Academic journal article SRA Journal

Anatomy of an Institute

Academic journal article SRA Journal

Anatomy of an Institute

Article excerpt


Among the most interesting changes in American colleges and universities over the past quarter of a century is the rather prolific growth of institutes, centers, laboratories, bureaus, and other research and service units that parallel the conventional departmental structure. They carry out a bewildering variety of purposes, use many different organizational models, and are supported at widely disparate levels of investment, are sometimes housed in the obscure corners of the campus, and are found at all levels of the organizational hierarchy. (Ikenberry & Friedman, 1972)

This introduction to Ikenberry and Friedman's seminal work on the emergence of an academic structure beyond conventional departments remains true today.

In many ways institutes(1) resemble academic departments. Their missions are similar - research, teaching, and service. Their personnel are similar in that they have equal qualifications. In other ways, however, institutes are quite different from academic departments. First, institutes do not focus on a single discipline. They are multidisciplinary. Furthermore, funding support is derived primarily from external sources - federal grants, contracts, industry support, foundations, and planned giving - and not from traditional institutional support. This latter point leads to an atmosphere of impermanence. There is a more provisional sense of programs, staff, funding support, and other resources than in traditional departments.

The purpose of our project and this resulting paper was to explore the diversity in institutes including their origins, structures, and functioning. In 1972, Ikenberry and Friedman conducted an in-depth investigation of these questions involving more than 125 academic institutes and research centers. Twenty years later, our micro-analysis parallels this work with a single purpose in mind - to design an optimal organizational structure for our newly established Shock Trauma Institute at Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood, IL.

Methodology and Results


The methodology of our ad hoc study involved a two-part survey design. A personal interview was conducted with senior administrators at seven medical school research institutes in the Chicago metropolitan area. The sample size of seven respondents represented 100% of the administrators asked to participate. This non-random sample was selected considering geographic proximity to the study site. The sample was designed to include institutes varying in size, history, and focus of operation. The interview addressed fiscal affairs, faculty issues, reporting lines, scientific and clinical productivity, clinical income, administrative affairs, and operational barriers.

A second survey was conducted by mail. Respondents represented a sample of medical research institutes geographically dispersed throughout the United States. Thirty-two of 50 surveys were returned yielding a response rate of 64%. Surveys again targeted senior administrative officials. The mail survey and the personal interview addressed identical issues.


Results reported are based on a total of 39 responses (32 mail and 7 interview).

Operational Issues. Seventy-nine percent of the sample (n = 31) had physical space dedicated to the operation of the institute, which was administered separately from any home department. The same 31 institutes also managed all grants and contracts internally if the project was conducted within the confines of the institute. Grants management criteria were based 100% of the time on physical location of the project. When a project was conducted by an institute member within department space, the project was then administered by the department, not the institute. Thirty-six percent of the sample (n = 14) employed a professional and non-professional support staff (non-faculty) who were assigned directly to the institute. The remaining 25 institutes did not have a mechanism to hire staff without a departmental link. …

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