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 10, 2020

November 19, 2018

Welcome and VPRCS updates

VPRCS Scott Whittenburg welcomed the 35 attendees, and asked for updates from his direct reports.

Patty Anglen, VPRCS director of budgets and operations, introduced Suzie Nelson, who was recently hired in the Office of Research and Creative Scholarship (ORCS) to assist both ORCS and the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (ORSP).  ORCS is recruiting behind Meghann Schroeder who took a different job on campus. 

Judy Fredenberg, assistant vice president for research,  indicated that ORSP has recently welcomed Mary Ellen Farrar and Julie Rogers in post award, Debi Schmidt in pre/post, and Cathie Cichosz in pre-award.  Judy thanked attendees for their attention and support of UM’s electronic payroll verification platform – PAR (Personnel Activity Report).

Claudia Eccles, assistant vice president for research compliance, innovation and technology transfer, shared that UM’s collection of conflict of interest (COI) information is underway, and that there have been some technical issues.  She’s reaching out to folks who’ve experienced difficulties with their COI certifications and will resolve any snafus. 

Dr. Whittenburg introduced Drew Reinert, the liaison for Department of Defense funding, and announced that the Rural Institute has moved from the Provost office to the VPRCS. 

Award Volume / Expenditures

In the past several years, the federal government has operated via a continuing resolution.  Thus, federal sponsors knew they would have the same budget as in the past.  This year, an actual budget was passed and agencies were unable to anticipate their budget authority until it was finalized.  Fewer awards were issued until the budget was finalized.  Thus, the timing of the federal budget has impacted UM’s award volume.  This is not a significant concern, but does help explain the drop in award volume:

Award volume




July – Oct      

July – Oct



Award volume is a precursor to spending. See an explanation about the difference between award volume and expenditures on the UM’s expenditures page.  Expenditures in the same timeframe are also down slightly:





July – Oct  

July – Oct



From these early indicators, the VPRCS anticipates that total expenditures will be down this year.  If so, F&A recovery will be down, too.  With the implementation of dynamic F&A distribution, some deans/departments are expecting some distribution of recovery earned prior to FY18.  With this anticipated reduction in expenditures/F&A, combined with the significant budget cut that has hit VPRCS to help out on the general fund side, it is possible that those payments will need to be postponed.  If so, more information will follow in the fiscal year. 

The number of proposals submitted, when compared to last year at this time, is just about the same:

# of proposals




July – Oct   

July – Oct



The amount requested is a bit higher:

Proposal $$ requested (both direct and F&A)




July – Oct     

July – Oct



Social Prosperity – APLU

Dr. Whittenburg shared that he attended a meeting for the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) last week and observed a trend in the VPR portfolio where institutions are shifting to discussions surrounding social prosperity and broadening community engagement.  UM is no different as the VPR is pulling together the University entities under the research enterprise that have significant community interaction for discussions about how to advance efforts about better engaging the community, state, and region.  To that end, APLU established Innovation & Economic Prosperity (IEP) Universities Program to help codify, elevate, and advance campus enterprise efforts supporting economic and community development.  Associate VPR L. Scott Mills clarified that this program doesn't’t change what faculty are currently doing, and does support Strategic Opportunity 3 – Partner with Place – of UM’s Strategic Vision.  Dr. Mills also shared that public impact of research extends across the globe with discussions and programs about issues involving community health, biodiversity, roads, poverty, and the health and well-being of children, just to identify a few.

Research Metrics

Associate VPR Dr. Mills stated that, overall, the research enterprise continues to rock along.  He’s been working with a committee to identify meaningful metrics to better articulate the research and creative scholarship activities and success.  Over the next several months he will lead a working group to focus on a set of quantifiable high-level indicators (and sub-metrics) that will capture the valuable research and creative scholarship by UM faculty across disciplines.  These indicators/metrics will provide a common way to talk about accomplishments and innovation in UM’s teaching, learning, and work, and support UM’s Strategic Vision. 
Once these metrics are identified, vetted, and agreed upon, it is envisioned that they will be integrated next fall into the Esploro cloud based platform produced by Ex Libris.  The Mansfield Library has committed to Ex Libris for some of their repository activity and UM has been identified as an early adopter help designers broaden categories to include research/creative scholarship activity.  UM hopes to identify and prepopulate some of the data, such as publications and grant activity.  Some other metrics that are not publically available, such as the number of presentations, will need to be manually entered at least initially. 

Ask an ORCS

Associate VPR L. Scott Mills has developed the Ask an ORCS forum in an effort to bridge the gap between the world in which faculty live and that where research administration lives.  The topics are presented in a way that is transparent and designed to improve efficiencies.  Feel free to email Scott directly if you run across something you don’t understand and are interested in having him address it. 


Following the update, VP Whittenburg opened the floor to questions from the attendees.
Q: How is the ORCS interfacing with the University’s proposed teaching and staffing plan?
VPR Whittenburg:  The plan doesn't contain as much research as I’d hoped.  Clearly, faculty reductions cannot have a positive impact on the growth of research moving forward.
Q:  Are you expecting to meet the 90M in award volume this year, as in the past year or two? 
VPR Whittenburg:  Yes. 
Q: Considering the proposed restructuring, how does the VPRCS propose to deal with the results?  Researchers may be applying for grants now that may become awards when individuals are relocated to new departments/colleges.  Proposal are submitted with buy-in from an existing dean, and there may be an entirely different dean involved upon award.  How will the VPRCS work through these situations? 
VPR Whittenburg:  Such departmental/college shifts will impact the metric capture as far as proposals/awards go.  The transactional application of such shifts, at award time, will be discussed on a case-by-case basis in order to mitigate disruptions.  For example, teaching assistant (TA) lines are assigned to specific departments.  With the proposed moves, the Graduate School is working with the deans/chairs to design a plan that meshes with our new reality. 
Q:  How are you going to get the University to take research seriously, considering the impact of what we do? 
AVPR Mills:  We’re hoping the metrics will help as they’ll become leading/lagging indicators as to the contributions that faculty make.  The indicators can’t continue to grow if the resource aren’t available. 
Q: What is the status of our F&A Rate negotiation?
VPR Whittenburg:  The proposal was submitted about 18 months ago.  We’re still in a holding pattern, and remain optimistic that our organized research (OR) rate will go up from 45% to 47%.  It’s become apparent that administrators don’t really understand F&A or know what the F&A recovery supports.  A one-pager is being prepared for the president that will show that about 1 M of the F&A recovery supports bond payments, and another 600K comes off the top to support the general fund side. (Note: This is an informative youtube video on F&A produced by the University of Idaho.)
Q: Can you talk about changes in Teaching Assistantships/Research Assistantships (TARA) moving forward. 
VPR WhittenburgBoard of Regent (BOR) Policy 940.31 allows the graduate dean to waive tuition down to 100% of in-state tuition via the TARA mechanism, which is an employment contract.  Thus, when a faculty member says that someone is on a scholarship and there is no work expectation, that graduate student cannot utilize the TARA mechanism.  Obviously, we can’t let everyone pay in-state tuition.  UM does offer the Dean’s Merit Award (DMA) that lists programs that quality for reduced tuition, like the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Program (GRP). There are discussions underway to revisit the DMA to better align with existing needs.

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/institutes/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 would 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. 


World Ranking

US Ranking

Field - Agriculture



Subject - Environment/Ecology



Subject - Geosciences



Subject - Plant & Animal Science



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 support and 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").