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  February 12, 2001

Group Seeks Ways to Support Research

A group of seasoned researchers has begun exploring ways to encourage more research activities at the University.

A former subcommittee of the Graduate Faculty Council known as the Research Support Committee has been reconstituted by Ian Hart, interim vice provost for research and graduate education. Its mission is to review the obstacles to efficient conduct of research at the Storrs campus and to make recommendations for improving the research climate.

"It has become apparent that there are a number of impediments to furthering research activities at the University," says Hart. "Some of these are relatively minor and easily corrected, while others may be more serious,

of a more institutional nature, and thus more difficult to solve - but nonetheless require discussion and consideration."

Hart, who says he favors open discussion of issues, chose the 11 committee members - including four department heads - on the basis of their successful research careers and strong opinions on how research should be conducted and administered on campus.

Applying for grants, accessing grant funds, setting up a research lab, hiring research personnel, processing purchase orders and requisitions, increasing technical and library support services, and improving accounting procedures are just some of the items that could come under the purview of the committee.

"It's a matter of identification of the problems and communication to whoever is in a position to do something about it," says Gary Epling, professor and head of chemistry. "The committee is a vehicle for what should be a non-confrontational discussion of barriers and for problem solving about how those barriers can be overcome."

Another member of the committee, Larry Hightower, a professor of molecular and cell biology, says he is fairly satisfied with conditions for his own research. He has been at UConn for

25 years and has a well established research lab. But he is concerned on behalf of junior faculty members, some of whom are having a hard time getting new research programs started.

Hightower speculates that the obstacles to research at the University are a combination of bureaucracy and budget woes.

Underlying faculty concerns about the nuts and bolts of research are fundamental issues about the balance between research and teaching, not only in the professional lives of individual faculty members but in the mission of the University. Hightower says undergraduate enrollment has surged without a commensurate increase in the number of faculty members.

Since his arrival at the University last summer, Chancellor John Petersen has on several occasions pledged to give renewed emphasis to research.

Hightower says enrollments in his department are going up and his own classes have increased in size. "This trend is no doubt going to result in a reallocation of how faculty spend their time," he says, "and the only way to keep the research commitment going is better support services. But that's going to take more resources."

Hightower commends the Office for Sponsored Programs for the job it does with limited staff, but says some other major research institutions have considerably greater resources for the support of research, including, for example, entire offices dedicated to writing grant proposals.

The Research Support Committee, which held its first meeting last semester, is expected to meet twice a semester. It will report to the Graduate Faculty Council, an advisory body that effectively functions as the research counterpart to the University Senate. A separate committee, known as the Research Advisory Council, continues to advise the Research Foundation on the allocation of University funds for research to individuals and programs. The RAC is represented on the new committee by Hightower, whom Hart appointed in order to facilitate sharing of information between these groups.

Hart has invited those with concerns about research to send the information to him via e-mail:

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu

Members of the Research Support Committee are:
Bob Birge, Chemistry
Gary Epling, Chemistry
Jeff Fisher, Psychology
Steve Geary, Pathobiology
Ian Hart, Research & Graduate Education (ex officio)
David Herzberger, Modern & Classical Languages
Larry Hightower, Molecular &Cell Biology
George Hoag, Civil & Environmental Engineering and Environmental Research Institute
Alexandros Makriyannis, Pharmaceutical Sciences
Bill Stwalley, Physics
Altina Waller, History
Jerry X. Yang, Animal Science