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Advisory board for new institute announced

While the University’s realignment process has already created some high-profile changes – like the closure of the General College and the transformation of many others – many more are underway.

In an attempt to create more interdisciplinary ties across the sciences at the University, Provost E. Thomas Sullivan last week appointed the advisory committee for the new Institute for the Advancement of Science and Technology.

The idea for the Institute came out of the Science and Engineering Task Force report, which noted that from 1997 through 2003, the University’s total research and development expenditures grew at an average of 5.9 percent per year, less than many other top universities.

In 2003, the University spent just over $500 million on research and development endeavors at the University.

If this trend holds, the University would not reach its goal to be in the top tier of universities and it would actually fall in standing, according to the report.

But the University has strategies to buck those trends.

University President Robert Bruininks said the University is pursuing a “very aggressive” capital plan to invest in science research, namely in the form of the Institute and the 10-year, $300 million Minnesota Biomedical Sciences Research Facilities Authority.

The Institute will allow the University to be more nimble and unite faculty from various disciplines, he said.

“It will help the University become quicker on its feet,” Bruininks said.

The University is also fighting a problem with honorific societies – faculty members are being inducted into fellowships and associations at lower rates than at peer institutions.

Tim Mulcahy, the University’s vice president for research, said the University has the caliber faculty for associations, but has not been adept at promoting faculty when compared to peer institutions.

“Our efforts, in some cases, have not been as coordinated as other universities,” he said.

However, there is now a more comprehensive way to nominate faculty for such opportunities through the provost’s office as a result of the University’s realignment process, Mulcahy said.

Trends toward interdisciplinary research have become more prominent in past years, and such trends are one of the stated reasons for the Institute.

Claudia Neuhauser, chairwoman of the Institute’s advisory committee and co-chairperson of the Science and Engineering Task Force, said the Institute will make the University more competitive in seeking funding, which is increasingly being targeted across disciplines.

“It will allow people to get together and attract large grants,” she said.

The high-profile research will also help faculty be inducted into associations and fellowships, she said.

Nothing specific has been set for the Institute, such as whether it will have physical space or just be a formal association of faculty in related fields.

Sharon Reich Paulsen, assistant vice president and chief of staff to the provost, said the Institute is not the only strategy to vault the University into the top three. Other strategies include capital investments, infrastructure changes and other realignments.

“It’s one of the strategies for bringing together top scientists and creative thinkers who can help define issues that draw upon the University’s comparative advantages that will position it to obtain additional grant funding,” she said.

The advisory committee will recommend the Institute’s mission, structure and measures to evaluate impact, among other items, to Sullivan by spring of next year.

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