Profile of the Chief Research Officer at major research universities in the United States and examination of the current pathways to the position.

Author:Nash, Julie A.


Research is a core mission of the public university (Duderstadt & Womack, 2004) along with teaching and learning. University research is a vital building block of the nation's research and development enterprise. "Universities performed 56 percent of the nation's basic research in 2008, or about $39 billion of the national total of $69 billion. For applied research, universities performed 12 percent of the nation's total in 2008, or about $11 billion of the national total of $89 billion." (Association of American Universities, 2011). As the universities dependence on research and development has expanded, the need for competent managers and leaders of the enterprise has grown concomitantly. Most universities have centralized the leadership and management of research in a central office of research led by a chief research officer (CRO) (Kulakowski & Chronister, 2006) The CRO carries titles such as the Vice President for Research, the Vice Chancellor for Research or the Vice Provost for Research and reports directly, in most cases, to the president of the university. The CRO plays a key role in the university setting. The purpose of this study was to examine the profile of the CRO and the pathway that they pursued to obtain this position which is vital to the success of the research institution. The CRO is part of the senior leadership and management team of the university with significant financial and legal responsibilities. The position is typically the institutional official as defined by the Office for Human Research Protections to ensure compliance to the Federal, State and university rules and regulations regarding health, safety, and the responsible conduct of research as well as institutional business administrator as defined by the National Institutes of Health.

The position of CRO is relatively new within higher education. Institutions of Higher Education saw an increase in bureaucracy and administration during the transformation period (1870-1944) as accrediting and professional associations and legislative acts demanded it (Cohen, 1998). Moving into the mass higher education era (1945-1975), the need for more administrators increased. A simultaneous increase in research occurred during this time period (Cohen, 1998; Slaughter & Leslie, 1997) due, in large part, to the ongoing cold war (e.g. research going into defense weaponry) many of those research dollars were coming to universities. As a result, funding provided by federal dollars flowed into universities for facilities, professional study, financial aid, libraries and instructional improvement. In fact, according to Cohen, the rate of administrators increased to a greater extent during this period than those of students and faculty (Cohen, 1998). The funding of research also resulted in many universities being perceived as more prestigious (Cohen, 1998).

These "research" Universities, as they came to be known, continued to grow in the contemporary period (1976-1998) as their prestige increased (Cohen, 1998). Subsequently, research offices were created and offices that were once just small units for sponsored research transformed into Divisions. The CRO is responsible for the professional research administrators within the Division of Research at major research universities. Divisions of Research at many higher education institutions, where the CRO resides, oversee large amounts of research funding. Unfortunately however, to date, no empirical research has been conducted describing the profile of the CRO or the career ascension to this role.

Roberts and House (2006) conducted the first empirical research that profiled the "research administrator" in general, however the position of CRO was included but could not be extracted from the combined data. Their data was gathered using a survey protocol, and was restricted to research administrators in the southeastern United States. The information collected focused on age, educational level, classification of position, salary range and how respondents initially became involved in the field of research administration. The basic profile reported was that most research administrators in general are female, 40-49 years of age, bachelor's degree with 6-10 years in the profession. They earn between $40,000-50,000 per year (Roberts & House 2006). Shambrook and Roberts (2010) expanded on the original survey by Roberts and House and gathered much of the same profile information plus some additional social information including; additional employment, children in the home, house cleaning duties, taking care of elderly, coursework or volunteer activities. This time however, the data was gathered nationwide from research administrators who were members of the National Council of Research Administrators (NCURA) and compared to the previous research. Shambrook and Roberts found a significantly higher salary range of $50,000-$74,999 and the majority of research administrators were found to hold masters and bachelor degrees. While the information on the administrative roles were requested, the senior position of CRO was not one of the designated roles. Consequently, there is no published data on the roles, responsibilities and background (e.g. educational achievement) of the CRO from a survey of these professionals. The current study was conducted to address this lack of information for the position of CRO and to add to the body of research relating to persons involved in the administration of university research.

Contrary to the dearth of studies found in the literature related to the research administrator, several studies have been conducted on pathways to the Presidency, and though they may describe, by default in some cases, the pathway to some vice presidencies, these descriptions have not described the pathway to the position of CRO. More specifically, reported data from major sources such as the American Council on Education (ACE) and the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources does not separate the CRO from other central academic officers. Rather the CRO is combined in the data with individuals holding titles of Chief Health Professions Officer, Dean of Continuing Education, Dean of Graduate Programs, Dean of Instruction, Dean of Undergraduate Programs, Director of Continuing Education, Director of Continuing Education, Vice Provost, Associate Vice Provost, and Assistant Vice Provost (King & Gomez, 2008). Twenty one percent of university presidents in the above mentioned report came from this vast and diverse group of individuals, which means that less than 21% of university presidents have a career pathway that includes experience as a CRO.

According to Stripling (2012), the most common pathway to the presidency to date is through the position of provost. Stripling, (2012) goes on to note that thirty four percent of university presidents were formerly provosts or chief academic officers, and thirty percent of presidents have never been faculty. Stripling, (2012), also reports that the most common field for academic presidents is "higher education". However, based on a random internet inquiry conducted prior to this study, we found that the CRO is neither commonly from the area of education or on the pathway to the position of provost. This finding served as impetus for further research on the career pathway for CRO.

This study is significant first and foremost, in that it is important to provide a profile of this important position in the literature, not only to identify the pool of current CROs but also to provide a literature base with which to examine the evolution of the role through the course of time. It is equally important for individuals aspiring to the position of CRO to have a realistic understanding of the current career pathway for the position of CRO and also to be knowledgeable of the direction of the evolving professional field. It was hypothesized that the profile of the CRO would be similar to the profile of the research administrator as defined in the field of research administration, it was also hypothesized that a common pathway to the position of CRO would be through the pathway of research administration.



Influences on the CRO career path were examined including acquired skills, professional development, and lived experiences. Purposeful sampling was employed to select the study sample of CROs using the Carnegie Foundation's Carnegie Classification system as a framework.

This study was limited to CROs serving at Doctoral Research Universities (DRUs), Research Universities/High Research (RU/H) and Research Universities/Very High (RU/VH). A total of 283 institutions are classified within the categories by the Carnegie system.

Using the Carnegie Foundation Classification System as a reference, email addresses of CROs serving at major Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) were obtained. In an effort to obtain a list of email addresses for the CROs of major research HEIs in the United States, the Carnegie Foundation was contacted, and the researcher subsequently was directed to "Higher Education Publications Incorporated", publisher of title code 46 which contained information for 203 individuals listed as the CRO representing 183 institutions. An analysis of the names on this list lead to the elimination of duplication to the list or more than one person at an institution that was classified as the CRO, as well as persons that held titles that did not qualify as CRO such as Assistant Vice President for Research or the leadership of the institution was still spread among multiple directors and lacked a chief research officer. Furthermore, though the list contained the names, it did not contain all the email addresses. In some cases it was also found that a small percentage of the names provided on the list were no longer in the position and an interim CRO was in place. The end result was a much smaller number...

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