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Incentive, reward, development, or welfare? revision of an integral grant program. (Case Study).


Like many other universities, Illinois State University (ISU) has offered an internal grant program since the 1970s. The program has gone through several incarnations. Initially designed to aid ISU's transition from a normal school, focused primarily on teacher education, to a comprehensive university, the Summer Grant program originally emphasized stimulation of faculty research. In the 1980s, program goals expanded to include motivating development of external grant submissions.

Having traditionally been centrally administered, in 1994 the University Research Grant (URG) program was decentralized. Each of ISU's colleges--Applied Science and Technology, Art, Arts and Sciences, Business, Education, and Nursing--were allocated a portion of URG funds and empowered to develop and administer their own URG program. The College of Arts and Sciences (GAS), by far the largest in the university, with 16 departments and 343 tenure-line faculty, devised four subprograms to distribute annual URG funding of approximately $220,000. These were the Senior Research Development and the Senior Grant Development programs, offering a maximum of $4,000 to be applied to either salary or other research expenses, the Junior Research Development program, offering a maximum of $3,000 for salary or other costs, and the Small Grant program, offering a maximum of $1,000 for research costs.

In its five years of operation, the 1994 GAS URG program spent over $1 million, attracted more than 500 proposals, and funded over 240 projects. According to faculty productivity reports, it supported development of hundreds of conference presentations, journal articles, books, and grant proposals. However, it also generated serious disagreements and problems including the following:

1. In the last three years of program operation, 40% of URG funds went to the same 11 faculty members.

2. Some departments participated more actively than others.

3. Non-participating departments and faculty members felt discriminated against and hopeless about obtaining URG funding.

4. Departments that were the most active in the program also experienced the largest number of rejections and, thus, were most vocal in their criticism of the program.

5. Faculty were critical of both departmental and college proposal review processes.

6. Controversy raged between bench scientists, who favored funding non-salary research costs only, and humanists, who advocated provision of salary support.

A survey of tenure-line faculty, conducted during the 1998-1999 academic year, elicited 110 responses broadly representing GAS faculty by tenure status, gender, and length of time at ISU. Survey results indicated that, in general, faculty wanted the URG program to continue. The majority of respondents agreed that the program should support development of pre-tenure faculty members' research programs (83%), support development of external grant proposals (58%), support good research that might not attract external funding (58%), and support experimental or innovative research (53%). Less than half thought that the URG program should reward successful performance (45%) or support reinvigoration of faculty research careers (44%). Respondents' comments overwhelmingly recommended improvement of the URG proposal review process.

The survey was followed by a faculty forum, which identified the following problems associated with the URG program:

(a) insufficient support of pre-tenure faculty, (b) inconsistent departmental evaluation processes, (c) discomfort with interdisciplinary review of proposals at college level, (d) inconsistent and inequitable representation of departments in the college review process, (e) inappropriately heavy amount of work expected from members of the college proposal review committee, and (f) generation (by the URG application and evaluation process) of considerable faculty bitterness.

Program Revision

In the autumn of 1999, the Dean of the GAS convened a task force to review and revise the URG program. This task force was composed of three senior department chairs (representing humanities, social sciences, and science/mathematics), three tenured faculty, one pre-tenure faculty member, the Associate Dean of GAS, and the GAS Research Office Director. The dean advised members of the task force that program revision must comply with the general university requirements for college URG programs and that the program review should be viewed by GAS faculty as a fair process without self-interest. The task force's charge was to reconfigure the URG program to better foster scholarship and grants among faculty, develop the next generation of faculty, and streamline the proposal evaluation process. The proposal for a revised program was to be completed by February 2000.

Task Force Review

Program review began with data collection. The task force first looked at grant application and success rates by year of appointment, gender, departmental affiliation, and-category of research interests (e.g., humanities, social science, and science/mathematics). It considered the number of new faculty hires (rapidly increasing) and the issue of faculty retention. It collected information about departmental review and rating processes, faculty productivity (presentations, publications, and grants) resulting from URG support, and models for internal grant programs at other universities. This process identified some additional issues of concern.

1. With appointments at an all-time high, and continued retirements and hiring projected, the URG program provided an important support for pre-tenure faculty development and retention. However, regular rejection of new faculty URG proposals sent an unfortunate message and alienated new hires within the first few months of their appointments.

2. Departmental review committees were being asked to do contradictory tasks. On the one hand, they were expected to mentor development of strong URG applications and advocate for funding of applications from their departments. On the other hand, they were instructed to rank URG proposals and justify rankings to the College proposal review committee.

