Care and Maintenance of the Research Mission

Comments of Robert Zimmer, Deputy Provost for Research

June 15, 2000, Sponsored Projects Administration Training—Overview Session

All of you are involved in an important way in furthering the research mission of the University. But I want to take a few minutes to put the work that you do so in context of the overall effort that takes place in the University, and emphasize the importance of what you do everyday, and the importance of this training program, by seeing it in this larger context.

Research is one of the two main missions of the University, the other being education. Taken together, they are why we are here, and what defines the University. The University of course takes pride in the fact that it is one of the handful of leading research universities in the country, and the quality of the research performed here is a signature of the University. Ultimately, this research - and similar research carried on at other institutions - is the engine behind improving the quality of human life, and generating economic prosperity.

Running a research University requires many things - it requires faculty, students, administration, buildings, infrastructure, and research equipment. Without any of these, one cannot have a research University. And having all of these things requires resources, and significant amounts of it. While the University has a sizable endowment, receives many donations, and receives significant tuition dollars, taken together this is not nearly enough money to support the first class research that we want to perform. Fortunately, there are agencies, the most important being federal agencies, that support research at universities such as ours. There research and training grants and contracts are fundamental to the success of our research mission, and hence fundamental to the success of the University. This year alone, we are receiving well over $200 million dollars in such support. Without it, we would not be what we now are as an institution.

As you well know, for the most part it is faculty who are principal investigators on grants, and it is their effort that defines the nature of the research being performed. But it is very important to remember that federal grants and contracts are not awarded to individual faculty members. They are awarded to the University, and the faculty member involved plays the central role of principal investigator. But part of the reason these grants are made to universities and not individuals is the fact that there is a lot more that the university offers than simply the ideas of the faculty member. It offers the physical, intellectual, and administrative infrastructure to support this research, and it offers a record of institutional responsibility in complying with the various conditions that come with acceptance of a grant.

And what does a granting agency expect and require from the University when we accept a grant. First, of course, that the research be carried out. But more than that, there are a variety of conditions that must be satisfied: these range from possible variation of the research plan, to issues of safety, personnel, conflict of interest, academic integrity, clinical trials, expenditures, budgeting, accounting, and more. And with every single grant that we accept, we put all our institutional integrity behind the statement that we will satisfy the terms and conditions of the grant. This is a crucial institutional step, not only because our integrity as an institution is involved, but also because this is a major source of the funds that allow us to accomplish our central missions.

There are many persons at the University who share responsibility of seeing that we comply with conditions as we agreed to do. They range from the principal investigator, to University Research Administration, to the Comptrollerís Office, to the Provostís office, to the Office of Legal Counsel, and to myself as Senior Research Officer. All of these groups or individuals have an important role to play in ensuring our compliance, and work very hard, individually and interactively, to see that this is done. And of course, very importantly, it includes all of you who in one capacity or another are responsible for the direct administration of specific grants or contracts. All of us need to function effectively as a team. You should expect appropriate help from others, as they expect appropriate help from you.

It is difficult to overstate the importance to the University of our collectively handling the administration of these grants in an accurate and professional way. I have already spoken of the importance of these grants to the core of the Universityís mission, and you individually, and all of us together, are playing a crucial role in completing this mission.

The cost of failure to do our jobs well is high. Aside from a simple failure to help move important research forward, there are concrete institutional losses. Depending upon circumstances, these can involve a loss of institutional credibility, loss of grant funding, serious financial penalties, which can run in to millions of dollars, legal difficulties for the University and relevant individuals, and personal difficulties for those involved.

It is because the positives of doing our job well are so great namely, participating in a great research enterprise which in the long term produces so much of value to human life and prosperity and because the costs of failing to do our job well can be so great, that these training programs have come into being. They are designed to help all of us do a better job, individually and as a group, in administering these grants in an effective way to aid research, and ensure compliance. They have been put together with a great deal of effort by the group that Bill Hogan listed (other than myself), and I want to thank each of them for all their work.

And I want to thank all of you for the hard and important work you do for the University, and I believe that you will find these training programs will help you in all of this work.