3619 or (860) 486-5381 (fax).