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K-State Today

December 11, 2015

Introduction to Research Support Task Force structure and activities

Submitted by Mary Rezac

Dear K-State Community Members,

I am writing to provide an update on activities of the Research Support Task Force.

By way of reminder, in Vice President for Research Karen Burg's Nov. 2 letter to campus, she announced the formation of the task force. The group was charged with delivering a report to the president that addresses models and modes of research support in three areas:

  1. Sponsored research overhead (SRO), or indirect cost recovery distribution;
  2. Development and fundraising for research support; and
  3. Fee schedules and advance business plan development for major initiatives and equipment.

These three areas necessitate a discussion of service and investment expectations with respect to central administrative sponsored research overhead dollars and a review of data and best/worst practices from peer, Big 12, and other research-intensive institutions. In short, the task force was charged with discussing and offering defined ways that we, as a campus, can work collaboratively to support research, scholarly and creative activities and discovery activity in a positive, forward-thinking fashion as we address many, many challenges.

In the past month, the task force has met and reviewed the status of research and related income generation and expenditures. To date, we've reviewed the following:

  • The history of SRO distribution at K-State.
  • The current SRO distribution policy.
  • Actual research expenditures, SRO generation, and the effective indirect cost rate in the past five years.
  • Actual distribution of SRO among the various units.
  • Fiscal year 2014 SRO distributions across units, actual versus policy.
  • Actual distribution of the Central SRO 2012–2016, with projections to 2018.
  • SRO surplus reserves available to various campus units in fiscal 2013, 2014 and 2015.
  • Ten-year trend in research awards segregated by funding type (federal, state, private/corporate, etc.).
  • Distribution of research awards by agency fiscal 2009 versus fiscal 2015.

We've made each of these documents available at the Research Support Task Force web page. You are welcomed and encouraged to review these documents. The task force has come to the following conclusions with respect to K-State's current situation.

  • Externally funded, SRO-generating research expenditures have remained relatively stable in the past 5 years.
  • Our effective indirect cost rate on these externally funded awards is approximately 16 percent. The effective rate is lower than the federally negotiated rate of 50 percent of modified total direct costs for many reasons, including the waiver of indirect costs on tuition, equipment and participant costs, and financial support from organizations that have limited overhead rates.
  • The K-State research-funding portfolio relies heavily on the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has good performance from the National Science Foundation, industry and foundations and shows relative underperformance from the Department of Defense and the National Institutes for Health.
  • Although income generation has been stable, expenditures — led by salaries, startup packages and support for core facilities — have increased in the past five years.
  • Finally, to date, the income/expenditure imbalance has largely been absorbed by reserves from prior years; think of this as our savings account. Yet, without an influx of new dollars, these reserves will be depleted by FY 2018. You'll note in the projections that expenditures for Biosecurity Research Institute debt service and operating costs appear to increase significantly in the central SRO distribution fiscal 2012–2016 with projections to 2018. In reality, the costs have been relatively constant. To date, most of these costs have been absorbed by the separate externally supplied funds or carry forward balances. Unfortunately, we have no additional reserve or commitments for external funds to cover these costs beyond fiscal 2017.

The data-gathering phase of the task force work is not yet complete, but we are making progress. The task force is now beginning to shift focus to the financial models that are employed by other institutions in an attempt to develop recommendations for models that will be effective at K-State. When preliminary models have been formulated, we'll share those with you for evaluation and feedback.

We appreciate your interest and support and welcome your questions or comments. Please email me at rezac@k-state.edu.

Best regards,

Mary Rezac, interim associate vice president for research and chair of the Research Support Task Force
on behalf of members:

  • Amit Chakrabarti, head, Department of Physics, College of Arts & Sciences
  • John Floros, dean, College of Agriculture and director, Research and Extension
  • Mark Haub, head, Department of Human Nutrition, College of Human Ecology
  • Roberta Johnson, director, Administrative & Information Technology Services, Libraries
  • Bob Rowland, professor, Department of Diagnostic Medicine and Pathobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Jackie Spears, professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education
  • Ruth Welti, university distinguished professor, Division of Biology, College of Arts & Sciences