Faculty Senate pushes for software to help researchers

The Faculty Senate voted Friday to prod administrators to purchase a new software program that tracks finances for research projects.

A move to a new information system would help researchers track more easily their expenditures online when working with research grants, information that is currently split between two systems and on paper. The resolution was passed unanimously, as professors and administrators agreed the older technology was outdated.

Economics professor Anthony Yezer, who chairs the Faculty Senate’s research committee and proposed the resolution, estimated a new information system could cost the University about $5 million, but said the technology was essential as GW looks to cement its research clout.

“We have people with general horror stories with difficulty they have gotten into because they could not monitor expenditures on a current basis,” Yezer said. “They spend an inordinate amount of time that can be used for research, instead running down financial issues.”

Like all Faculty Senate actions, the resolution is non-binding, but Provost Steven Lerman said administrators were on board. He did not return a request to comment on the estimated price of buying new software.

When researchers are sponsored with grants, they must make sure their expenditures stay in line with the award total. They go through several phases, from grant proposal to hiring and expenses to close-out, all of which are tracked on different systems.

The University uses BanWeb to track hiring on research projects and an information system called Oracle for accounting.

The multiple systems do not “talk to each other,” the resolution reads, creating confusion about expenses. For example, a researcher with a three-year grant can only track expenditures one year at a time.

Yezer said the current system can cause financial hang-ups – like researchers spending on equipment or hiring expenses that should not have been incurred – which can cut time used for research.

“Just imagine that you had your automated payments set up for your bank account and you were paying a bunch of bills automatically and you didn’t have a way of keeping track of what was automatic pay and what wasn’t,” he said. “There would be consequences to that.”

He said he expected the information systems would take about two to three years to plan and implement.

Lerman said the system needs to evolve along with the University’s relatively new research focus, which sharpened when University President Steven Knapp took the helm in 2007. GW moved into the National Science Foundation’s top 100 research institutions for the first time last month.

“It’s only in recent years we’ve grown up to be a major research institution,” Lerman said. “I think to some extent we underinvested over time because it was a small fraction of what we did. The systems now have to catch up.”

Yezer added that as the University hires top researchers from other universities, those new professors will expect top-flight information systems.

“If we’re going to increase this activity and we’re actually going to hire people used to functioning at universities that have really good information systems, we’re going to have a problem because they’re going to come here and be extremely unhappy,” Yezer said.

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