Faculty research fund fully restored after budget cuts

Media Credit: Sam Hardgrove | Assistant Photo Editor

University President Thomas LeBlanc announced earlier this month at a Faculty Senate meeting that a major source of faculty research funding has been fully restored.

Updated: Jan. 23, 2018 at 1:05 p.m.

A major source of faculty research funding has been fully restored after it had been targeted by budget cuts in recent years, University President Thomas LeBlanc announced earlier this month.

The University Facilitating Fund – a program that annually provides faculty with thousands of dollars worth of seed money for research projects – will be fully restored next fiscal year. Officials said pumping thousands more dollars into a program, which had been slashed amid a University-wide budget crunch over the last few years, sends a signal about the importance of research at the University.

LeBlanc said at a January Faculty Senate meeting that the University has tripled the amount of money available to faculty through the fund. He cited the decision, which he said had been made in recent weeks, in response to a question about tangible steps the University is taking to build its research reputation.

“The increase in funding sends a strong message that the University is prepared to invest in its research mission.”

“We have reduced the dollars available to faculty in the face of budget tightening and in the coming year we have restored those dollars,” LeBlanc said at the meeting. “I think it’s an important indicator in the direction we want to go.”

LeBlanc listed improving GW’s research standing among his highest priorities as University president – along with issues like student satisfaction, fundraising and GW’s overall culture – when he started in the position last year. Former University President Steven Knapp also made research a focal point of his tenure.

Leo Chalupa, the vice president for research, said that in each of the past three fiscal years, the Office of the Vice President for Research has provided about $200,000 for faculty seeking funding through the UFF, which could provide about 15 to 20 faculty with funding each year.

The fund is designed to give initial funding for research projects that have a strong likelihood of attracting external grants or external recognition for the professor and the Unviersity, he said.

The fund is especially geared toward “junior investigators” and those seeking to pursue new areas of research, according to OVPR’s website.

After working with LeBlanc, OVPR has been authorized to draw from reserve funds and increase the amount of money going toward UFF funding, he said.

“The increase in funding sends a strong message that the University is prepared to invest in its research mission and aspiration to preeminence as a comprehensive global research University,” Chalupa said in an email.

Chalupa declined to say why the the fund was initially cut, how much funding was taken away from the fund and the impact previous cuts had on faculty projects. He also declined to say how much money will be available through the fund next fiscal year.

Faculty said the restoration of funding for UFF was a pleasant surprise, but they said faculty should have been more a part of the decision-making process to both cut and restore the funding.

Harald Griesshammer, a professor of physics and a member of the Faculty Senate, said faculty were kept in the dark about the decision to originally cut back on funding for the UFF.

He said Chalupa’s office continues to prioritize research based in science and engineering that will generate more money for the University, which de-emphasizes research in the arts and humanities.

“Because we are so passionate about this, I think we should have a considerable say in what research at GW is and I think LeBlanc gets that message loud and clear, but I’m afraid that there are pockets in the administration who don’t listen to the message,” Griesshammer said referring to OVPR.

Griesshammer said in past years, the UFF has awarded individual faculty members about $25,000, which he said has decreased by about $10,000 over the last three or four years. He added that the national decline of research dollars is also putting faculty in a tight spot, especially those in the humanities, where faculty struggle to receive both federal and UFF funding.

Tyler Anbinder, a professor of history, said Chalupa held a meeting at the end of last year with faculty from humanities departments where he asked how OVPR could help to promote humanities scholarship.

Last year OVPR set aside almost $20,000 to host humanities seminars, in part to promote research in those departments.

“There’s no free lunch here.”

“I don’t think the meeting went very well, but just holding the meeting indicates a recognition of the fact that to be a great University, you have to have great humanities programs,” Anbinder said in an email.

Joseph Cordes, a professor of economics and chair of the Faculty Senate finance committee, said administrators were tight-lipped at the time the the UFF dwindled. He added that the temporary lack of resources available through the fund put more stress on internal funds, like ones provided within the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, which faculty often turned to when they couldn’t nail down other sources of funding.

“There’s no free lunch here,” he said. “Cutting back the facilitating fund when they did clearly meant that there were fewer internal dollars available for research and the president is now restoring them.”

This post was updated to reflect the following corrections:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the UFF had provided faculty with $200,000 in funding over the last three fiscal years. The fund had provided that amount in each of the last three fiscal years. The Hatchet also incorrectly reported that the fund has recently provided about eight faculty with funding each year. Between 15 and 20 faculty typically receive funding. We regret these errors.

Sarah Roach contributed reporting.

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