Barriers to Access to Research

Why can’t emerging research institutions simply be transformed into robust research enterprises? For that matter, why can’t their faculty successfully compete for research funding, thereby garnering the resources to encourage and sustain this significant activity? How does one initiate research in an environment that is not necessarily research friendly?

Workshop participants addressed these questions by describing the environment that illustrates the problems confronting many ERIs and citing examples.

BRANDING

There is a strong temptation to believe that while the institution’s environment may not be optimal, a well-qualified, highly motivated faculty member at an ERI competes on a level playing field with research institutions for federal research funding. No one confirmed this view at the workshop. Mario Diaz (professor of physics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and director of the Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy at the University of Texas at Brownsville) spoke forcefully of the credibility gap that his physics research group had to constantly overcome because of peer reviewers’ preconceived notions of the capabilities of his institution. The branding problem was compounded by many of the metrics expressly considered during peer review; for example, number of publications or laboratory infrastructure. Many workshop participants argued that each of these parameters reflected the institution’s image as



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Barriers to Access to Research Why can’t emerging research institutions simply be transformed into robust research enterprises? For that matter, why can’t their faculty suc- cessfully compete for research funding, thereby garnering the resources to encourage and sustain this significant activity? How does one initiate research in an environment that is not necessarily research friendly? Workshop participants addressed these questions by describing the environment that illustrates the problems confronting many ERIs and citing examples. BRANDING There is a strong temptation to believe that while the institution’s environment may not be optimal, a well-qualified, highly motivated fac- ulty member at an ERI competes on a level playing field with research institutions for federal research funding. No one confirmed this view at the workshop. Mario Diaz (professor of physics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and director of the Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy at the University of Texas at Brownsville) spoke forcefully of the credibility gap that his physics research group had to constantly over- come because of peer reviewers’ preconceived notions of the capabilities of his institution. The branding problem was compounded by many of the metrics expressly considered during peer review; for example, number of publications or laboratory infrastructure. Many workshop participants argued that each of these parameters reflected the institution’s image as 

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0 PARTNERSHIPS FOR EMERGING RESEARCH INSTITUTIONS much as or more than the investigator’s credentials. They felt that the use of “productivity” metrics (the absolute amount accomplished for a given stage of an investigator’s career), rather than “efficiency” metrics (the amount accomplished per unit of research funding) also invariably favored researchers from research universities. The difficulty of overcoming negative branding peppered ongoing discussions at the workshop. For example, one Historically Black College or University (HBCU) researcher spoke of her experience ghost-writing proposals for a more prominent institution. Those proposals were all funded, yet similar proposals written under her own institution’s name were not funded. Another HBCU researcher spoke of the very different social reception she received when introducing herself as being from Georgetown University (one of her affiliations) versus The University of the District of Columbia (another of her affiliations). Many participants felt that faculty at lesser-known institutions may experience the type of subtle prejudice and implicit bias described in the National Academies’ Beyond Bias and Barriers report.1 For example, some participants commented on the disparity between the proposal success rate of these institutions and the success rate of more well-known research institutions vis-a-vis federal agencies that fund research. FACULTY TIME While negative branding was described variously as annoying, dis- couraging, and—from time to time—patently unfair, the most concrete, insoluble problem faced by ERI researchers was identified frequently as simply the lack of time to do research. Terrence Johnson (chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at Tennessee State University) and Arlene Cole-Rhodes (associate professor of the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at Morgan State University) described this problem. They emphasized that teaching loads at ERIs were high, typi- cally 3 to 4 courses a semester—about twice or three times the teach- ing load of a typical faculty member at a research university. Moreover, because ERIs try to ensure the greatest possible access to courses for stu- dents, classes were often taught during the day and evenings both, and included both Monday-Wednesday-Friday and Tuesday-Thursday slots. This meant there were no blocks of uninterrupted time during which to perform research. The Johnson and Cole-Rhodes presentations pointed out that, in addition, many ERIs require their faculty to take on very serious and 1NAS, NAE, IOM. 2007. Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Aca- demic Science and Engineering. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

