Havidán Rodríguez: No inbound threat to R1 status
President Havidán Rodríguez ended a long-winded comment about the University at Albany’s research standing with three rhetorical questions.
“Can we do better? We can always do better.”
“Should we do better? Yes we should.”
“And are we going to do better? Absolutely, that’s the direction we’re going to move in.”
Applause followed from the modest audience at Thursday’s Campus Center town hall.
Two minutes earlier, the Albany Student Press asked him if UAlbany was under threat of losing Research 1 status, doctoral universities with the highest research activity in the country. The organization which marks such status, the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, is set to release an update of the list by year’s end.
Could UAlbany fall out of the list then? Rodríguez doesn’t think so.
“And the short answer to that is no,” he said before discussing university efforts to expand and diversify research.
For now, it’s uncertain where UAlbany falls in a group that includes some of the highest profile public and private institutions in the country. Out of concern that the list could be mistaken as a ranking system, Carnegie refuses to disclose where universities stand.
Being among a pile of elites and some lesser recognized universities, classification can be competitive. For example, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a neighboring Capital Region institution, was demoted to R2 three years ago.
Funding and Research
Although confident R1 status will hold on, Institutional Research officials say federal funding is the biggest concern hanging over university research. Carnegie eliminated such dollars from the classification system 17 years ago, but some fear federal cuts could harm research progress ahead.
UAlbany’s federal research coffers were at $51 million in 2012. After splitting with the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (now SUNY Polytechnic Institute), the university lost chunks of funding.
“So, not only did we lose students, but we lost faculty and we lost the research of faculty,” said Kevin Williams, dean of Graduate Education.
Federal investment was $37 million in research expenses last year, up $4 million from the previous year.
Most research dollars come through flow-throughs, non-U.S. government agencies buoyed by federal cash. State agencies, industry, and other sponsors provide the least research investment.
GRAPHIC BY TYLER A. MCNEIL /ASP
With all five sources, funding is typically funneled to high-demand STEM programs.
These programs, especially in the College of Engineering & Applied Sciences and the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity are expected to attract hefty grants, more faculty and students, bulking up UAlbany’s national research profile.
STEM efforts like in atmospheric sciences are already pumping up university research coffers. Atmospheric Sciences between July of last year and March held over $11 million in awards, the highest of any academic department.
The Atmospheric Sciences Research Center, part of the university’s Division for Research, has taken in millions in recent fiscal years. Looking to build on the Center’s progress, UAlbany is seeking $500,000 from the state for the Center for Excellence in Atmospheric Sciences this budget cycle.
Lance Bosart, a professor in the Atmospheric Sciences department since 1969, said consistent investment is nothing new. But for a university without a large endowment, he believes R1 status may be challenging to maintain while trying to balance resources.
“That’s the problem: we’re trying to do everything,” said Bosart. “And if you try to do everything, you end up doing nothing very well.”
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Some in the humanities have criticized the university’s push to high-demand research in recent years, claiming that academic expansion has left liberal arts neglected.
Henry Curtis, a doctoral philosophy student, is doubtful that the university’s R1 status will benefit his department in the future.
“It’s nice, it’s good, and it’s something we should encourage to retain our school’s status as a research institution,” said Curtis. “But practically on the ground level for people like us, theoretically it should be distributed among the students but practically it does nothing.”
In order to maintain R1 status, universities must have cushy research and development expenditures, research staff, doctorate conferrals, and full-time faculty aplenty.
During the last update, UAlbany had a $120 million research and development expenditure from the National Science Foundation, 140 post-doctorate and non-faculty research staff, 186 research and scholarship doctorate conferrals, and 558 full-time faculty (2013 data).
The next update could include professional doctorate degrees in law and medicine, both of which UAlbany lacks. Carnegie said the change “will reshape membership of the Doctoral Universities and Master’s Colleges and Universities categories.”
But Jack Mahoney, assistant vice provost for Academic and Resource Planning, believes the university’s R1 status would likely remain untouched by such changes.
“Quite frankly, to be honest with you, I’m not the slightest bit concerned that it will make the slightest bit of a difference for us,” said Mahoney.
There’s still more to be done in order for the university to stay cozy in the 115-group according to James Stellar, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs.
Stellar said that university has to look closely at boosting the number of doctoral and masters research students. Overall, UAlbany has missed the mark on graduate enrollment projections over the last eight years.
What’s more, he said more efforts could be made to ease lecturing and research conflicts among faculty and strengthen undergraduate research.
“We may have gotten complacent about how hard we have to work,” said Stellar about remaining competitive in the R1 pool.