Building a Culture of Research at “Teaching Institutions”

In my most recent grant writing workshop, one of the participants had been instructed to attend by the provost of his institution. Unfortunately, he did not want to be there, and was certain that all efforts for research funding would fail at his institution. When I asked him why he is so certain, he replied: “our faculty does not receive any support for research or grant writing.” This is not an unusual reaction. There are many participants in my seminars who tell me that they cannot manage their heavy teaching loads along with concurrent research, and that their institutions have no solutions to this problem. Nevertheless, an increasing number of universities are requiring their faculty to do research and are making it part of the tenure and promotion criteria. One thing is certain, however, an institution cannot successfully dictate that research take place and faculty apply for funding, without first creating a culture where mutual support and trust can be built in order to make that happen.

While defining what exactly it means to have a culture of research may be difficult, it is no challenge to recognize the increasing importance of having one. Faculty at major research institutions have traditionally been expected to maintain scholarly activities, including conducting research and publishing scholarly works. It is no secret that, in recent decades, faculty at comprehensive and “teaching institutions” (those whose emphasis is on teaching rather than research) have also come under pressure to do the same. This pressure continues to grow with time. Institutions are still emphasizing effective faculty contact with students as a criterion for success, while at the same time looking to develop cultures of research and increase faculty research production. Although this is an extremely complicated issue, below I outline the key steps that faculty tell me need to happen as well as what I believe to be logically required for a successful marriage between teaching and research.

Administrative Leadership – Philosophic and Economic

The administration is key for supporting a research culture that is ongoing and will “stick.” Thus, once support is articulated from “above”, the culture will need to be accepted and kept alive from all sectors of the institution. Accordingly, deans, department chairs, institute directors, faculty committees and strategic planning councils will need to make ongoing changes in their respective areas and develop a culture of mutual trust that fosters excellence in both teaching and research.

Time and Pay

Developing a culture of research within a “teaching institution” will necessitate reducing teaching loads to give faculty the time to do research, apply for grants and publish. Institutions that truly wish to increase their research and funding success must seek to establish a balanced effort into teaching and research as well as pay increases, promotion and other advancement that reflect this balance. This is probably one of the most difficult undertakings for cash-strapped institutions and those that are located in non-urban areas, where it is difficult to hire adjunct faculty. Nevertheless, unless this balance is addressed, there will not be the motivation for faculty to be part of a research culture.

Training and Support

Faculty support and training come in many forms. The most important are: (1) building capacities within each department; (2) creating mentoring programs between the senior faculty who have established research and grant successes and the junior faculty who are beginning their academic careers; and (3) supporting faculty via strong sponsored research offices. The latter are of special importance because faculty will need assistance writing, editing, and submitting their grants and manuscripts.

It might be the task of the sponsored research office to encourage applications to the National Science Foundation (NSF) that are geared specifically to assist undergraduate and “teaching institutions” with grants that merge research and teaching via the Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) and Research Opportunity Awards (ROA).  Such grants will support faculty research in order to engage them in their professional field(s), build capacity for research at their home institution, and support the integration of research and undergraduate education. There are other funding opportunities such as the R15 National Institutes of Health (NIH) and foundation funding that support primarily undergraduate institutions.

Research Recognition

Institutional recognition of research excellence is a key element for developing a culture for this activity. Faculty awards and discussion of faculty successes should reflect the characteristics that are now the goal for each area of the institution. Successful strategies in making this happen would be through website announcements, faculty newsletter publication, and ultimately economic recognition through pay increases and tenure and promotion. Since research and grant support are encouraging collaboration and interdisciplinary efforts, special recognition in this area might be of added value.

Hiring Practices

Hiring practices need to reflect the research goals of administrators and faculty. Resumes of potential applicants should demonstrate new ways of thinking about creating change. Faculty hiring practices should seek those with involvement and success in teaching, research and external funding.

While it will be difficult, “teaching institutions” must take steps to develop a culture of research. Paradigm shifts in cultures that have been traditionally motivated are difficult. Nevertheless, academia is no longer what it was ten years ago or even three years ago. Workforce needs, technology and the speed of knowledge transformation necessitate teaching and faculty that are current in their field. This can only happen through a substantive effort to effectively marry teaching and research in a culture of mutual support and trust.

Mathilda Harris

Over the past 18 years, she has written grants, conducted capital campaigns, developed strategic plans for grant procurement, and assisted individuals and institutions to write winning proposals for various donors.

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