VPR Open Forum

Each semester, Scott Whittenburg, VP for Research and Creative Scholarship, holds an open forum with the University research community to provide an update on research and creative scholarship at UM and answer questions.

April 4, 2018

Update on expenditures

Growth in expenditures is relatively flat (as demonstrated by the Summary Report linked from the Dean's Expenditure Reports.  When reviewing the expenditure reports, be cautious when looking near the end of any given month.  Because it takes time for the payroll expenditures to be reflected in the financial system, the report isn't finalized until about the second week of the following month.  It’s worthy to note that for the last three to four years, the growth in expenditures has helped with MUS Performance Funding and, since Performance Funding is based on a three year average, past growth continues to be helpful. 

Award volume is also looking positive as we’re optimistic about the funding of a couple fairly big projects.  If you wonder what the difference is between award volume and expenditures, there’s information provided here.     

Research Council

The Research Council, chaired by Scott Mills, has convened its first meeting with new members.  It has two goals: a) to establish a set of operational metrics to quantify research and creative scholarship across disciplines at University of Montana; b) to propose tangible actions that would increase faculty ability to increase output in those metrics.  Although the timing will be tight, the Research Council may be able to contribute to the assessments of the University Planning Committee (UPC). Full faculty input will be solicited as the Research Council prepares draft documents. 

As the Research Council develops research and creative scholarship metrics, it will also consider how to connect them to database products that will maintain consistency, help normalize across disciplines, and reduce the burden on faculty members.  Currently, the University is looking at a product called Exploria from ExLibris.  Exploria is a system that creates and prepopulates web pages for faculty as a mechanism to tout faculty accomplishments. Faculty can then modify and add information as required.  This effort involves the Mansfield Library, OIT, VPR, and Academic Affairs.  If the decision is made to purchase ExLibris, it comes with a sponsored funding platform called Pivot that is robust and used across the global research administration community.  Additionally, it would be an integration component of the RC metric effort as the platform could capture performance at the individual, unit/department, and institutional level.

Federal Initiatives

The University works with SMI (Strategic Marketing Innovations), a DC firm that represents the Montana University System.  They assist the University with all congressional visits and are working to identify some new federal sources of potential funding in the life sciences and vet other areas of interest to the federal government.

Scott Whittenburg and Judy Fredenberg made the FY19 congressional visits on Monday & Tuesday, March 12 & 13.  They were joined by Glen Mandigo, SMI President and CEO, and Joe Thiel, the MUS Director of Academic Policy & Research. Timing was interesting because the FY18 budget hadn’t been finalized; it has now been finalized and, unfortunately, none of the UM FY18 projects that were requested last year garnered any new traction.

UM’s Federal Initiative packet includes nine projects, and two are joint efforts with MSU. 

  • 1 request in Agriculture,
  • 4 in Defense (1 joint project with MSU),
  • 2 in Homeland Security (1 joint project with MSU), and
  • 2 in Interior

Also included are projects of national significance, such as the EPSCoR efforts, McIntire Stennis Cooperative Forest Research Program, the Cooperative Wildlife Research Program, and the Forest Service/Joint Fire Science Research Program.

National Science Foundation (NSF) Audit Update

The NSF Audit is still pending. The field work concluded in January with a teleconference with UM officials and both the independent audit firm that was onsite (Cotton & Company) and members of the NSF Office of Inspector General Office.  During this call, some expenditures C&C deemed unallowable were defended and removed from the summary and others remained.  As a result, some funds have been returned to NSF. 

The next step is for NSF to schedule the final negotiation process through their Cost Analysis and Audit Resolution (CAAR) & Resolution &Advance Monitoring (RAM) branch.

Research Compliance

Joe Fanguy, former director of Technology Transfer,  left the University at the end of December as part of the VSO.  As result, the oversight of entrepreneurship/technology transfer and research regulatory compliance has been reconfigured.  Claudia Eccles is now the point of contact for both research compliance issues and IP/Tech Transfer.  She currently reports to both Legal Counsel and Research Administration.  This additional oversight and involvement will require her to be full time under Research Administration and the process is underway to change her title and reporting line.  As part of this process, a committee (Scott Whittenburg, Paul Gladen, and Jay Evans) has been established to assist Claudia in reviewing IP/Tech transfer inquiries.

Innovate UM

Innovate UM: One University, One City will be held April 25-26.  Interest in and registration has been very overwhelmingly positive. 

On April 16, a smaller group will meet to discuss and draft a plan for moving forward with innovation in the region.  Blackfoot Communications has talked about developing a tech park at the west end of Broadway; UM has MonTech at the East End.  How can the city and region be best prepared and positioned in the future?  Perhaps the two would select certain disciplines/identifies.  Could an Innovate Campus be developed and built on campus near the existing Motor Pool?  How does UM Tech Transfer fit in to the future?    

 Espoo Finland has developed an “Innovation Garden” where there are no borders between the university, city, and business development.  Their presentation is scheduled for the morning of April 25 and this model may provide some ideas and direction for moving forward.   


Pay schedules

There was a question about procedures for increasing postdoctoral fellow payment schedules.  These are unique in that they’re training positions, and payment is dictated by the funding agency. Along these line, there was additional discussion about individuals paid by external funds but tied to increases established by the State pay schedule.  Discussions with HR will continue. 

