The following charge was given to the 2011-2012 Senate Committee for Research Policy Oversight, January 13 2012.

“Review the existing policies and procedures for the establishment, maintenance, and retirement of Centers, Institutes and Research Facilities at the University. A survey of relevant policies and procedures at appropriate matchmate and aspirant universities should be undertaken.”

Background

There is a strong and timely rationale for the current charge to RPOC (a request supported by the Office of the Provost) for evaluating existing approved procedures for the establishment, oversight, support and conditions for continuation of Centers and Institutes at Northeastern. Fifteen years has passed since the procedures for establishing and reviewing Centers and Institutes were articulated and ten years since an addendum to approved procedures was added. While quite detailed policies and procedures were adopted and approved, there is little evidence of consistent oversight and review over the years. The review is especially needed considering the recent changes to the university (establishment of university themes, introduction of hybrid budget model, focus on interdisciplinary learning, introduction of three new colleges and current development of university’s long range strategic plan). In addition there is concern that there may be some overlap among the centers that could be spreading our strengths and investments too thinly. To put the environment in context, there are currently 37 research centers ranging from large interdisciplinary efforts with considerable infrastructure and operational cost to small groups of faculty sharing common scholarly interests.

RPOC Subcommittee membership

The following sub-committee of RPOC was identified for this activity:

Professors Ban-An Khaw, Mike Pollastri, Ron Sandler and Sri Sridhar; Senior Vice Provost of Research and Education Mel Bernstein (Chair). Additionally the committee was fortunate to be able to consult with Erich Bloch, formerly Director of the National Science Foundation and part of a consulting to the university who undertook an external review of Centers and Institutes in 2009, whose main conclusions and recommendations can be found in Appendix B along with benchmarking from a number of peer or aspirant universities. Erich Bloch, then spent two days at Northeastern visiting with Center Directors , and prepared an update to his 2010 report (Appendix C)

RPOC Subcommittee Approach:

  • Review current version of “Policies and Procedures for Establishing, Managing and Reviewing Research Center at Northeastern University” (see summary in Appendix A)
  • Propose revisions of “Policies and Procedures for Establishing, Managing and Reviewing Research Center at Northeastern University” to RPOC

The committee benefitted greatly by the presence and insight of Prof. Sridhar who was instrumental in the preparation of the 2007 addendum to the rules and procedures for Centers and institutes.

Discussion and Main Conclusions

In the main, the existing rules and procedures addressed many of the issues that we were asked to consider, but that little has been done in recent years adhering to the oversight and reporting requirements in the original document and the addendum. However there were a number of modifications and/or enhancements of current procedures that the committee wishes to put forward for consideration. What follows is the committee’s summary of the key elements of relevance to the current organizational structure of the University, the strong growth of interdisciplinary research at Northeastern and to how best to provide oversight and support of current and proposed Centers and Institutes. It builds largely on the original 1997 approved Policies and Procedures, the 2004 Addendum, recommendations from the external review in 2007 and current discussions of the current RPOC subcommittee. As such it describes the recommended roadmap for initiating, establishing, operating and evaluating current and proposed Centers and Institutes. The details of relevant policies and procedures should continue to follow earlier approved documents, amended to reflect any subsequent governance and organizational language.

Definitions

A center is an academic unit which may be located within a department or college, may involve participants from more than one department within a college, or may involve individuals from multiple academic units across colleges. The primary purpose of a center is to sponsor, coordinate, conduct and promote research and/or in the case where unique facilities are available, serve as central facility.

An institute is a distinct and free-standing unit of substantial size. It may also be focused on one discipline or may be interdisciplinary. The primary focus of an Institute's activity is research, although an Institute may undertake non-research service activities and initiatives. Centers and Institutes can include non-Northeastern individuals as participating members.

Criteria for Establishing New Centers

Newly proposed Centers should meet the following criteria:

  • Several faculty with long-term interest in the mission of the proposed center, committed to the venture for a sustained period of at least five years and having articulated objectives not otherwise achievable by the efforts of individual faculty or existing units.
  • A good fit with the mission and strategic goals of the University and no substantial duplication of research of an existing center, department, or college.
  • An internal or external source identified for seed funding of the center with identification of likely long-term external funding sources for the center.

Procedures for request of New Centers

  • The rationale and organizational structure for establishing the center with goals and objectives and possible overlaps with existing entities should be clearly delineated
  • Faculty to be involved, including the name of the proposed Director, should be part of the request.
  • The sources, amounts, and duration of funds required to initiate and sustain the research, operation and service function, including required matching or cost sharing funds, must be spelled out.

Provisional Approval

Upon endorsing the proposal, the relevant dean or deans will establish the administrative structure by nominating the proposed director, faculty associates, and chair and, where applicable, members of an Advisory Committee and will forward the proposal to the Senior Vice Provost and to the Provost for consideration of approval.

Limitations on Center and Institute Authority

  • Centers and institutes supplement the activities of traditional academic units, and may notduplicate the functions of those units.
  • Tenured faculty who participate in centers or institutes are tenured only in their home department, school or college ("academic unit"); they do not acquire tenure in the center or institute, nor can they offer degrees.

Management of Centers and Institutes

  • For centers or institutes that reside within a single academic department or non-departmentalized college, oversight of the center or institute shall be the responsibility of the chair or dean, and the director of the center or institute shall report to the chair or dean, as appropriate.
  • For centers or institutes whose research is interdisciplinary and involves faculty from more than one college, oversight of the center or institute shall be the collective responsibility of the Senior Vice Provost and the involved Deans, who will decide on a case by case basis the reporting relationship of the director and the nature of agreed upon financial support for the Center or Institute.
  • Each center is required to submit written reports annually to the involved Deans and the Senior Vice Provost. At least once a year, directors will meet with the dean(s) and/or the Senior Vice Provost, in the case of interdisciplinary centers, to make sure that all goals, objectives, and agreements are being met. Each center and its director will be evaluated every five years on their success in meeting their own goals and objectives as well as their substantive contribution to the mission of the campus.
  • The composition of the evaluation committee will follow current and relevant university policy. The committee can recommend continuation, remediation steps or phasing out of the Center and Institute. The relevant dean(s) and the SVP will then meet with the leadership of the Center or Institute to discuss the findings and agree upon next steps.