Robert Barnhill presentation

DR. ROBERT BARNHILL           
STRATEGIC PLANNING ENGAGEMENT SESSION
MARCH 31, 2010

Robert BarnhillDr. Robert Barnhill, professor emeritus and former vice president for research at Arizona State University, was a guest speaker on campus as part of the University's strategic planning process. Following Barnhill's remarks, participants engaged in small-group discussions, the results of which are summarized below.

Table 1:

(Note: Dr. Barnhill participated in the discussion at Table 1. His comments captured during the table discussion are highlighted below in bold; his feedback responses to the entire group appear at the end of this segment.)

Centers for research:

  • The reward system.  The credit part as a participant would be helpful.
  • NSF Center.  Experience with difficulties where the centers were competing with the departments.  This seems tricky to get to work together.   On basic collaboration Dr. Barnhill said they would help, but it’s not clear to us yet on how that help would be given.
  • What’s the incentive for the faculty member to work in a center?  The incentive can be a pool of funding.  Does that actually work?  It can be that all the IDC goes to the center.   Does the faculty member have to report to both the department and a center?   It could be an incubator for young faculty, but experiences have had the situation where the young faculty would drop out as they got more experience and more grants.
  • Large collaborative efforts could draw together teams of researchers from many fields.
  • Our ABIA- is it a center for research?   It seems different because it’s a self-standing entity with its own director.   The key in that collaboration is that it’s not just UA. This accomplishes the cross-disciplinary work and the access to the community.
  • How do faculty members get involved in a center?   An application?  Just a statement of interest?   Centers would need to advertise campus-wide so as to find faculty who would be involved.  There would be a director of the center. Most faculty are involved with a center, but not more than one. The subject matter of the person’s research would have to match, and the director of the center would be involved.
  • Undergraduate research? Departments want to bring in more graduates, so it is interested in this.  ASU makes it easy to bring in REUs and get those grants. Adds possibilities for the students.  The ASU chancellor talks about research, and that kind of rhetoric influences undergraduate research.  ASU has a magazine that is sent to many parts of Arizona.
  • Conflict resolution?  If there’s a conflict between a faculty member and the Center, where does the faculty go?  There is an avenue.  You start with the chair of the department, then with the dean of the college.  The VPs office is open to conflict resolution, and center directors are aware of that.
  • Teaching loads?  That pits the department possibly against the center.  I had intervened sometimes to get release time for the researcher.   Faculty would come to me with a proposal.  One case was when faculty came to me with a request for a business analyst for a year.   Arizona had 60 departments and 40 centers.    Directors reported to the VP for research, but didn’t sit on Council of Deans.  Directors were all faculty, not always on a 12-month appointment.   Directors teaching loads varied, and they were negotiated individually.  They were guaranteed some summer support.
  • How are KU and ASU different?  ASU is mammoth.  KU had a goal of research in the 1980s.  Really a new research university.  Momentum.  ASU is in an area with lots of industry, different from KU. Histories are different.   Akron and KU are nearly the same size.
  • Get people to work together on things that they each care about, but is also cared about by some outside organization.

Overview of Response from Dr. Barnhill:

  • The research officer is not on the same line as the department chair. He works for the president.  In principle anybody in the university can go to the research office and talk to them.  On the academic side there is a chain of command. 
  • When there are serious problems in research, they go to the research office. We are the office that deals with those conflicts.  The center directors do report to the research office.  We meet with them regularly. 
  • The centers were big – had some overlap but not much.  No rule about that.  Strictly up to faculty. 
  • Not every faculty member has to do everything. How does that philosophy play into retention, tenure, etc., requirements for that?  The tenure part is mechanically still the same.  The center was to be involved too.  That was the only formal thing we did.  We didn’t want a separate structure except for the few who are exclusively research.  The faculty is still the same – ensure that all information comes from all sources.  You don’t leave out people who should be considered.
  • If you have two different faculty loads in the department – some do more teaching, some do more research – is it still the same research expectation for the teaching faculty?  That would be a department decision.  I didn’t do anything like that. 

Table 2:

Major Themes:

  • STEMM and centers
  • Research centers model that overlay the major disciplinary areas of the university -- everyone has a way to be involved
  • Then they need a center structure that is very flexible and allows agile response to new ideas and areas.  Perhaps continue discussion on breaking down silos that delineate teaching, research and community service missions.
  • The tail wagging the dog: what causes us to move, the research drives us or a combination of research, access, student success, etc.
  • Centers still seem to be too organized around faculty resources and around external grants, and are too disconnected from student enrollment, retention.  Need a stronger and meaningful connection.
  • So what are our major centers: academic health, STEMM areas, bioinnovation and materials, and should have creative arts beyond the college (don’t see overlap with this and other areas though); perhaps create a center around citizenship and public policy (for example: Bliss Institute) to encompass the social sciences. Within each center have an emphasis in education and access.

Strategic Plan:

  • We have a core student mission as delineated by USO, delineated core community mission (University Park Alliance, engagement metrics, etc.) so perhaps a research center model must delineate our research core.
  • Strategic intent: What is our core identity --  are we research centered, materials centered, student success centered?
  • Obvious that research centers should be organized around our strengths, but with an explicit path to success as defined by the strategic mission.
  • Perhaps we should also consider creating centers for our own internal big projects that create an easy way for faculty and students to put effort into meeting our identified needs (i.e. access, first-year students, diversity, etc).

