Building a research administration infrastructure at the department level.

Author:Chun, Maria B.J.


Doing more with less has been the norm for research administrators (e.g., Drummond, 2003; Hexter, 1998; Kirby, 1996; Morris & Hess, 1991; Schweri, 1992). Shambrook & Mintzer (2007) noted that given considerable intellectual demands and tight deadlines, 41.3 percent of research administrators (n= 624) who completed the Research Administrator Stress Perception Survey (RASPerS) reported high work-related stress. Sixty-six percent did not have adequate resources to complete their job in a 40-hour work week. These difficulties are further compounded by the global economic crisis where hiring freezes and potential job loss have placed additional burdens on research administrators. Faced with the same concerns as its mainland counterparts, the University of Hawaii's (UH) medical school has been engaged in various strategic planning and prioritization initiatives to determine how to best utilize limited resources.

In its desire to assist both its faculty and the medical school by reducing administrative burdens, the UH Department of Surgery embarked on an initiative to develop a department level research administrative infrastructure. The intent was not to create a fiefdom or duplicate the efforts of the medical school's central administration. Even if a department attempted such a feat, its lack of control over resource allocation would render the effort moot. The department is aware of its role in the research administration process and how it must integrate and work closely with the larger organization. As Kirby (1996) notes, a unit, such as a department, is part of a larger system and cannot be viewed in isolation. Additionally, Drummond (2003) emphasizes the need for the responsible unit's mission to be in alignment with the university's strategic plan.

Within the UH medical school, centralization and decentralization of various research administration tasks have shifted periodically due to changes in available funding, resources, and even leadership. Earlier in this decade, serious concerns about the University of Hawaii's research infrastructure, or lack thereof, was formally studied through a research infrastructure task force that was derived from an ad hoc committee--University of Hawaii Association of Research Investigators (UHARI). The ad hoc committee met periodically to identify problem areas and brainstorm potential solutions. In the task force's 2001 report, the committee concluded that the university had not adequately projected the administrative needs required to support the increase in research activity (UHARI, 2001). One of the task force's recommendations was to hire knowledgeable, well-qualified research administrative staff and seat them in as close physical proximity to the principal investigators (PI) as possible. Related to this was delegating administrative decision-making authority far down the university hierarchy.

The UH medical school conducted its own internal reviews of its research administration needs. For example, in 2006, the central office conducted a needs assessment requesting department chairs to note which research administration duties (grouped under preaward, postaward, closeout, audit requirements) they would recommend or request be delegated to the departments. Information on the number of staff requiring training and the specific training needs was also requested. In 2007, the medical school established a formal policy regarding grant proposals, delegating certain administrative responsibilities to the departments (JABSOM Grants Development Office, 2007). For example, the unit directors/department chairs were delegated fiscal responsibility for grants. Specifically, they are responsible for reviewing budgets for salary and fringe rates, staffing commitments, other resources, and institutional support for any grant proposals submitted. This policy is still in effect, but hiring freezes have forced the medical school's central office to provide more direct support to departments that lack research administration staff. Consequently, effects of the hiring freeze have trickled down further, placing more responsibility onto the PIs.

Furthermore, properly trained department level staff can assist in compliance matters according to relevant university guidelines as well as state and federal regulations...

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