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

COR approves research titles

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 16 - January 19, 1995

The Commission on Research approved the research-faculty title series, heard a proposal for a Materials Coordinating Council, and reviewed the conflict of interest resolution at the December 14 meeting.

Having reviewed the third draft of a proposal to establish a series of research faculty titles, the commission approved a resolution without further discussion. The proposal is that there be titles for research faculty members that mirror the titles for tenure-track faculty members. Appointments are for three to five years, and the faculty members are eligible for promotions. Research faculty members can direct graduate students.

The resolution reads, "Whereas the university has continuously expanding requirements for scientists, specially trained investigators, and highly qualified personnel to meet responsibilities in research and other creative activities; Whereas there is a growing cadre of scholars who hold doctorates but not positions commensurate with their education and desire a position in research in the university; and Whereas the university could increase the scholarly activity and faculty expertise with such persons; Therefore be it resolved that to fulfill the needs of the university and to be more competitive in attracting and retaining needed professorial staff, a research professorial title series be established for special research faculty to include research assistant, research associate, and research professor."

The proposal goes to the Commission on Faculty Affairs and the Commission on Graduate Studies and Policies for endorsement before being forwarded to the University Council.

Jim Wightman explained the concept and evolution of a Materials Coordinating Council: Recognizing that materials research is a strength on this campus, with more than 100 faculty members, 160 graduate students, and 90 undergraduates in labs and centers across the university involved, in the spring of 1992, Gary Hooper and Ernie Stout appointed a committee to discuss coordinating the effort. The committee was chaired by Wightman with Ron Kander, Mike Hyer, and Chester Spencer.

"After 23 meetings with 65 persons and an open meeting with all materials-related faculty members, we felt like we took the pulse of this campus," Wightman said. The committee reported on materials activity in May of 1993. Len Peters met with "various parties" and proposed a council to be chaired by Wightman, who agreed only to chair an organizing committee with Hyer, Kander, and Spencer.

According to a handout, "the primary purpose of a University Coordinating Council on Materials Research and Education is to: 1) facilitate identification of new and emerging opportunities in materials science and engineering; 2) enhance the organization and pursuit of large interdisciplinary grant and contract proposals; 3) provide mechanisms to increase publicity on materials research and education at Virginia Tech; and 4) coordinate activities as necessary among the various materials-science and engineering-related centers, departments, and programs.

The organizing committee is recommending a 14-person council made up of seven members of the administration and seven faculty members. From the administration, standing members would be Stout, associate provost for research; D.A. Stetler, associate dean of arts and sciences, and Mike Vorster, associate dean of engineering. W.G. Glasser would be the first appointee from among the associate deans of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Forestry and Wildlife, Human Resources, and Veterinary Medicine. Other administrative representatives would be Ron Gordon, head of materials science and engineering; E.G. Henneke, head of engineering science and mechanics, and R.D. Gandour, head of chemistry. Faculty representatives from among center and institute directors would be Garth Wilkes, head of the materials engineering science doctoral program; Jim McGrath, head of the NSF science and technology center, and Ken Reifsnider, head of the center for composite materials and structures. Four additional faculty members will be elected.

Also according to the handout, which was sent to about 125 people on campus in mid-December, faculty members may nominate themselves by submitting a vita, three-to-five-page letter declaring their interest, summarizing their materials involvement, and discussing how their participation will advance the council's goals and objectives. A 250-word abstract of the candidate's position and background is also required for the ballot. Submit materials by January 16 to Gail Williams, 306 Burruss.

"What do you mean by 'council'," Joe Schetz asked. "I don't see a problem with this, but we need to think about what we do when we do this one, so we don't create other problems."

Peters agreed, "That's why we need to take it through the governance structure so issues like that can be raised."

Peter Eyre said, "We are inconsistent in how we do these things. Environment is a good example. It is set up with a director that reports to the provost. This council reports to the vice provost....I think this is a good structure because it is very flat rather than a pyramid of a director and associate directors. Then there is the question of funding. But look across the university at the overlapping centers, some with money and some without, and the conflicts in overhead....I think this is a good model.

Peters said, "This is a proposition-a proposal. It's setting a role model for getting these broader initiatives where you don't need a center director." "Or a czar," Ray Reneau added.

Stout said, "The materials committee said 'absolutely we do not want a czar.'"

Schetz said, "Finally, after a lot of commotion, we have rules about centers. Now we need rules about super centers....'Coordinating' is a good concept."

No action was taken. Wightman will bring a draft resolution to the next commission meeting.

The commission discussed a conflict-of-interest policy that is being drafted by a joint subcommittee of the Commission on Research (COR) and Commission on Graduate Studies and Policies. COR chair Janet Johnson said the resolution is a result of an NSF directive to have a conflict-of-interest policy that addresses what conflict of interest is, who reviews a disclosure of conflict, and how conflict of interest will be managed. Since the NSF directive, the NIH and FDA have also issued guidelines for conflict of interest policies.

"The intent is to have one conflict-of-interest policy that responds to state and federal guidelines," Johnson said.

Stout added, "We need to make it clear the policy speaks only to research and development and not to other areas of conflict addressed in the Code of Virginia Conflict Act."

Some language from the draft policy includes:
* "A prohibited conflict of interest arises when an enterprise in which an investigator has a personal interest contracts directly or through a subcontract with Virginia Tech.

* "A personal interest is defined as interests valued at greater than $5,000 or represents more than three-percent ownership for any one enterprise or entity when aggregated for the investigator/s or the investigator/s immediate family." Johnson explained that this definition is based on the most limiting of the various guidelines.

* "Principal investigators, co-principal investigators, and any other person at the university responsible for the design, conduct, or reporting of research or educational activities funded or proposed for funding must determine if he/she may have a conflict of interest. If a conflict...is identified, he/she will indicate a conflict...on the internal approval form at the submission of a proposal and complete a disclosure of interests relevant to the project."

* "The disclosure, signed by the department head or center director, must be submitted for approval....The investigator/s have the responsibility to determine if a conflict does exist and...what action might be taken to resolve the conflict.... The plan for the resolution of the conflict will be approved by the vice provost for research." There was discussion of whether or not the department head would review before the vice provost does.

* "In the event that the conditions or restrictions to be imposed are not acceptable to either the investigator or the department head, the case will be referred to the dean. If the resolution obtained with the dean is not satisfactory (it) will be referred to the vice provost...who will refer the case to the conflict of interest appeals subcommittee of the Commission on Research.

The policy also addresses action in case of falsification of the disclosure. No action was taken.

In other business,
* Johnson announced that the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) has agreed to include undergraduate research in the student research-poster session on March 21 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Squires. The GSA will put up the extra boards and issue the call for abstracts. The Center for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching will provide prize money for the undergraduate posters in the same categories the GSA provides for graduate students.

"The aim is to give undergraduates experience and showcase undergraduate research," Johnson said.

Ed Freedman of the Darden School of Business, will speak on ethics at the GSA symposium that follows the poster session.

* Johnson said new governance bylaws will have the Library Committee report to the Commission on Graduate Studies and Policies rather than the Commission on Research. "The International Programs Committee, which was to report to COR, but which I was told does not exist, has been taken away."