Special report reveals more oversight needed on research affairs
Last month, a special committee appointed by the University of Oregon Senate and the President Michael Gottfredson released a special report that reviewed the Office of Research, Innovation and Graduate Education. The report uncovered inconsistencies in policies, lack of communication throughout offices and departments and an overall insufficient amount of oversight on research affairs.
“Enhancing our faculty’s ability to create and discover is a fundamental aspect of our university’s mission. We are grateful to have the RIGE report’s guidance to support our research endeavors. The report offers good insight and I will work with the provost to implement the suggestions,” Gottfredson said.
The University increased oversight by implementing stricter requirements that follow federal guidelines. Prior to these findings, the institution did not enforce the proper controls in place like audits and record keeping.
“We are a campus that has relied on goodwill. We need to make sure that we are following the rules and communicating about them better — less of a mom and pop shop and more like a business,” Provost Scott Coltrane said.
According to Coltrane, the findings do not signify a diminish in the quality of research.
Last year, the Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown’s office conducted an audit that confirmed reports of workers manipulating payroll, involving money from federal funds by recording unearned overtime on time sheets. The University has since then paid back the research costs. Two employees involved were also given notice to leave while other faculty members involved were given protocol training.
According to Coltrane, the inappropriate use of funds was during a time when the University was not allowed to pay classified staff for overtime or give raises from 2009 to 2013. The University requested an audit after the research office initially discovered the misreporting of funds.
“The landscape for university research funding has changed dramatically in the past few years,” said Kimberly Espy, vice president for research and innovation. “The path to the future as a successful research institution is best undertaken in an environment that encourages open, two-way conversation between administration and faculty that recognizes this new context.”
The report also points out the effects caused by the recession that has played a contributing factor in RIGE affairs. The dip in the economy not only slashed major sources of funding for research from federal and state level but lowered the value of stocks that had been donated to the UO.
According to Coltrane, the University had planned to have the funds available by 2015 for projects like building labs. Now that the stock market has improved, the funds are now set to be used in 2018. The hole in the budget led Espy, who stepped into her current role in 2011, to enforce belt-tightening policies. The vice president of research has also standardized the flow of money between research institutes and departments.
UO administration and the research faculty are continuing to work together to improve communication, collaboration and accountability between offices and departments.
“Overall, we used to be more of an informal verbal communication campus,” Coltrane said. “You can’t afford to do that in research or running a major university anymore.”
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