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CGSP, COR define goals

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 06 - September 28, 1995

Review of graduate programs, response to falling federal research and development resources, and the commonwealth campus plan should be 1995-96 priorities for the Commission on Graduate Studies and Policies and the Commission on Research, suggested Len Peters, vice provost for research and dean of the Graduate School, at a joint meeting of the commissions.

Review of graduate programs is required by Policy Memorandum 152. John Eaton, associate provost for graduate studies, is preparing a white paper on the process. Peters suggested the National Research Council ranking of Ph.D. programs, released September 12, can be a resource in the review of graduate programs. Other resources can be professional reviews of programs to avoid duplication of some efforts.

Peters sent information from the 700-plus page NRC report to the deans on September 19, and the Chronicle of Higher Education carried an 11-page report in the September 22 issue. Tables are also available at http://www.nas.edu/nap/online/researchdoc/ on the Web. The book can be ordered from that page as well.

Peters summarized: The study evaluated 3,600 Ph.D. programs in 41 fields in arts and humanities, biological sciences, engineering, physical sciences and mathematics, and social and behavioral sciences. It does not provide information on professional programs, such as business, architecture, and education, and has limited coverage of agricultural programs.

"These are rankings of academic programs by academics," Peters says. Objective data includes faculty publications, awards, and citations, federal research funding, and number of faculty members and students. The report also uses peer reviews. Reviewers were selected from nominations by each university with at least 100 reviewers for each field.

Seventeen Virginia Tech programs were ranked, compared to 33 UVa programs. Two Tech doctoral programs-economics and sociology-were not ranked. "We're not yet sure why," Peters said.

In terms of faculty quality and program effectiveness (Appendix P), five Virginia Tech programs were in or near the top quarter of their peers-civil engineering, electrical engineering, geology, industrial engineering, and mechanical engineering. Eleven of the 17 programs were in the top half.

"Bigger programs were judged better and it's unclear whether they are bigger because they are better or better because they are bigger."

The study was last done in 1982 and Virginia Tech improved in all categories in which it appeared in both studies.

Excel 5 tables from the report are available from Peters or Eaton.

On the topic of federal research-and-development resources, Peters reported that MIT is preparing for a sponsored-research reduction over the next five years of $30 to $40 million. Based on the "situation with the national laboratories, discussion of elimination of NIST, NOAA..., we need to pay attention to the potential impact of such actions."

Continuing issues before the commissions will be review of centers and institutes, and academic integrity.

Peters reported on Research and Graduate Studies restructuring, also covered in the August 31 Spectrum. He pointed out that changes in RGS come as a result of recommendations from two teams that included clients as well as the staff, and in response to the Workforce Transition Act (WTA).

A recommendation to improve relations with federal agencies resulted in the one-year appointment of Howard Robins as a liaison. Robins earned his undergraduate and doctoral degrees from Tech and worked for NASA for many years. He is now retired and will be working at the Northern Virginia Graduate Center.

Recommendations regarding needed program development resulted in creation of a half-time associate provost for program development to head a program development group. The position comes as a result of the retirement of Ernie Stout, associate provost for research, next June 30.

To aid in transition , a search will begin soon and the position will be filled before Stout leaves. The other half of the position will be a half-time associate provost for interdisciplinary programs. A search will begin this winter.

Recommendations regarding graduate-student support resulted in a graduate-student support-services group to be headed by Martha Johnson.

The often-expressed wish that the same staff in RGS could work with the same researchers or graduate-student administrators in the departments has resulted in teams in sponsored programs and in the graduate school being assigned by college rather than by funding source in the case of research or by alphabet in the case of graduate students.

On another topic, Peters said Virginia Tech is a national leader in implementation of the electronic dissertation, thanks to Eaton, Ed Fox, and Gail McMillan. "The advantages are the ability to include material in formats other than print, such as simulations, interviews..., and accessibility on line so that the dissertation can be an important primary source of academic information." He said going on line also will improve peer review and, thus, the quality of the dissertation.

The issue before the commissions is whether "we let people prepare electronic dissertations if they see fit, or require it by January 1997." He acknowledged that there will be some fields not able to participate that soon because of requirements for their dissertations, such as inclusion of physical projects.

Review of graduate programs, federal research resources, the Ph.D. ranking, and electronic-dissertation project will be on the agenda at the annual retreat, October 21, for commission members, department heads, and research and graduate-studies administrators.