Faculty Senate votes to improve research-funding mechanisms

Following a presentation from Prof. Vincent Harris, the Faculty Senate voted on Wednesday to adopt recommendations to improve the Office of Research Administration and Finance. Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.
The Faculty Senate voted on Wednesday to adopt a set of recommendations drafted by a committee charged with studying the operations of Northeastern’s Office of Research Administration and Finance.

The 2011 Research Policy Oversight Committee, chaired by Vincent Harris, the W. L. Smith Chair Professor in the College of Engineering, created six recommendations to make obtaining and spending research funding easier for faculty. The recommendations — including improved training initiatives and a user-friendlier computer infrastructure — were adopted unanimously by the Senate.

Faculty members were largely satisfied with the work done by ORAF during the funding application process. “We’re hearing them described as hard-working, diligent, exceptional, dedicated — and overworked,” said Harris, reading from comments left by professors during last year’s survey.

There was less satisfaction with ORAF after funding had been awarded, with professors calling the office “unresponsive,” “unsatisfactory,” and the source of “extended delays.”

“It’s worth noting that when you look at the pre-award side, you’re looking at people helping you get money, while in the post-award phase you’re getting people who are telling you that you can’t spend it (in certain ways),” Harris said. “Those two sides are, in a way, diametrically opposed.”

Many of the committee’s recommendations have already been adopted by ORAF, which recently launched a new website faculty members say is more helpful, and has conducted its own focus-group testing to improve the services it provides to Northeastern faculty and researchers. Further improvements endorsed by the Faculty Senate include improvements to the Banner system, the web-based financial system.

The Senate also voted, with support from all but one member, to begin a three-year process to withdraw from the University Press of New England, a publishing consortium of universities that Vice Provost Mary Loeffelholz said costs Northeastern both money and prestige. As it departs from the press, Northeastern will determine how best to publish scholarly work, either by reinstating the Northeastern University Press or through some other mechanism.

The sole dissenter, journalism professor Charles Fountain, said he feared that voting to leave UPNE without a plan for future scholarly communications could lead to the longstanding Northeastern imprint “going dark.”

“It troubles me,” said Fountain, a former member of the Northeastern University Press’ editorial page. “If you were here with a proposal that the NU Press would re-emerge as a freestanding press, I would be all for that.”