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K-State Today

March 29, 2013

Monthly letter to campus from President Schulz about university research themes

Submitted by Kirk Schulz

Kirk Schulz

Dear Faculty and Staff,

Spring has officially arrived in Kansas — along with some snow showers! As we enter the latter part of another academic year, all of us will start getting those invitations to end-of-the-year celebrations and graduations. Please put on your calendar our new university recognition celebration on May 6 at 3 p.m. in the Alumni Ballroom, where faculty and unclassified staff awards will be presented. We hope this will be a new tradition for our campus. 

Shared governance is a concept that is increasingly in the news – and increasingly under fire at many academic institutions. One of the ways in which we have effectively exercised shared governance during my tenure as president has been with the use of task forces to examine specific items of critical importance to the future of Kansas State. As part of this process, we have engaged a variety of task forces to look at many different subjects — Research Infrastructure, Campus Master Planning, Undergraduate Research, Faculty Compensation, 2025 Research Themes, and Human Capital (in process). We have tried to be consistent in the way each task force works and operates, regardless of topic. 

Generally, we work with the different governance groups (Faculty Senate, Classified Senate and Student Senate) to appoint representatives to a particular group, which is then given a charge by the president or provost. The group meets and produces a draft report, which is then open to campus for comment. The comments are not edited, and are posted on the K-State website for everyone to see what their colleagues are saying. Following the comment period, changes are made to the report and/or recommendations, at which point the report is deemed final. Then the university community moves into an implementation phase for each area. 

In addition to the different task force reports generated over the last 24 to 36 months, there are several other areas that we will need to address in a collaborative fashion next academic year. However, we didn’t feel it was appropriate to start any new task force groups until we have wrapped up the findings from the existing projects. Thus, our goal for the remainder of the semester is to finish with the open task force reports then move into an implementation phase next academic year. 

One of these open task force reports is the 2025 Research Themes Committee report. Compared to other task force draft reports, this report generated a great deal of dialog and discussion on campus. I believe the dialog has been both healthy and difficult. In my view, disagreement and critique is part of what constitutes a healthy university environment. Below, I will summarize what we learned from the 2025 Research Themes Committee report, what changes we are making based on campus critique and feedback, and next steps as we identify our current and emerging areas of research strengths. 

What did we learn? First, the report gave us a quantitative snapshot of university-wide research strengths in science and engineering with significant depth and breadth as measured by peer-reviewed publications and research funding. The analysis done by the task force clearly identified areas that had both superior funding and superior numbers of journal publications using commonly available databases. Second, the report provided a concrete set of recommendations to help grow our overall scholarly output as part of K-State 2025 through investment in shared resources, the promotion of interdisciplinary work, retention of talented faculty and staff, and the need to extend the analysis further and on a regular basis. 

What changes are we making? First, inclusion of individual faculty members in Appendix A (citations) and Appendix B (research funding) showed that we don't do a good job of giving appropriate credit internally to interdisciplinary projects. Also, the time frame for the citation window was probably too short. As such, neither of these appendices will be included in the final report. Second, there was significant dialog that the arts, humanities and social sciences were not appropriately measured and included. Indeed, several groups on campus felt that the data used in the report missed their particular research area completely. I mentioned publicly on several occasions that perhaps we needed another group to consider other research metrics to measure areas outside of science and engineering. 

What are the next steps? Following input from innumerable 2025 meetings across campus, it was determined that the next step in the research themes process should come from an assessment of the unique strengths in each of our colleges. That’s where the greatest first-hand knowledge resides regarding K-State strengths that might require different metrics than those used in the research themes report. 

As a kick-off to the college-level effort, a mini-retreat was held on March 5, 2013. The deans and associate deans for research from each college met to identify the next steps in the process. Three major questions were addressed: 

1) What characteristics would you use to define a university or college strategic area of research excellence? 

2) What criteria should be considered when identifying university or college strategic areas of research excellence or strength? 

3) What additional topics do we need to discuss in this group as we move forward with K-State 2025 research planning? 

The responses collected are available on the 2025 website; we appreciate campus-wide input. Once the criteria for identifying strategic areas of excellence are fully reviewed and finalized, each college can then determine the area in which it has the best opportunity to contribute to K-State's 2025 goals.

This is the time of year when fatigue starts setting in – and I want to once again express my sincere appreciation to our faculty and staff who work hard to continue to improve the educational experience at Kansas State. We are on pace to have another record year in enrollment, fundraising and research funding. Thanks to all for your continued hard work. 

Go 'Cats! 

Kirk signature


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