Spectrum Logo
A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Transportation center administrator named

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 11 - November 3, 1994

Ray Pethtel has been named interim director of the University Center for Transportation Research, effective immediately, Len Peters, vice provost for research, told the Commission on Research at the October 26 meeting, one day after Antoine Hobeika had resigned temporarily as director of the center.

Hobeika resigned because of an internal audit, it was announced last Tuesday. A series of concerns raised by the audit, including the sale of software developed by Hobeika, prompted him to step aside. One of the issues involving ownership of the intellectual property represented by the software is in contention.

"At this time, everything is in an allegation mode," Peters explained. "Dr. Hobeika needed time to look at the allegations. Because of his dedication and concern for the continued development of the center, he believed that his resignation was necessary at this time until the current review and internal audit is satisfactorily concluded." Peters expects that will take several months.

In the meantime, an interim administrative organization will maintain continuity of operations in the center and continue to pursue the center's many activities. Pethtel, who is University Transportation Fellow, is intimately familiar with the Smart Road project and many of the other activities in which the center is involved, Peters said.

Donald R. Drew, professor of civil engineering, will be interim associate director for research. "He has an extensive background and excellent reputation in transportation research," Peters said. "He will make sure the research programs go forward."

Richard Alvarez will continue in his current activities with the center and will be interim associate director for administrative and fiscal affairs.

Peters told the commission that the center has more than 40 employees, including more than 20 graduate students, who looked at what happened as potentially impacting their progress.

"I have a good feeling in that we have three individuals willing to step into the breech and maintain the center as events unfold, and who will work together as a group," Peters said. Hobeika will continue as a principal investigator on some grants, and to advise students, several of whom are within weeks of defending their dissertations.

In other business, the Commission on Research accepted the review of the Powell River Project and renewed the project for five years. PRP was commended for its high level of accomplishment during 14 years. The review called it "an effective problem-solving center in the coal-mining counties of southwest Virginia" with a strong level of commitment to the people of the region, and noted it is currently a model for surrounding states.

The program's strategic plan should ensure that the level of commitment will continue, but budget constraints will require a more narrow focus on the most pressing needs, compared to the breadth of activities addressed in the past, the report noted.

Additional recommendations include establishing an internal evaluation process for assessing project accomplishments, seeking broader input from faculty members on research activities supported by PRP, maintaining the positive image with respect to public service/extension, and continuing the current level of instructional and educational activities.

"There should be no difficulty working toward implementation of the recommendations," Ernie Stout said.

The commission also continued discussion of a resolution to establish research faculty titles. Discussion will be continued at the next meeting to allow for more feedback from faculty and departments. Comments received so far indicate a concern that present research scientist and senior research scientist titles would be dropped. Several commission members agreed this would not be the case since a research scientist title is good for a post doc who extends his or her stay, while a senior research scientist title is good when a specific person is invited to work on campus for a short period. It was also stated "there would be no danger" to persons presently holding those titles.

Language regarding evaluation will be added to the section proposed for the Faculty Handbook, as well as a disclaimer stating that neither the department nor the university are responsible for picking up the funding for a position once research funding has run out.

Joe Cowles expressed concern regarding resources. A salary may be covered by research funds "but what about space. A department may need to hire faculty members to teach, and want to let the research person go."

Anne McNabb said the interdisciplinary centers might be the best suited to hiring people for the new series, to do long-range work.

Harry Kriz reported from the library that there is an information center on the first floor and video classroom on the second floor. "The video classroom is available to anyone from the entire community interested in producing multi-media material using Macintosh equipment."

He also reported: the library storage building will be complete in March, and all material will be out of CHEDS by July; A Friends of Virginia Tech Library group has been established; and Virginia Tech's library has declined in the ARL ranking compared to other research university libraries, based on expenditures for staff and collections.