Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Incentive, Reward, Development, or Welfare? Revision of an Integral Grant Program. (Case Study)

Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Incentive, Reward, Development, or Welfare? Revision of an Integral Grant Program. (Case Study)

Article excerpt


Like many other universities, Illinois State University (ISU) has offered an internal grant program since the 1970s. The program has gone through several incarnations. Initially designed to aid ISU's transition from a normal school, focused primarily on teacher education, to a comprehensive university, the Summer Grant program originally emphasized stimulation of faculty research. In the 1980s, program goals expanded to include motivating development of external grant submissions.

Having traditionally been centrally administered, in 1994 the University Research Grant (URG) program was decentralized. Each of ISU's colleges--Applied Science and Technology, Art, Arts and Sciences, Business, Education, and Nursing--were allocated a portion of URG funds and empowered to develop and administer their own URG program. The College of Arts and Sciences (GAS), by far the largest in the university, with 16 departments and 343 tenure-line faculty, devised four subprograms to distribute annual URG funding of approximately $220,000. These were the Senior Research Development and the Senior Grant Development programs, offering a maximum of $4,000 to be applied to either salary or other research expenses, the Junior Research Development program, offering a maximum of $3,000 for salary or other costs, and the Small Grant program, offering a maximum of $1,000 for research costs.

In its five years of operation, the 1994 GAS URG program spent over $1 million, attracted more than 500 proposals, and funded over 240 projects. According to faculty productivity reports, it supported development of hundreds of conference presentations, journal articles, books, and grant proposals. However, it also generated serious disagreements and problems including the following:

1. In the last three years of program operation, 40% of URG funds went to the same 11 faculty members.

2. Some departments participated more actively than others.

3. Non-participating departments and faculty members felt discriminated against and hopeless about obtaining URG funding.

4. Departments that were the most active in the program also experienced the largest number of rejections and, thus, were most vocal in their criticism of the program.

5. Faculty were critical of both departmental and college proposal review processes.

6. Controversy raged between bench scientists, who favored funding non-salary research costs only, and humanists, who advocated provision of salary support.

A survey of tenure-line faculty, conducted during the 1998-1999 academic year, elicited 110 responses broadly representing GAS faculty by tenure status, gender, and length of time at ISU. Survey results indicated that, in general, faculty wanted the URG program to continue. The majority of respondents agreed that the program should support development of pre-tenure faculty members' research programs (83%), support development of external grant proposals (58%), support good research that might not attract external funding (58%), and support experimental or innovative research (53%). Less than half thought that the URG program should reward successful performance (45%) or support reinvigoration of faculty research careers (44%). Respondents' comments overwhelmingly recommended improvement of the URG proposal review process.

The survey was followed by a faculty forum, which identified the following problems associated with the URG program:

(a) insufficient support of pre-tenure faculty, (b) inconsistent departmental evaluation processes, (c) discomfort with interdisciplinary review of proposals at college level, (d) inconsistent and inequitable representation of departments in the college review process, (e) inappropriately heavy amount of work expected from members of the college proposal review committee, and (f) generation (by the URG application and evaluation process) of considerable faculty bitterness. …

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