Planning, performance, promotion/retention

There was discussion about ways to better merge research and creative scholarship in promotion/retention (P/R) and consideration of teaching loads.

Centers/Institutes vs departments

Discussion arose about the role of centers/institutues/programs in helping to catalyze interdisciplinary research and creative scholarship outside of the departmental administrative units. Because performance metrics typically track back to administrative units only, it is difficult to describe and quantify the interdisciplinary productivity nurtured by centers/institutes/programs. One suggestion was to consider how individual faculty member’s productivity data could be entered so that it could be used to describe both their administrative department and any centers/institutes/programs to which they belong.  This woud better foster interdisciplinary research and creative scholarship. 

Relationship between F&A return, centers/programs, and academic units

In response to a question about F&A returns to academic units, , the VPR discussed the relatively high F&A return rates to the Deans (compared to national averages).  He further discussed how F&A funds retained in the VPR office are all expended in support of research and creative scholarship, and its intersection with the teaching mission.  The dynamic F&A distribution is now operational and  helpful in tracking the flow of F&A funds.

October 25, 2017

Growth in Research Enterprise

The disproportionately high quality of UM researchers continues to be recognized by external funders, respected international rankings, and a thriving graduate program. It's important to note that external research and creative scholarship has a mutualistic relationship with graduate education: top graduate students are attracted to universities with active and high profile programs, and, in turn, those students are essential in carrying out the research and creative scholarship projects.  As a sign of the health of this relationship, graduate student enrollment has increased.

Sponsored Expenditures
Graduate Enrollment
88.2 M
78.5 M
64.6 M

The positive growth in external funding per year has slowed, with only a 5% increase in expenditures projected for this year.  Research numbers per faculty is quite high compared to other research universities and continued growth is likely dependent on new faculty hires.

See ORSP's Award Volume / Expenditures

National Taiwan University Rankings

The success in grantsmanship has its roots in prestige of the faculty, which in turn is generated by high productivity in publications in top journals with high impact factors.  These very metrics were recently used by one of the top 5 or so most respected studies that ranks the top 800 world universities (out of the more than 4,000 research institutions world-wide, the National Taiwan University (NTU) ranks the top 800 world universities based upon the number of faculty publications in journals (research productivity), the number of citations those publications receive from other researchers (research impact) and the h-index and journal ranking of those publications (research excellence).  In the 2017  NTU rankings University of Montana is once again highly ranked in one field (Agriculture which includes Agricultural Sciences, Environment/Ecology and Plant & Animal Science) and several subject areas (Environment/Ecology, Geosciences and Plant & Animal Science).  UM improved in both world and US rankings in every field and subject category compared to the 2016 NTU rankings. 

Category World Ranking US Ranking
Field - Agriculture 123 45
Subject - Environment/Ecology 73 31
Subject - Geosciences 161 56
Subject - Plant & Animal Science 165 47

Renegotiation of UM's F&A Rate Agreement

Universities are allowed to recover some of the expenses that support the research endeavor, such as facilities and general use items. UM's F&A rates are at the low end of research universities and institutes.  UM's current F&A Rate Agreement was effective through June 30, 2017, and negotiation efforts are underway for an increase in UM's rates. When the new rate agreement is finalized, VPRCS Whittenburg will send out an updated report explaining how F&A recovery supports the institution, research infrastructure, and PI productivity.  

See F&A Rate Information

Dynamic Distribution of Institutional F&A Recovery Launched

As of July 1, 2017 (FY18), the Research Office began Dynamic F&A (DF&A) distribution for all existing and new sponsored projects. 

Instead of the previous model with a two year lag time between expenditure and distribution, DF&A is immediately recovered per each corresponding expenditure and put into the respective dean/director's SPABA account. Dynamic F&A increases efficiency and enhances the ability of units to use F&A to supportand grow research efforts. 

See Dynamic Distribution of F&A

University Grant Program to be Offered Again in February 2018

The University Grant Program (UGP) is a internal grant program that has proven successful in generating external funding.  This academic year, the Small Grants, Seed Grants, and GRIP will continue as in the past.  The Mentored Proposal Development Grant program may be tweaked to focus on support for individual faculty to become more competitive for national awards.

Dealing with Audits: A Necessary Part of a Thriving Research Environment

 Research administration is a highly regulated profession, which is why the VPRCS office appreciates the attention of PIs to pre- and post-award requirements.  As a state entity, UM rolls into the biennial State of Montana Single Audit. As a result, it is common for the State of Montana Legislative Audit Division to be onsite each year.  As a sign of the thriving research ventures, UM has also had desk or onsite audits from a variety of sponsors, including: 

  • National Science Foundation
  • Montana DNRC
  • Office of Justice
  • US HHS Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 
  • US Department of Labor
  • Indian Health Service 
  • Corporation for National Service 

Upcoming Research Events

UM is hosting the National Science Foundation National EPSCoR Conference, which will feature research highlights from UM and Montana, as well as national speakers focusing on topics including research innovation and excellence, partnerships, graduate education, and communication to the public. 

Next spring, the “InnovateU+M” workshop will be coordinated by the Broader Impacts Group and will focus on partnership building between innovation initiatives at UM ("U") and Missoula city and county ("+M").