Support from chief executives to sponsored programs administration at baccalaureate universities in the United States.

Author:Hamilton, Zoya


The goals of the institution are best realized when all its members work towards a common purpose that they construe together. The process of sense-making that leads to the development of the common purpose is described by constructivist theory. Constructivist theory suggests that socially construed reality emerges from relationships that are situated in leadership, which is described as a shared reciprocal process as opposed to a role assumed by a person or persons. (Lambert et al., 2002). When so enabled by chief executives of the university, sponsored programs administrators (SPAs, or research administrators) can and should be the participants in the shared process of leadership.

SPAs at baccalaureate universities need adequate support from chief executives to contribute to the leadership at their organizations. Literature discusses several reasons why SPAs need chief executives' support. Some of the reasons include power imbalances that negatively influence the professional behavior of research administrators at universities. (Atkinson & Gilleland, 2007). Additionally, sponsored programs professionals at baccalaureate institutions regularly face challenges and ambiguities stemming from the political, legal, and business context in which they operate. (Lowry & Hansen, 2001).

Support from chief university executives does not necessarily require more budgetary resources, staffing, or expensive technology. Instead, or rather in addition, it requires certain actions and behavior on the part of the chief executives. For example, supportive behavior involves communicating to the wider university community the endorsement of SPAs functions and policies, delegating adequate authority to SPAs, and mandating the use of internal processes for all sponsored activities. This study (Hamilton, 2010) focused on the types of support given by the chief executives that do not require financial outlays and that are available to SPA at baccalaureate universities. The purpose of the study was to compare the relationship between the support provided for sponsored programs and the support provided to sponsored programs administration (SPA) at baccalaureate universities in the United States as defined by Basic Carnegie classification. (The Carnegie Foundation, 2005).

Research Questions and Hypotheses

The study sought evidence connecting better support to SPAs with relevant behaviors of chief university executives and with the chief executives' overall support for sponsored programs. The nonfinancial support from chief university executives was compared at public and private universities with different levels of sponsored revenue and different sizes of student enrollment. The following research questions guided this study.

Research Question 1: At baccalaureate universities, what is the relationship between the level of support provided by chief executives for sponsored programs, and the level of support provided by chief executives to SPA?

The hypothesis was tested that there is a higher level of support to SPA at universities in which chief executives demonstrate higher level of support for sponsored programs.

Research Questions 2-4: Is there a difference in the level of support provided for sponsored programs and the level of support provided to SPA between (a) public and private baccalaureate universities; (b) baccalaureate universities with different sizes of student enrollment; and (c) baccalaureate universities with different levels of sponsored revenue?

The hypotheses were tested that: (a) there is a significant difference between public and private universities in the levels of support for sponsored programs and to SPA; (b) there is a significant difference in the levels of support for sponsored programs and to SPA between baccalaureate universities with different size of student enrollment; (c) support for sponsored programs and to SPA is greater at the universities with higher levels of sponsored revenue.

Definition of Terms

Baccalaureate universities were institutions classified as Baccalaureate Colleges by 2005 Carnegie Classification (Basic). In October, 2009, the Carnegie Classification listed a total of 645 colleges as Baccalaureate Colleges--Arts & Sciences (Bac/A&S) and Baccalaureate Colleges--Diverse Fields (Bac/Diverse). Among those, 286 (6.5% of all Baccalaureate Colleges) were classified as Bac/A&S, and 359 (8.2%) as Bac/Diverse. According to the classification's technical details,

Institutions were included in these categories if bachelor's degrees accounted for at least 10 percent of all undergraduate degrees and they awarded fewer than 50 master's degrees (2003-04 degree conferrals). In addition, these categories were limited to institutions that were not identified as Tribal Colleges or as Special Focus Institutions. (The Carnegie Foundation, 2005).

Chief executives of a university were defined as presidents, provosts, chancellors, vice presidents, vice provosts, and vice chancellors.

Research administrators, or sponsored programs administrators (SPAs), are professionals who work with sponsored programs. They are "those individuals who do not function as investigators [emphasis in original], but who render service to faculty and senior scientists by providing administrative and development assistance, technical assistance, clerical support, editorial assistance, and fiscal management." (Hensley, 1986, p. 290).

Sponsored programs are activities of the university that are financed by external funds, other than by endowments, gifts, and scholarships and have purposes consistent with the purposes authorized for support by awarding agency. Sponsored programs at colleges and universities support research, training, public service, development of institutional infrastructure, and student enrichment.

Assumptions and Limitations

The study utilized a researcher-developed survey instrument Sponsored Programs Administrators Survey (SPAsS) that was distributed electronically to SPAs at baccalaureate universities. Results of the study represent the perceptions of research administrators at those institutions. The data are therefore subjective in nature. Another study that would survey different groups at the same universities and analyze institutional documentation may be necessary to construct a more objective picture and may add to the strength of this study.

Support from chief university executives that results in budgetary, technical, and human resources (financial support) provided to the sponsored programs offices was outside of the scope of this study. The study focused on support for sponsored programs and to SPA affecting research administrators' power, authority, and influence in their organizations, and that which does not provide financial resources (nonfinancial support).

The assumption was that respondents answered the questions honestly. Because no identifying information was collected, the likelihood of honest responses was high. Grouping or comparing responses from the same institution was not possible without identifying information. The attitudes and feelings of respondents towards their institution may have influenced their answers to all questions, including those questions that gather factual information.

The study was delimited to research administrators who were or had been members of National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA). The sample consisted of all individuals from baccalaureate institutions that were members of NCURA as of June 2010 plus additional individual NCURA members as of October 2009, and April 2008. According to NCURA membership lists from April 2008, October 2009, and June 2010, members from baccalaureate colleges comprise just over 2% of total NCURA membership. Traditionally, a significant number of universities that employ research administrators ensure membership of these administrators in this professional association. However, with the deterioration of financial positions of many universities in the recent economic crisis, it is unclear whether membership in NCURA remained as widespread and representative of baccalaureate institutions as it had been previously. Because NCURA's purpose is to advance the field and the profession of research administration (National Council of University Research Administrators, 2010), the assumption was that all members of NCURA had developed an identity as research administrators. Another assumption was that all respondents worked in the area of sponsored programs and therefore had knowledge of the information needed to complete SPAsS.

To strengthen internal validity, SPAsS was pilot tested on a small group of respondents prior to administration to study participants. Changes were made based on the feedback from the participants of the pilot.

Theoretical Framework for Studying University Administrators

The theory of administration began to formally establish itself after 1956, when Litchfield published his "Notes on a General Theory of Administration" in the first issue of Administrative Science Quarterly, a peer-reviewed journal of theoretical and empirical work in organization studies. In these notes, Litchfield defined administration as "the performance of the administrative process by an individual or a group in the context of an enterprise functioning in its environment" (p. 27). According to Litchfield, the theory of administration was possible because the administrative process is universal and the knowledge therefore can be transferred between the fields.

A number of studies since 1956 focused on administration of universities. Those studies primarily addressed cost effectiveness. (Gornitzka & Larsen, 2004, p. 455). The main reason for this, "beyond the simple desire for reliable knowledge about universities as organizations" (Gross, 1968, p. 526), was the concern about the distribution of resources on different activities and functions of university. The studies focused on university...

To continue reading