Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

University Research Centers: Heuristic Categories, Issues, and Administrative Strategies

Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

University Research Centers: Heuristic Categories, Issues, and Administrative Strategies

Article excerpt

Introduction

University-based research centers can bring prestige and revenue to the institutions with which they are affiliated (Brint, 2005; Feller, 2002). Collaborating with corporations, governments, and foundations, centers provide services to organizational leaders, policy makers, and communities. Growth in the number of centers since the 1950s reflects their increased presence in the university setting. There are 17,000 research centers in the US and Canada, an increase of 1,500 since 2009, when there were 15,500 (Miskelly, 2011; Wood, 2009). Growth is estimated at a rate between 5% and 10% a year since 1965, when 3,500 centers were first identified (Palmer & Kruzas, 1965). In the United States, unlike in other nations, most research organizations are housed at institutions of higher education and are not independent (Orlans, 1972).

For the purpose of this study, centers are defined as non-department entities, encompassing a broad range of sub-organizational structures in higher education: bureaus, clinics, institutes, laboratories, programs, and units. Here, the term center is used to connote all forms of organized units that may exist beyond and between academic departments (Ikenberry & Friedman, 1972). Beyond research and training as their primary services, centers vary across a number of dimensions: size of support and research staff; the position of faculty versus professional staff researchers; level of separation from academic departments; degree of integration with the university; funding mix; extent of inter- or multidisciplinary focus; and relative emphasis on applied research (Vest, 2005; Klein, 1996; Stahler & Tash, 1994). Universities considering creating or evaluating research centers are urged to plan carefully before launching or maintaining them. A number of inter-related issues affect center success. This article presents survey and interview data to illuminate center types, issues, and strategies used to address issues. Center stakeholders can use findings to create policy regarding center start-up and maintenance. Center type categories provide a frame in which to place different types of centers to serve different functions within a university system. Resources could be allocated based on the promise and purpose of the center as aligned with the university's mission. University and center policies and priorities could be informed by research findings presented.

Heuristic Categories

Ikenberry and Friedman (1972) proposed a heuristic to categorize university-based centers into three types: standard, adaptive, and shadow. Types were distinguished by four characteristics: (a) the ability to store resources; (b) the degree to which procedures are specified; (c) stability in goals and tasks; and (d) stability of resources to achieve goals and tasks. For this study, these and characteristics available from The Research Centers Directory (2002) were operationalized into survey questions to confirm and rank heuristic characteristics. Survey responses were received from 176 of 296 (60%) educational research center directors to whom the survey was sent. Cramer's V was used to calculate nominal variable coefficients of association based on center type for each characteristic. The result was a rank of characteristics that differentiate between center types. Table 1 presents ranked characteristics. Note that nine heuristic characteristics are better at distinguishing among center types than six directory characteristics. Nine heuristic variables were strongly associated at varying levels of strength based on a moderate interpretation of the Cramer's V. Six other variables, operationalized from The Research Centers Directory, were weak to moderately strong as coefficients measuring characteristics among center types. Note that the moderate strength of having a presence on the World Wide Web is a distinguishing characteristic among center types. The Internet is a new phenomenon since Ikenberry and Friedman's heuristic was developed that has affected centers' reach into the external environments they serve. …

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