The Senate Source

August 2014

Senate Speaks on Importance of Systemwide Research

The Academic Council has endorsed a letter from Chair Jacob to President Napolitano expressing concern about the impact of budget cuts on several systemwide research programs overseen by the Office of Research and Graduate Studies (ORGS).

The letter notes that those programs took a disproportionate share of cuts during the budget crisis and remain vulnerable to further reductions. It asks UCOP to make an ongoing commitment to central funding for faculty-led research at predictable levels by establishing a target funding level at 3% of the overall systemwide research budget (currently at approximately five billion dollars per year).

According to data obtained by the systemwide Senate office, the overall budget for UCOP funded research (excluding programs overseen by the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources) shrank 19% between 2008-09 and 2013-14 and the portion of the UCOP discretionary budget available for faculty-initiated research shrank 73%. The overall UCOP budget shrank only 6% during this period.

Funding for faculty-initiated research includes funds that flow through large competitive grants programs such as the Discovery Grant program, which was eliminated, the Multi-campus Research Programs and Initiatives (MRPI) Program, the laboratory management fee program, and UC Mexxus.

Part of the problem, says Senate Chair Bill Jacob, is that there are many types of centrally funded systemwide research, and complicated current accounting procedures do not clearly identify or disaggregate budgets for centrally supported faculty-led research. This makes them vulnerable to cuts and discourages multi-year funding commitments. For this reason, the Senate is asking UCOP to develop a clear annual financial report on multi-campus/systemwide research support that itemizes all fund sources and expenditures from each source according to the program receiving funds, and keeps track of out-year commitments of future funds.

The Council letter distinguishes discretionary funding distributed in grants for faculty-led research from direct support to longstanding Multicampus Research Units (MRUs) such as UCO/Keck, Scripps, and other state-mandated research programs administered by UCOP that may have less fungible budgets like the Cal ISIs. Its focus is on programs such as the Laboratory Fee Program and the MRPI that are at great risk of cuts over the next few years.

“The centrally funded research budget is a fundamental reflection of UC’s values,” he said. “Institutional support for systemwide research enables collaboration and research that would be unlikely to develop on a single campus and provides opportunities to support scholarship across all disciplines, particularly areas where federal support is meager or nonexistent. Moreover, support for such research helps differentiate UC’s mission from the other segments and sustain UC as the nation’s leading public research university.”

MRPI and MRU awards are made through peer reviewed competitions overseen by ORGS. ORGS also established the Portfolio Review Group (PRG), a joint Senate-Administration review group, to evaluate the entire centrally supported research portfolio and provide recommendations to the Vice President for Research about priorities for UCOP-funded research.

The PRG was originally intended as a one-time group that would review the University’s efficacy in advancing research in various areas, weigh each against other systemwide research programs to determine where UC was over/under investing in research, and identify principles for determining appropriate funding levels. The PRG worked in two phases – the first looked at fungible programs like MRPI and MRUs, and the second at facilities and non-fungible programs such as the UC Observatories and UC Mexxus. The final reports are posted online on the ORGS website.

Council’s letter recommends the continuation of the Portfolio Review Group and a modification of its charge to focus on overall strategic policy objectives related to systemwide research, with more robust consultation with faculty.

“Systemwide research leverages the Power of Ten,” said Chair Jacob. “We need to assure a robust future for research opportunities that cannot be matched by individual campuses, either because they require large facilities or investments or because funds are not available from traditional sources. Providing protected funds for research will send an important message that the University of California remains committed to being the world’s greatest public research university.”