Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Constructing a Grants Office Review: A Case Study

Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Constructing a Grants Office Review: A Case Study

Article excerpt

Introduction

Working within an academic context one may find it uncomfortable (and even a little repugnant) to think about the college or university in terms of efficiency, productivity, and bottom lines. The notion of accountability seems more appropriate to he corporate and government sectors and belies the more noble goals of institutions of higher education to inspire young intellects, nurture good citizens, and explore ideas. And yet all institutions now face accrediting reviews that include questions on assessment practices, judging how well the institution is meeting its mission. This nation-wide push for accountability affects the curriculum and the performances of faculty and staff and often encourages our grants and sponsored program office management to expect that the exercise will lead to improvements.

While the movement toward increasing assessment is affecting our office staff and activities, the challenge is to find an appropriate and useful way to evaluate the sponsored program office that will lead to distinct opportunities, challenge the status quo, and establish practices for improvement. This paper describes a distinct model that is useful for organizing an assessment of grants offices. Even though the review process could be constructive for strategic and other planning, the model presented here has inherent value for a grants office.

Because a review systematically investigates activities and rigorously evaluates outcomes, its usefulness depends on the priority it receives. Fundamentally, an assessment should be helpful in gathering information about the current status of activities and products and in pointing at areas that could be improved. When given top priority, the review can serve several goals; it can, for example, a) enhance the capacity of the grants office; b) increase the services offered; c) alter policies, practices, and structures; and d) enable the faculty to seek more grants. And yet a review can provide an opportunity for much more: marketing the grants office, making administration aware of needs, developing a plan for growth that has support from others, and organizing for change. How then can this process be managed so the results are valid and the process serves a variety of goals? Deciding on the framework for the assessment requires some reflection on the level of the analysis--the context--to be researched.

Stockton Context

Even though the academic programs are required to undergo self-studies and reviews every five years at Stockton, the academic service programs had never been assessed. Every year the administrative staff is required to produce a self-evaluation which often involves setting professional goals and evaluating the effects of office management. Since the grants office at Stockton is a one-person shop, a self-evaluation is, by default, an evaluation of context as well.

This situation could suggest that a review of a small grants office might be so narrow as to have limited consequences. And yet the College, as a public liberal arts, primarily undergraduate college with approximately 6,500 students, is poised for institutional transformation: the state allocation has been cut, creating more interest in outside funding; a new president began in June 2003, bringing a robust interest in building relationships outside the college, and inspiring the College community to reflect on ways it meets the mission, and bringing a new mandate to establish goals and achieve results. In other words, the College is ripe for growth, and a well-structured review process could launch the grants office into the mainstream. Whatever the state or context of an institution, a thoughtfully created assessment can serve as an initiative for change.

Model for the Review Process

The literature on assessment is extensive and will provide a wide variety of general terms and practices. Since an assessment review is basically a research project, we can look to research methods to guide the process. …

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