The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.
Central Michigan University (CMU) is part of a select group of comprehensive doctoral institutions of higher education that have Carnegie R2 (high research activity) classification. As part of its mission to serve students at both undergraduate and graduate levels, the University aims to maintain and if possible, strengthen its research environment, even during times when budgets are not growing.
As part of this challenge, we embarked on identifying some of the key issues affecting faculty research productivity within the College of Science and Engineering at CMU.
After engaging a research advisory council with representatives from all departments and interdisciplinary programs within the college, we have identified two overarching challenges:
- Faculty felt they have an insufficient amount of time (due to significant teaching loads) to engage in research and grant writing activities that are competitive not only with respect to peer institutions but also with institutions that have higher research activity.
- There appeared to be an insufficient amount of funding to support shared research facilities, including a lack of specific funds for repairs or replacement of large (and usually expensive) research equipment.
Although currently there are systems in place within the college that allow faculty to reduce their teaching loads if they bring a sufficient amount of external grant funding, it has been acknowledged that this type of strategy is insufficient to provide all research-active faculty with an appropriate teaching load that would maximize their time they could devote to research and grant writing.
Considering that it would be fiscally unrealistic to reduce all faculty on the tenure track to a much lower teaching load across the board, faculty representatives had an idea. They suggested that additional reductions in teaching loads could be explored that reward faculty based on specific and measurable research metrics, for example, but are not limited to the number of peer-reviewed publications, grant proposals submitted and secured, number of graduate students supervised, etc. We are currently in the process of developing guidelines that would allow us to pilot a reduced teaching “program” for our most research-active faculty within the college.
To address issues with insufficient funding for shared instruments, as well as lack of specific funds for large instrument upgrades or replacements, it was determined that specific designated accounts (cost centers) be established for such purposes. These accounts would be base funded each year, as well as supplemented with updated instrument fee structures for shared instruments.
The main strategy with designated cost centers for specific instruments is that the funds would automatically carry forward between fiscal years, allowing multi-year contributions to accumulate to a level that would be commensurate with what an instrument replacement or major upgrade is estimated to cost, and the cost center would be protected (i.e., restricted) from any unrelated expenditures.
In summary, in order to maintain the research activity within the College of Science and Engineering during times when budgets are not growing from year to year, it is imperative that the finite resources are targeted at the areas of highest need and impact. Based on the feedback received from faculty in the college the two areas where resources should be directed to support and possibly increase research activity within the college were teaching reductions for research-active faculty and support for shared research facilities.
C.T. would like to thank his capstone partner, Jordan Johnson (University of Alabama) for valuable feedback and discussions during the project. A special thanks goes to Holly Chatham (EAB) and Jon Barnhart (EAB) for providing feedback and links to various online resources, as well as assistance with comparisons to teaching loads at peer institutions.
See the fellows' blogs from the capstone projects
Christopher Tycner and others participated in EAB’s Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship in fall 2022