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Indirect cost recoveries drop

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 10 - October 27, 1994

Because of a reduction in the indirect cost-recovery rate from 53.5 percent last year to 46 percent in the year which began July 1, the research and sponsored programs operations' budget will be $2 million less this year, Ernie Stout told the Commission on Research Wednesday. Next year's indirect cost-recovery rate is 45 percent.

The indirect cost rate is the percentage the federal government allows institutions to charge on contracts and grants to cover overhead expenses such as utilities and facilities use.

At Virginia Tech, indirect cost recoveries are used to support and enhance the research mission of the university. This includes facilities renovations, equipment purchases, administration, graduate-student support, new construction through the Central Capital Account, and leased space.

Some of the funds are returned to colleges and departments to meet these expenses, and some are administered by research and sponsored programs. In response to a question regarding what strategies are being used to deal with the fall in revenue, Stout said 30 percent goes to the non-general fund portion of the Research Division budget, which will now have $600,000 less. "That impacts all nine colleges."

Of the remaining 70 percent, used as described above, the colleges and departments will see $1 million cut and the Research Division will see a $300,000 cut. "Our building loans will be paid off relatively soon. We are trying to get out of building leases. The university has never provided maintenance at the Prices Fork research center or new facilities on Plantation Road, so the Research Division has employed people to care for the grounds and buildings. As of October 15, we are out of that business. What will happen, I don't know. We are attempting to cut back to our core responsibilities."

"What doesn't get done gets handed down to the departments," Peter Eyre said. "The money is not gone. It's in the hands of the principal investigators, some of whom will say, `Hooray,'" Joe Schetz said.

Len Peters said, "When you look at public, land-grant universities, 46 percent is around the median and where we should probably be. The 53.5-percent rate reflected under-recovery in prior years. But if you take a long-term perspective on dollars per award, that number is down. It appears to have crept up, but it has not risen as much as the consumer price index."

The commission approved the recommendations of the review committee of the Institute of High Energy Physics. The committee recommended the institute be re-authorized as a university center for another three years subject to recommendations that include submission of annual reports to the associate provost for research, development of a budget of yearly expenditures, allocation of overhead funds to operations, and establishment of an advisory board.

Jim Wightman, who chaired the review, commended the institute's national and international activity, near self-sufficiency, and director Lay Nam Chang's good record of communication with the physics department head. Input was invited from the physics faculty members. The two who responded to the invitation were interviewed by the review committee.

Discussion of a research title series continued. Little feedback had been received by commission members from their constituents. The proposal is that there be titles for research faculty members that mirror the titles for tenure-track faculty: assistant research professor, associate research professor, and research professor. Appointments are for three to five years, and the faculty members are eligible for promotions. The research faculty can direct graduate students.

Janet Johnson said she e-mailed 85 faculty members and got one response. The respondent favored the change, but believed that a research professor should not be seen as a full professor. Eyre agreed, and also expressed concern with a sentence in the proposal which says if a faculty member transfers from research to tenure-track status, years of service don't count. Peters said that in the case of a young person with three years as an assistant research professor before becoming a tenure-track faculty member, if the three years counted they would give him or her less time to prepare for tenure evaluation.

Eyre suggested softening the language from "shall be" to "may be." Stout endorsed the proposal because, "There are not going to be very many tenure-track positions for a very long time. This may be the only way we grow and renew the intellectual capital of the university." Peters suggested that Pat Hyer be asked to look at the wording of the proposal. Johnson asked commission members to gather more feedback.

On the continuing issue of enhancing undergraduates' perceptions of the role of a research university, Johnson presented a list of possible activities based on past discussion. They include: determining strategies for encouraging the faculty to present its research and scholarly activity in undergraduate courses; articles focusing on undergraduate research in university and college publications; campus-wide symposium or poster session on undergraduate research; a competitive grant program to fund undergraduate research; a bibliography of materials developed by faculty members that can be used in the classroom; encouragement of undergraduate research in the curriculum; and undergraduate mailboxes.