Emory Report

 November 3, 1997

 Volume 50, No. 11

Emory increases funds for
faculty research; $300,000
one-time fund awarded by URC

This year the University Research Committee will almost double the funds that go to faculty to support their research. At the same time, the URC plans to change its funding structure, moving from yearly submissions and a 10-month award cycle to biannual submissions and a three-month cycle. In some cases, the committee will award funding of up to $30,000 per project as opposed to the current $15,000 maximum. "Now we will be able to provide funding in a timely manner for the most important work faculty are interested in pursuing," said Dennis Liotta, vice president for research.

The increased funding is due to a one-time, special fund of $300,000 that will support proposals submitted by Oct. 1 of this year. Because URC monies for 1997-98 already were awarded and disbursed, this special fund will serve to "tide faculty over" until 1998-99, when the first awards under the new structure will be granted, Liotta said. Applicants will know by January if their proposals have met with success.

The special funding comes from the offices of the provost, the executive vice president for health sciences and the vice president of research. "This partnership of vice presidents-Rebecca Chopp, Michael Johns and Dennis Liotta-demonstrates that Emory will be satisfied with nothing less than excellence in both teaching and research," said Susan Frost, vice provost of institutional planning and research.

Along with these changes, the URC will decentralize its structure by creating five clusters representing humanities, social sciences, math and natural sciences, basic health sciences and clinical research. "The administration has gone out of its way to do something good and special for the faculty," Liotta said. "The committee is changing its structure to be more responsive to both the external funding environment and the strong position the University is taking toward supporting faculty investigation.

An 'unqualified success'
The URC, which Liotta termed an "unqualified success," has been funding faculty research officially since 1976. The budget that year was $41,999 for 51 grants ranging from $200 to $1,000, according to Melanie Kingston, URC program administrator. This year's budget, including the $300,000 one-time fund, totaled $684,372.

"URC awards are designed to fund pilot projects or provide release time to write books and visit archives to collect data," said Dean Danner, professor of genetics and molecular medicine and URC chair.

Generally, the group funds faculty who have limited access to funding or who are not positioned to secure external monies, such as those in the arts, humanities and social sciences. "It's very important to the research mission of the University to have that portion of our scholarly community able to advance its own work," said Liotta.

For faculty such as those in the biomedical sciences, URC awards also may be used as seed funding. For many federally funded grants, applicants often need to show preliminary results, Liotta explained. Used as seed money, URC dollars can make Emory scientists more competitive for larger grants.

The URC decided to increase its maximum award to $30,000 to recognize disparities in the costs of biomedical and humanities research. "A $15,000 grant for a humanities scholar could mean an incredible positive impact on his or her scholarship," Liotta said. "By contrast, $15,000 to a basic health science investigator made little significant impact-just because the cost of doing research in those areas can be so much higher."

Return on investment high
"The exciting thing about the URC is the return rate," Danner said. "Over the past 15 years there has been a better than 10-fold increase in extramural funding." For the approximately $3 million the University has spent for research, close to $40 million was channeled back to Emory for these same research projects in outside funding.

"It's a very efficient use of funds," Professor Bruce Knauft said of the URC. An anthropologist, he received funds this year for a return trip to Papua, New Guinea, to study violence and social control among the Bebusi people. His $15,000 award includes $10,000 to fund a semester's release from teaching and $5,000 to cover research costs. The release funds go to his school's dean to pay for Knauft's replacement, and Knauft gets full salary and benefits while away. He's secured outside funds as well to help pay for his research.

"I wouldn't have been able to afford to take more than a semester off [without URC funds]," said Amy Lang, associate professor of American studies. A $10,000 award will allow her to complete a book on the social vocabularies of American fiction (1848-1877) during a year's sabbatical that ends in fall 1998.

The shift in external funds away from the humanities and social sciences makes the Emory-funded URC even more valuable for faculty such as Knauft and Lang. "We want to lead and be proactive," said Interim Provost Rebecca Chopp. "We don't want to be in the position of simply reacting to the changing winds."

Chopp refuses to see the University's increased support of research as devaluing teaching, or to see the renewed emphasis on pedagogy outlined in Teaching at Emory as signaling a declining significance for research.

"The production and reproduction of knowledge-to me, that is the essence of research and teaching," she said. "I don't believe that we have to accept the norm of other institutions that there's this fundamental split between teaching and research.

"Faculty who are enthralled by what they do, whether it's studying AIDS or English literature, find many ways to encounter their 'first loves'-working with an assistant in the lab or talking with students about their research," she continued. "Emory is committed to creating an environment in which they both can flourish."

-Stacey Jones

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