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Administrators present research funding options

Vice President and Provost Gene D. Block and Assoc. Provost for Management Kathrine Reed spoke to the General Faculty Council Monday afternoon about the resources general faculty can obtain for research and salaries between funding contracts.

Faculty research and salaries are supported by state funding as well as by individual funds, grants and contracts known as soft money. Research faculty who depend on soft money might be stuck without any source of funding before their grants are renewed.

Block and Reed spoke about protecting "productive research faculty from losing money between the ebb and flow of grants and funding," Council Secretary Thomas Dowd said.

"The grant might expire before the next one kicks in - the faculty member could lose their salary, benefits and insurance," Dowd said.

Block and Reed outlined other available sources of funding if such a situation occurs.

"The first line of recourse is if the [faculty member's] school or department can pick" up the faculty member's financial losses, Reed said.

In another option, general faculty might be put "in a leave-without-pay situation," she said.

"The majority of research faculty is probably supported by soft money," she added.

Donal Day, Council member and physics research professor, offered another possibility to help alleviate this problem.

"A plan [to remedy this] that is favored by research faculty is to set aside a portion of research funds and create a pool of funds that research faculty could draw from" should they be trapped temporarily without funding, Day said.

Faculty who have been at the University and have been doing productive research for many years would be justified in withdrawing some funds from that pool, he said.

He added that such a pool of funds exists at other research universities, but not here.

Day said such changes only would be possible through an effort from the faculty, not the administrators.

"These things have to be decided at a grass roots level and percolate up to become institutionalized," he said.

Reed said a situation at the University where a faculty member is left stranded without funds is rare.

"There are only a few such instances at any given point in time," she said. "Some of the faculty members were concerned about what their options were" if they were stuck without funding, she added.

In particular, the natural and physical science departments, the Medical Center and the Engineering School may be affected by loss of funds since there are many research-only faculty in those departments, Reed said.

Some Council members were pleased that Block came to speak to them and address this issue of concern.

"The University has a sympathetic view to these research faculty," Dowd said. "The higher administration understand the value of these people."

Day agreed with Dowd.

"There is consciousness among the administrators that some problems that [research faculty] face are unique," he said.

The University "recognizes that research faculty is a growing component of research, while tenured faculty is not growing as quickly," he added.

Monday's meeting was the first the Council held this year, attended by its 18 representatives from throughout the University.

"Our goal is to become more active. One of our issues is salary pay - last year, some general faculty didn't receive as much as regular (tenure-track) faculty," Day said.

Each Council member is nominated and serves for a staggered three-year term, Council Chairwoman Jane Penner said.

Reed and Leonard W. Sandridge, executive vice president and chief financial officer, are both members of the general faculty.

The Council represents about 1,400 University faculty who are not tenured nor on tenure track, Penner said.