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 BARRIERS time-intensive student advising responsibilities. Also, any faculty mem- ber who engaged in research could count on being delegated numerous administrative duties peripherally related to the research, but required by the institution, federal law, or for professional development. These responsibilities are detailed further in the section entitled “Lack of Insti- tutional Resources”. The presenters commented that the combination of high teaching loads, high advising loads, extra administrative duties, and limited insti- tutional capacity for release time creates an unmanageable situation for many ERI faculty who would otherwise take an active interest in research. This is supported by a Research Corporation study of the role of research in the natural sciences at undergraduate institutions where faculty concur that the major barrier to research participation is workload.2 The problem is that the percentage allocation of faculty time has not changed over time, although teaching and research both are more time-intensive today than in the past. The reason is that research must be continuous for it to be sustained; it can no longer be just a summer activity. INSTITUTIONAL RESOURCES Many ERIs have established only very limited research support units with professional staff who can provide comprehensive pre- and post- award services to faculty. Faculty who undertake research in such an environment must compensate for the lack of services that exist on cam- pus. Following are some of the areas in which ERI researchers spoke of devoting substantial time or personal resources, in lieu of having central- ized university support. Office of Sponsored Research Several faculty at the workshop identified themselves also as “the grants officer” for their respective projects, meaning the institution had no sponsored research office or one that was minimally staffed. These faculty members had to monitor funding opportunities and learn the intricacies of federal regulations, cost accounting procedures, conflict of interest poli- cies, export controls, research compliance policies, the details of circulars from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and institutional requirements for grants submission. Janice Cuny (NSF program director for the Broadening Participation in Computing, Computer & Information Science & Engineering Director- 2Research Corporation. 2002. Academic Excellence: A Study of the Role of Research in the Natural Sciences at Undergraduate Institutions. Tucson, AZ.

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 PARTNERSHIPS FOR EMERGING RESEARCH INSTITUTIONS ate) pointed out that a thinly spread sponsored research office can cause difficulties beyond the ERIs themselves. In speaking of a multi-institution collaborative proposal, for example, Cuny noted: The Research I institutions would come up with subcontracts and state- ments of work and expect that the smaller institutions could get it signed off on in a day, and the ERIs would say, “Sorry, the only person who can sign off on that is on vacation for two weeks.” There was really a mis- match of the administrative capabilities of these institutions. At institutions with more research revenue, often it was possible to use overhead funds to support at least one grants officer, whose full-time responsibility was managing the institutional administrative responsi- bilities related to federally funded research programs, an allowable cost under OMB Circular A-21. One of the presenters, Karen Mitchell, director of the Office of Sponsored Projects and Research at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, fell into this category: a one-person sponsored research office. Yet, even one person providing research support to fac- ulty was shown to make an incredible difference. Ms. Mitchell described how her university had been submitting five to 10 proposals a year for the 10 years prior to her being hired as the sponsored research officer. The year after she was hired, that increased to 147 applications a year. In her words, “All I had to do was make the writing and approval process easier and just really help them along the way. And that worked. It really did work.” Office of Technology Transfer Some ERIs consider technology transfer beyond their purview. How- ever, an NSF study prepared by Innovation Associates, Inc. argues that ERIs can be successful in this area.3 The study presents case studies of smaller colleges and universities, including one community college, with modest research expenditures that have been successful in licensing their innovations and starting new companies. These institutions demonstrated a commitment to research, concentrated on specific research niches, hired faculty with expertise in those areas, and cultivated partnerships with local industries. Some participated in state-funded collaborative research centers and leveraged those funds to attract federal funds. The study cites the need for technology transfer and commercialization mentoring for emerging institutions. Workshop participants acknowledged technology transfer as a 3Diane Palmintera. 2007. Technology Transfer and Commercialization Partnerships. Inno- vation Associates, Inc. under NSF Grant No. EEC-0413603.

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 BARRIERS medium for disseminating knowledge, as well as an opportunity to con- tribute to the economic development of the local and state community. They recognized establishment of an office of technology transfer as one of the core elements of a viable research infrastructure. Nevertheless, many commented that they are challenged by a culture on their campuses that is risk averse and not entrepreneurial, with limited research expen- ditures, hiring and promotion policies that do not reward technology transfer activities, and a lack of administrative support. Business Services One of the most heated discussions of the workshop centered on the lack of adequate business services at ERIs, combined with lengthy approvals to make use of those that do exist. According to Terrance John- son, chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at Tennessee State University, it was nearly impossible for many purchasing or human resources departments at ERIs to deliver the resources required to sup- port research projects in the timeframe they were needed. He spoke at length about the multiple and high-level approvals needed to accomplish certain tasks, which greatly added to the time it took for purchasing and personnel decisions. “I don’t see why a requisition to purchase some sodium hydroxide has to be signed off on by a dean or a vice president for that matter,” he said. The office of physical plant at ERIs—also described as a source of problems—was able to react in the case of emergencies, but unable to conduct continuing needed maintenance, and untrained in dealing with the specialized requirements for research laboratory buildings. These advanced and ongoing efforts were left to the researcher to do personally, or to outsource through another lengthy process. Daryush Ila, professor of physics and executive director of the Alabama A&M University Research Institute, mentioned that a major benefit of establishing a research insti- tute at Alabama A&M was the elimination of the university’s many sig- nature requirements for business processes. After extensive discussion, Maria Thompson, associate vice president for research administration at Tennessee State University, best summa- rized the point: What I have seen happen is that the business processes will drive the academic and research enterprise versus the academic and research en- terprise driving the business processes. And that’s the thing I feel that really needs to change on campuses if these emerging research institu- tions are to move forward.