3. Departmental proposal review processes varied widely, from one department that used a 12-member internal review committee, to a department whose chair reviewed and ranked proposals on his own. There was also the clear indication that departments strategized ranking of URG proposals to garner advantage with the college review committee.

4. The college review committee was routinely challenged by the need to compare requests for salary dollars and requests for research expenses--apples versus pears, as one task force member said.

5. Some departments were routinely represented on the college review committee, while other departments were almost never represented. This situation was perceived to give represented departments an advantage in the proposal review process.

In order to make the best use of time, the task force's very able chair directed members to first consider the needs of pre-tenure faculty members, then to focus on the needs of tenured faculty members, and finally to deal with program administration issues. At each of the task force's weekly meetings, the chair provided a graphical summary of decisions made in previous meetings and decisions yet to be made.

Task Force Consensus

The URG program (2000) that emerged from the task force's deliberations surprised all of its members. It includes both compromises and innovations designed to solve some of the problems encountered by the previous program (1994) and meet the goals set by the dean's charge. The reconfigured program includes four subprograms, namely, the New Faculty Initiative Grant (NFIG), the Pretenure Faculty Initiative Grant (PFIG), the Summer Faculty Fellowship (SFF), and the Faculty Research Award (FRA). See appendix for the summary of new programs, Figure 1 provides a comparison of old and new programs in the college. Overall, the new programs focus on developing and supporting faculty research careers. They virtually guarantee funding for new faculty members, but impose increasingly rigorous evaluation standards as faculty progress in their appointments at ISU. For continued eligibility, the new programs require faculty to have regular submissions of external grant proposals and to ensure serious consideration the prop osal writer must demonstrate continuous scholarly productivity. To reduce difficulty experienced by review committees in evaluating requests for salary, as opposed to requests for research costs, the new subprograms for tenured faculty separate the opportunity to compete for these types of support. In order to invest in a larger number of faculty projects and spread URG resources more equitably throughout the college, funding levels were reduced and a sit-out introduced for the Summer Faculty Fellowship.


The reconfigured program was reviewed and approved by GAS and the University Research Council in March 2000. It was then introduced to GAS-faculty members, who submitted the first proposals for the four new subprograms in the autumn of the 2000-2001 academic year. Comparisons of the last year of the old (1994) program, with grants paid in FY 2001, and the new (2000) program, with grants paid in FY 2002, yield some intriguing information. As Table 1 indicates, there was a 17% net decrease in the number of applicants to the new program but the success rate of applicants increased.

Furthermore, as shown in Table 2, while. the percentage of applications from pre-tenure faculty members increased somewhat, the success rate for pre-tenure applications increased, while the success rate for tenured faculty members declined commensurately.

Informal data provided by tenured faculty members suggests that senior faculty now feel that, grant amounts are so low that it is not worth their time to apply for a URG. The URG program is also increasingly viewed as being primarily appropriate for junior faculty members; thus, senior faculty--particularly people with significant external grant funding--recuse themselves from the program voluntarily.

One of the major goals of the task force was to reconfigure the URG program in such a way as to improve faculty morale. It is apparent that the intentional reduction of award amounts and change of evaluation standards for pre-tenure awards, combined with the unintended decrease in the number of applications, increased overall success rates. Figures 3 and Figure 4 demonstrate departmental success rates. Thus, departments such as Biological Sciences and English, which had traditionally been the most active program participants and had the largest number of faculty members denied funding, enjoyed greater success and reported fewer complaints than at any time in the past.

Other elements of the new program that may help to improve faculty morale are related to program administration. The new program requires that pre-tenure faculty proposals be mentored within the department before they are submitted as meritorious to the college proposal review committee. Furthermore, departments are no longer expected to rank New Faculty Initiative Grants; thus, first- and second-year faculty will not compete against each other for these awards. To increase the perception of fairness in program administration within and across departments, the new program also introduces changes in composition and operation of the college proposal review committee, requiring that departments not exceed their two-year terms of representation on the committee, and that committee members not be allowed to apply for URG grants.


The returns are not yet in on the GAS' new and improved URG program. With declining interest among senior faculty and barriers such as the sit-out for the senior salary program and the requirement that faculty submit external grant applications to maintain program eligibility, there may be too few applications for URG grants. In addition, with decreasing competition for URG grants, the quality of grant proposals may decline. The college has, however, recommended review of the program after five years of operation, which will create an opportunity to respond to inevitable changes.

University Research Grant Programs of the College of Arts and Sciences

New Faculty Initiative Grant (NFIG) Pre-tenure Faculty Initiative Grant

Eligibility First- or second-year Eligibility Pre-tenure faculty
tenure-track faculty who hold the members holding the terminal
terminal degree in their discipline degree in their disciplines who
A faculty member may receive this are in years 2-5 of service A
grant only once. A faculty member may receive this
 grant only once.

