February 13, 2015
A letter from President Schulz, V.P. for Research Burg: Office of Research
By President Kirk Schulz and V.P. for Research Karen Burg
Dear Faculty and Staff,
As we continue work to grow our research, scholarship, creative activities, and discovery, or RSCAD, as outlined in Theme 1 of K-State 2025, there are several key areas that have come more sharply into focus over the last 6 months. Generally, these areas include fiscal operations, university policies focused around proposal preparation and submission, and the leadership role of the associate deans for research in each college or campus.
As we seek to meet our goal of becoming a Top 50 public research university by 2025, it is important we recognize the increasing responsibilities of chief research officers in each of our academic units. The associate deans for research meet on a regular basis to facilitate communications between senior leadership in the Office of Research with the colleges and campuses. This is a great avenue to determine university-RSCAD priorities, discuss potential changes in policies and provide leadership that enables faculty, staff and students to perform their individual scholarly work. Thus, as requests for resources come forward to the Office of Research in the future, we expect that the appropriate associate deans for research will be fully engaged and integral in the development and presentation of these requests. These individuals welcome your comments and suggestions; see their contact information.
Let's address the facts regarding the Office of Research to dispel any rumors or misunderstandings. We have worked with the Office of the Vice President for Administration and Finance to ensure we are living within our means and are as strategic as possible in how we invest available funds.
- Overhead costs, also referred to as indirect costs, are expenses of doing business that are not readily identified with a particular grant, contract, project function or activity, but are necessary for the general operation of the organization and the scope of activities it performs. For example, indirect costs like heat, light and accounting might be charged directly if they could be reasonably apportioned. It’s like using a pen for ten different projects. The ink in the pen is tied to all the projects as an overhead cost because it is simply not cost-effective, nor reasonable, to track the amount of ink per project.
- A review of our financial resources has resulted in the realization that only a limited amount of start-up funds can be provided by the Office of Research for new RSCAD-intensive faculty hiring for the upcoming fiscal year. Start-up funds are provided via overhead fund returns to central administration. Deviations from the approved overhead return policy are severely inhibiting our ability to provide a greater level of support. In addition, past commitments to the university community continue to utilize our current resources. Also, our history of providing voluntary cost share has contributed to depletion of our centralized indirect cost collections. Lastly, increased RSCAD activities, while exciting, have exceeded our ability to meet the requested startup contributions across campus. To summarize, our financial practices have not been adjusted to meet the needs of K-State 2025.
- In order to be as informative as possible, this summer we will distribute a fiscal report to the campus community with details describing how the limited amount of overhead funds returned to the Office of Research are spent and how the funds returned to other central units are spent. In short, only 5 percent of indirect cost returns are returned to the Office of Research. These limited funds are used to fund operating costs for the Office of Research units, as well as university RSCAD-relevant organizational memberships. Although our published campus policy states a 53 percent return to central administration, the reality is that deviations over time have resulted in a 48 percent return on average. This money funds items like start-up, utilities, administrative support for grants activity, human capital services support, libraries and information technology. Deviations from the agreed-upon policy mean less money to invest in RSCAD.
- We have been examining many of our existing university policies surrounding proposal submission, matching funds requests and other areas of importance to the RSCAD enterprise. These policies have been in place at K-State for many years — see PreAward Services Policy and Procedures Manual — but many have not been followed consistently across the campus community. Because the Policy and Procedures Manual may sometimes be challenging to navigate, select pertinent existing policies will be posted prominently on the Office of Research website. Proposed new policies will be posted on this Web page, along with the opportunity for comments and the contact information for each unit’s research point. If we have longstanding written policies, then we need to be consistent in their application on campus. If there are poor policies that need revision, we will need to work together as a university — through campus governance groups — to revise these policies per normal procedures.
- A number of proposal submissions have been made requesting additional financial commitments beyond that required in the formal request for proposals. We simply do not have the financial resources to overmatch minimums required by funding agencies. Overmatching also diminishes our ability to collect federal indirect returns, and therefore further cripples the research enterprise. We do want to be sure that we are fully documenting, in proposal documents, all the appropriate university support that will be committed to ensure success and to help maximize the chances for a successful award — university support does not mean matching funds; it means university commitment such as laboratory space, core services and facilities, strategic instruments available for project completion, access to specialized technical expertise, along with administrative support, etc.
- There have been many rumors about changing the university overhead policy distribution. Specifically, there is concern that a new policy is going to be put in place that has no campus input or dialogue with the larger campus research community. There is NO basis in fact to this rumor. We are looking at currently existing university policies that govern the distribution of overhead monies and ensuring that these policies are being followed. This is another example where there is significant deviation from currently approved policy. Once we ensure we are following our current policies, we need to ask ourselves if the current overhead policy will help us meet our K-State 2025 goals. If the answer is no, then we will work together as a university — through a group of campus leaders — to help us formulate a proposal to be considered by the university at large. It is very important to remember that overhead monies are limited amounts provided by the federal government for the purpose of supporting the RSCAD mission. This money is not provided as a reward to individual investigators or for non-RSCAD activities.
As we seek to move toward the goals outlined in K-State 2025, we are confident that these steps will help us move forward to ensuring K-State supports all of our RSCAD activities to the best of our ability. We will only achieve our goals if we enthusiastically work together.
Be reminded that there is a twitter feed for K-State RSCAD information and activities; please follow @KState_RSCAD. Also please remember that RSCAD Momentum, our RSCAD newsletter, is released each Thursday through K-State Today with funding opportunities and news. Archived letters from the Office of Research are also available online. We look forward to communicating additional RSCAD updates in K-State Today throughout the semester.
Best wishes for a great 2015!
President Kirk Schulz and Vice President for Research Karen Burg