Overview of Response from Dr. Barnhill:
The last idea is interesting.  That is an internal thing.  That is a cool idea.  I will have to think that through.  I agree with everything.  One of these centers was the Institute for the Arts. They wanted to do high tech things.  They brought in electrical engineering people that knew about IT and put them with dance area.  They did innovative things.  They hired one of the students to be a research assistant to help them present their stuff.  I convened meetings with directors of different things.  They would come up with opportunities to work together. 

Table 3:

  • Vision to go somewhere
  • Disruptive thinking/constantly changing
    • Is higher education the right industry to pursue this?
  • Centers of Excellence
    • Interdisciplinary research centers within university governance
    • How is this sustainable?
    • Desired outcomes between different groups can be accomplished
    • Governance of the organization needs to mirror vision
    • How can organization align to be flexible and change according to needs
    • Creating incentives for academic colleges and faculty to collaborate in order to apply for grant money (i.e., STEMM) that they otherwise would not be eligible
    • Balancing research and application/student involvement
  • Academic reorganization conversations at UA
    • We believe that difficult decisions are going to be made if a reorganization is operationalized
  • How can faculty continue to engage in research, advising, teaching, student services, etc. with increased student enrollment and with limited financial and human resources?  Is there a way to focus/increase our efforts and financial resources so that we excel rather than maintain the status quo by identifying niche markets? 
    • Our stakeholders expect higher education to become more collaborative, efficient and effective
    • How do we encourage the practice that the university is one team rather than separate departments/academic units?  Working for the university rather than at the university…

Overview of Response from Dr. Barnhill:

Is higher ed the right venue?  That is too broad in a sense. It is not quite the right question – higher ed provides the venue to be the right place to do the thinking.  You have a bunch of innovators on campus that can do disruptive things. 

Niche markets – Crow talks about that.  That is what I was doing with designated centers.  Niches provide opportunities to grow. 

UA is one team – the president and chancellor have said this. One or two of them meant it with others I have worked with.  That is easy to say, but not to do.  Have an open process like you are having here. At KU I was known as an open door.  If necessary, convene a faculty forum. Be as open as you can. You have a good president. He can help you by talking about research -- not only to people outside but to students so they can see the value of research experience and the value of their own degree. Crow says that to graduates: as we get better your degree increases in value. 

How do faculty and administrators do everything? When you coach you need different positions.  You have to diversify and build the strengths and figure out what those are.  When I was a department chair we had different teaching loads due to other responsibilities.  People were good at some things and others good at something else.  It is the group that has to do everything.  Not each individual.  You can’t do that.  That doesn’t accentuate your strengths. 

At the center level got research and covered what was relevant to them.  Departments are set up for something else – education.  You get a degree in mathematics – everyone understands that.  You can’t have a center for math.  You need a sharper focus than that.  You have to think that through carefully.  A mistake is for departments to cover research – that is why you need centers. 

Table 4:

  • We have a large number of centers on campus. KU has only 6. Are we going to reduce the number we have – is that the implication?  Do we need to reign in some centers?  Or slowly expand their mission and vision?  Are we potentially consolidating some centers?
  • Funding mechanism
  • Our centers are not carefully reviewed -- inconsistent – like the idea of faculty giving input – higher quality and fewer numbers and more disciplined:
    • i.e., some have no physical space
    • must be sustainable
    • need to engage the community and consider space usage as their contribution
    • technology supports new kinds of collaborations especially given the virtual opportunities
  • Many departments are investigating in the development of centers, looking much further than they have in the past
  • Biggest obstacle is funding – they have support of administration
    • Foundations will fund some things but not the whole center – i.e., furniture, etc.
    • Need opportunities to take advantage of existing facilities to ease startup costs
  • Centers will be a combination of heavy research, service-orientation component
  • Unless you are really active on campus you can miss these opportunities – we do not have an organized approach to bring people into centers
    • Pulling in one-stop shop approach into a multi-disciplinary center development approach
    • How do we use the collaborative model rather than the competitive model to evaluate and motivate: the leadership uses the competitive approach, the newer generation is coming in with a more collaborative mindset
  • Colleges are randomly organized – could see the elimination and reorganization of colleges
    • We centralize and decentralize; problem is resources do not follow the decentralization
    • Not every college works the same way – they are very divergent
  • How do we include the students?
    • the structure creates obstacles, i.e., in some colleges students do not have opportunities to write grants
    • the silos – the resource allocation prohibits students from being able to exist and move between departments and organize broader degrees
  • Part of our problem: we expect everyone to be all things – excellent teachers and excellent researchers and you could put that responsibility at the Center level not at the department level. Some could be more focused on teaching and some could be more focused on research and you need a mix.

Overview of Response from Dr. Barnhill:

One idiosyncrasy: I never step on flowers. I never tried to close any centers. We would end up with some centers that were world class and we could develop even further.  I wasn’t interested in other things. Most administrators are not like that. We wanted to do have criteria for centers – make attractive to join or form. We probably had 40 centers when I got there. I didn’t think that was wonderful. I cared about some set of standards - criteria.  We still supported the research office itself. Some disciplines went away and a lot joined up with the other centers.  If you want to stamp out the ones that aren’t good, you are in for a fight.  I stuck with the positives.  What are the best and how do we build them up. 

You cannot be all things to all people – groups need to be all things, not individuals.  This is a common error in thinking.  An individual doesn’t have to do it – just the ensemble.  Credit and cash – separate books – are important that departments don’t lose out. 

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