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September 3, 2002

Office of Research Administration streamlines structure

By Eric Rangus

The organizational chart for the Office of Research Administration covers six pages.

This isn’t the reflection of some bureaucratic mess—far from it. Instead it is an illustration of the increasingly crucial role played by the office, which not only supports the scholarly work of the faculty through funding resources, but also manages the many regulations researchers must deal with through the course of their often innovative work.

The office’s flowchart is even more important nowadays because it is in the middle of a restructuring, the goal of which is to streamline the research compliance process, which—until now—has been scattered among several entities.

To better address new federal regulations and respond more quickly to faculty needs, the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) and the Office of Grants and Contracts (OGC) are now under the leadership of one person: Marilyn Surbey, associate vice president for finance and research. She had been director of OGC exclusively.

The work of the offices has always been related: OSP helps researchers find and obtain grants while OGC follows up after the money is awarded.

“The offices are really opposite sides of the same coin,” Surbey said. “We will now be able to deal with proposals from pre-award all the way to closeout.”

“The issue is to bring our systems together on the pre- and post-award sides of research so they can work better, so we can get funds out to the faculty faster and stop some duplication of effort,” said Frank Stout, vice president for Research Administration.

On Aug. 26, the new Office of Research Compliance (ORC) came online, directed by Kris West, who came over from the General Counsel’s office. Among this entity’s new goals is establishing a training program for faculty and administrators on the issues of research compliance, the regulations of which change almost by the week.

For faculty whose research involves human or animal subjects, biohazardous materials or has complicated financing, such an office is crucial to the smooth completion of their work.
For the most part, new regulations are being driven by a variety of incidents around the country, such as improper use of human subjects or conflicts of interest.

The Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) is the final branch of the Office of Research Administration, and it is undergoing some changes as well. As of Sept. 1, Mary Severson, who held the title of assistant vice president and director, is now the office’s chief technology officer.

With a background in patents and law, she will be dealing primarily with science and technology evaluation.

A new position of director of technology administration has been created, and a search is on to fill it. Once chosen, the person will handle OTT’s day-to-day operations.

Research Administration’s organizational changes are in response not only to individual faculty and administrator concerns, but also the Research at Emory project. In six to eight weeks, the office hopes to activate the Institutional Research Advisory Committee (IRAC), which will investigate issues that affect multiple areas of the University. It will be made up of faculty and senior administrators throughout Emory.

The School of Medicine, for instance, has its own RAC to deal with issues specific to the school, but the IRAC’s mission will be broader, though along the same lines.

“We want to take a look at things that go across the schools,” Stout said. “[Emory] needs to build the research program across the institution, and I think this is one committee that ultimately could play a significant role in implementing some of the recommendations of Research at Emory.”

The effect of these organizational changes may not be felt for a while, but the goal is simple: To help ease the faculty’s burden in dealing with the labyrinth of regulations that govern their research.

“Our basic function is to help faculty do their research,” Stout said. “I know there are times they feel we do nothing but get in the way, but unfortunately, in this environment, the regulatory side is encroaching more and more on their work.”