Annual Report 1997

Major achievements

Over the past year, the CPI achieved several goals. These included:

  • Establishment of liaison with research leaders at other major state institutions (U.T., U. Houston and Texas Tech.).
  • Interactions with the fiscal administration towards improvements in purchasing and travel authorization.
  • Support of actions to facilitate hiring and remuneration flexibility for research personnel.
  • Rationalization of legal issues, including restraints on consulting and other aspects of professional development.
  • Improved communication for researchers through the establishment of a CPI web site (http://bio-www.tamu.edu/cpi/).

The high interest in CPI activities is reflected in the casting of some 200 ballots in the recent CPI election. This is all the more notable since seats were available in only six of the thirteen college equivalents.

Working group activities

Communications. A significant difficulty in addressing matters affecting PI functions is a determination of whether rules derive from state legislation, local rules, or local interpretations of state legislation. The specific issue that led to defining this difficulty was a prohibition on the use of funds to recruit graduate students from out of state. Meetings were established with Representative, now Senator, Steve Ogden. Senator Ogden advised us that changing state legislation would be facilitated if the major research institutions acted in concert to identify problems.

As a result, we initiated contacts with representatives from U.T., Texas Tech and U. Houston. Since no organization equivalent to the CPI exists at those locations, our initial contacts have been with the Vice Presidents for Research, all of whom participated in at least once CPI meeting. A consensus was reached that such liaisons were beneficial and we hope that interactions between the research institutions will be strengthened in future. Another outcome from the meetings with Senator Ogden was the development of a "wish list" that was mailed to him on March 31, 1997.

Major actions requested were:

  1. Allocation by the State of full formula funding;
  2. Development of a statewide program to provide resources to facilitate matching and cost sharing monies for sponsored research grants.
  3. Reduction of restrictions on use of institutional funds by limiting state-mandated restrictions to E&G appropriations;
  4. Permit institutions the option of providing waivers on tuition and fees for Graduate Assistants, both Teaching and Research;
  5. Reduce controls on purchasing and raise the dollar level at which bids are required;
  6. Allow depreciation on equipment and limit personal liability to cases of clear, willful negligence.

The CPI has been represented by its Chair on the University Research Committee. Discussions included increased flexibility for research stipends and dissemination of news describing research on campus. We were very encouraged by our meeting with Vice Chancellor Haden, who described activities of the Governor's Council on Science and Biotechnology. It appears that the Council, which includes several industry "heavy-hitters" is very supportive of the state's research institutions. They also recognize the importance of professional consulting by faculty with industry as an important facet of technology transfer and we are pleased that the concept of one day per week as an acceptable consulting role exists on the College Station campus. We believe that continued liaison with Dr. Haden will be most valuable for research enhancement.

Fiscal. The fiscal group met several times with William B. Krumm, Vice President for Finance and Controller. Areas in which positive steps have been made include raising of bid levels for local funds, reduction of paperwork associated with travel and leave and easing of restrictions on purchases made from local accounts. Mr. Krumm is appointing an advisory committee which will have at least one CPI member on it. The Fiscal Department has recently completed its revision of TAMU travel rules which will be implemented shortly. CPI had considerable input in the process which produced the revision.

Human Resources. The HR subgroup has raised issues regarding policies relevant to research personnel. In many instances, existing policies were crafted for faculty and for permanent staff. These policies often are not a good match for use with highly skilled often transient research personnel. The HR group has sought flexibility for PI's with regard to research titles, salary raises and for the use of temporary graduate students. Issues remaining include charging fringe on graduate student medical costs and stipends, seeking low cost medical coverage for grads and the prohibition on the use of state/local funds for graduate student recruitment.

Research and Graduate Studies. The CPI has been invited by Vice President Kennedy's office to participate in the development of a major revision of policies for research administration; this is ongoing. We appreciate the representation on CPI by members of the graduate student council (GSC) and continue to work with them towards greater visibility for this important segment of the campus community.

A topic of major concern that has risen recently is the possibility of a shortfall in the operating budget of the Research Foundation likely to be engendered by legislative modification of overhead cost reporting. The critical role played by Research Foundation in research activities on campus cannot be overstated and the CPI is committed to preservation of the independence of the Research Foundation and the flexibility it provides researchers in their mission.

Legal. The CPI appreciates the opportunity provided by Dr. Kennedy to have input to the TAMU Conflict of Interest Policy. The adoption of a time-limited guide rather than a remuneration-based limit was welcome, as was the modification to consulting policy such that vacation time is only required for the specific events of providing expert witness testimony or deposition. In regard to issues of safety and health, the CPI provided input to the Safety Audit commissioned by the University. CPI was not invited to nominate members for the Search Committee for a Director of Safety; however, several CPI members were invited to interviewed and comment on the finalists for the position.

Future goals

Research environment. An important objective for CPI is to continue to work with the administration to alleviate the continuing appearance of "top-down" administration, a counterproductive perception that exists widely among researchers. We suggest that a small faculty advisory group be established for each major administrative entity and that an annual review system be established in which the clientele (the faculty) have an opportunity for input.

Legislative changes should be reflected in facilitation of research activities We wish to ensure that changes in legislation that may be made at the state level are reflected in easing restrictions on PI's on campus. One example is SB 1752 that would allow greater flexibility in purchasing. Another would remove or reduce constraints in recruitment of graduate students.

Changes in formula funding could result in substantial increases in appropriations to A&M and we wish to work with the administration to ensure that significant revitalization to research infrastructure and support derives from such monies. In particular, reduction in present pressures on the Available Fund and other endowment monies should release funding from these sources for research enhancement.

We suggest that PI's be notified as soon as possible of any action on the above issues and stress that an urgent need exists to provide increased resources for matching monies to leverage grant proposals. We further suggest that the CPI and campus administration liase in developing strategies for input for future legislative sessions. Recognition of the importance and contributions of research to the campus and state. We believe that the dialog initiated with sister research institutions in the state is an important step that should be pursued by CPI and campus administrators.

A vital goal should be to work towards a better insight by legislators and the public to the role and achievements of research in education and industry. Further input to the Governor's Council on Science and Technology can be important in these goals as could the initiation of dialog with the lobbyist representing the A&M system. Representation of research interests by a strong leader is needed at the highest level of the campus administration and we suggest that the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies have access to the President that is direct and equal to that of other Vice Presidential appointments. This would appropriately enhance the stature of research by establishing a three unit system [undergraduate education, infrastructure (staff), and research], replacing the current two unit system of undergraduate education and infrastructure (staff).