Costs supported Salary and/or Costs supported Salary and/or
project expenses project expenses

Award amount $2,500 Award amount $2,500

Criteria for funding All Criteria for funding Meritorious
meritorious proposals will be proposals will be funded. Applicant
funded. must demonstrate research/creative
 activity since appointment at ISU.

Accountability Professional Outcome Accountability Professional Outcome
Form required Form required

Submission deadline I November Submission deadline I October

Summer Faculty Fellowship (SFF) Faculty Research Award (FRA)

Eligibility Pre-tenure faculty Eligibility Pre-tenure faculty
members who have received both members who have received both
NFIG and PFIG awards and submitted NFIG and PFIG awards and submitted
an external grant proposal through an external grant proposal through
the University Research Office the University Research Office and
and Tenured faculty members Tenured faculty members

Sit-out Faculty members who have External grant requirement After
received an SFF may not apply for receiving two FRAs, or one FRA and
the two fiscal years following one SFF, a faculty member must
that award. submit an external grant proposal
 to be eligible for another FRA.

Costs supported Salary only Costs supported Project expenses
 excluding faculty salary.

Award amount $3,000 Award maximum $2,000

Criteria for funding Highest Criteria for funding Highest
quality proposals will be funded. quality proposals will be funded.

Submission deadline October I Submission deadline I October

Accountability Professional Outcome Accountability Professional Outcome
Form required Form required

Note Applicants may apply Note Applicants may apply
concurrently for a FRA is they meet concurrently for a SFF, if they
the eligibility requirements for meet the eligibility
that program. requirements for that program.


Table 1

Comparison of URG Applications and Awards

 FY 2001 FY 2002

URG and Small URGs
135 applicants 112 applicants
64 awards (47%) 87 awards (78%)
Table 2

Awards by Faculty Tenure Status

 Faculty Pre-tenure Tenured

FY01 Applicants 50% 50%
FY01 Awards 53% 47%

FY02 Applicants 52% 48%
FY02 Awards 60% 40%
Figure 1

Comparison of 1994 and 2000 College of Arts and Sciences URG Programs


Sub-programs Junior Research Development

 Senior Research Development

 Senior Grant Development

 Small Grants

Award amounts $3,000, junior Research
 $4,000, Senior Grants
 $1,000, Small Grants

Sit-out None

Required external grant After 3 RDA

Ability to apply for None
two awards for
the same project

Departments rank Junior and Senior URG grants

All meritorious proposals No
from pre-tenure faculty

Joint proposals Junior and Senior URG grants

College committee gives Junior and Senior URG grants

Repeated department Yes
rep on college committee


Sub-programs New Faculty Initiative Grant
 Pre-tenure Faculty Initiative
 Grant (PFIG)
 Summer Faculty Fellowship
 Faculty Research Award (FRA)

Award amounts $2,500, NFIG and PFIG

 $3,000, SFF
 $2,000, FRA

Sit-out Faculty members who receive
 SFF cannot apply again for
 two years.

Required external grant After receiving NFIG and PFIG
 After receiving 2 FRAs or 1
 FRA and 1 SFF

Ability to apply for Applications may apply
two awards for concurrently for FRA and SFF
the same project

Departments rank SFF and FRA grants only

All meritorious proposals NFIG and PFIG (although
from pre-tenure faculty PFIG proposals must show
funded. research/creative activity
 since ISU appointment)

Joint proposals All grants, but with specific
 description & justification of
 each PI's contribution

College committee gives Un-funded proposals only

Repeated department No
rep on college committee

Lucinda McCray Beier, PhD directs the College of Arts and Sciences Research Office at Illinois State University and the Applied Social Research Unit, an outreach organization that provides information research, and training services for clients. Dr. Beier has a joint faculty appointment in the departments of History and Political Science. Her doctorate, in the history of medicine, is from Lancaster University in Great Britain. She has published two books, numerous articles, op-ed pieces, and project reports on subjects ranging from the sufferer's experience of ill health and medical care to the needs for human services in downstate Illinois.

This article was developed from a Contributed Paper presented at the October 2001 Annual Meeting of the Society of Research Administrators International, Vancouver, CN. Address correspondence to Lucinda McCray Beier, PhD, Director Research Office, College of Arts and Sciences, Illinois State University via E-mail:
COPYRIGHT 2002 Society of Research Administrators, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Beier, Lucinda M.
Publication:Journal of Research Administration
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1U3IL
Date:Apr 1, 2002
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Next Article:Designing an incentive plan for researchers. (Case Study).

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