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 PARTNERSHIPS FOR EMERGING RESEARCH INSTITUTIONS Centrally Supported Information Resources High-performing computing and library services are considered fun- damental to a university’s research infrastructure. In fact, some institu- tions have crafted a definition of “research infrastructure” to encompass information technology in the broad range of support needed for schol- arly productivity. However, workshop participants observed that services such as state-of-the-art information technology (IT) networks and libraries were rarely robust in the ERIs. The shortfall was generally covered by the researchers’ time or personal investment. Arlene Cole-Rhodes discussed the problem of significant downtime in the IT system at her university, and the lack of hardware and software support. An audience member described how faculty in a certain department pool their funds to pur- chase library subscriptions to scientific journals as a way to address the problem of not having access to major media. Generally, the participants acknowledged that the lack of a network that can support high-speed computation and the lack of hardware and software that can provide the required networking features (security and bandwidth) could make them less competitive for research grants. In its report, the NSF Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel on Cyberinfrastructure states the following: Testimony from research communities indicate that many contemporary projects require effective federation of both distributed resources (data and facilities) and distributed, multidisciplinary expertise, and that cy- berinfrastructure is a key to making this possible. . . . Achieving this vision will challenge our fundamental understanding of computer and information science and engineering as well as parts of social science, and it will motivate and drive basic research in these areas.4 The Faculty View: Death by A Thousand Cuts Faculty hired at ERIs sometimes knowingly accept their positions in spite of a lack of cutting-edge laboratories and impressive start-up pack- ages. However, the extent to which institutional infrastructure impacts even the most mundane activities was visibly frustrating to many research- ers who presented at the workshop. In the session presenting the faculty viewpoint, Terrance Johnson of Tennessee State University described the problems labeled as “death by a thousand cuts.” These included: 4Revolutionizing Science and Engineering Through Cyberinfrastructure: Report of the National Science Foundation Blue-Ribbon Advisory Panel on Cyberinfrastructure, January 2003.

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 BARRIERS • Lengthy process for approvals for submitting proposals, hiring personnel, travel, and ordering materials and supplies • Lack of or minor research start-up support such as materials and supplies, specialized equipment, travel funds, and reduced workload • Lack of incentives and rewards such as release time, laboratory space, technical support for research programs, research awards, and sal- ary enhancement • Minimal provision for research program development, such as pro- posal development assistance, and training in locating funding prospects and proposal writing • Lack of trained research facility maintenance staff, lengthy approv- als for renovations, and too much reliance on external contracting • Inadequate or no core facilities to decrease costs and increase com- petitiveness for grant awards, and no standard protocols for the use of core facilities • Lack of investment in professional development for post-award grants officers, and ineffective post-award communication with principal investigators • Inefficient business support processes such as purchasing and receiving and deliveries • Inadequate support for library acquisitions Arlene Cole-Rhodes of Morgan State University commented on the problem of inadequate publication support for faculty submitting papers to journals; e.g., clerical assistance to ease the burden of reformatting a paper according to a journal’s specifications once a paper is accepted for publication. She added that this lack of support affects the publication acceptance rate for faculty at ERIs. FACULTY REWARD SYSTEM In Scholarship Reconsidered, Boyer (1990) challenged universities to adopt a new paradigm for defining scholarly activity to include the schol- arship of integration, the scholarship of application, and the scholarship of teaching, replacing the traditional definitions of research.5 In revising their tenure policies to embrace this concept, some institutions have fallen short of implementing these principles systematically. Experts agree that the faculty reward system must be congruent with the mission and vision of the institution; see, for example O’Meara (2006) and Diamond (1999). Thus, workshop participants observed that as ERIs shift to greater empha- 5Ernest L. Boyer. 1990. Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. Stanford, CA: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

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 PARTNERSHIPS FOR EMERGING RESEARCH INSTITUTIONS sis on research, they must institute faculty reward structures that validate that commitment while reflecting the synergy of teaching and research. The rewards and incentives discussed at the workshop included a more flexible release time policy, better balance in faculty evaluations of emphasis on research versus teaching, start-up funds, research venture capital, returned overhead from grants (to further support the principal investigator’s research), and advocacy for the researchers themselves. Some also commented that faculty course loads must be adjusted for research mentoring as a routine activity. Researchers in teaching-intensive environments often are in com- petition for space, tenure and promotion, and teaching loads with their fellow faculty who were not pursuing research. Though not an explicit topic of the workshop, the discussion around reward systems emerged sufficiently often that the issue merits a place in this report.