U leaders promote end dates for underutilized research centers

Youssef Rddad

To make room for new centers and to attract faculty to the University of Minnesota, faculty leaders and administrators say some research centers need to close. The University has several hundred research centers, but some faculty members say the huge number makes it difficult to establish new ones. At a Board of Regents meeting earlier this summer, the Faculty Affairs Committee discussed the possibility of establishing predetermined closing dates for certain centers with research questions that could be answered within a few years. A strategic planning committee of University leaders promoted the idea of creating end dates, which they call sunset dates, for activities and centers in October 2014, but attaching end dates to every University center has not yet happened. In its 10-year plan, one of the committeeâÄôs goals is to add influential faculty to the University, and in a 2014 report, the committee recommended implementing sunset dates. At the regents meeting, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Karen Hanson noted private colleges often have more influential faculty than public schools. The University faculty has been growing, adding 335 full-time and part-time faculty members to the Twin Cities campus between 2010 and 2014, according to the Office of Institutional Research. Administrators also say the end dates could potentially guarantee centers funded either by the University or through external funding achieve their goals by ensuring they would close if they are no longer making progress in research. The number of centers at the University is always changing because of new centers opening and closing, Hanson said. âÄúWe fill up with so many centers that we canâÄôt start new centers,âÄù said economics professor Timothy Kehoe, who presented the possibility of creating end dates for all centers. âÄúHalf of the [interdisciplinary] centers at the University should be out of business.âÄù Kehoe said he hopes all interdisciplinary centers will have a sunset date. He said operation centersâÄô work should be reviewed after five to eight years. The FAC did not discuss a specific time period centers would be given before their end date at the meeting. Hanson said the number of years would vary depending on the purpose of the center. Centers like the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute or the Institute on the Environment would not have end dates because they are University-wide and not charged with a single task, Hanson said. Those centers are also required to submit an annual report to the Office of the Vice President for Research and the ProvostâÄôs office. To an extent, the University already creates end dates for certain initiatives, OVPR spokesperson Kevin Coss said. âÄúWeâÄôve been sun-setting projects all along. Sometimes people have funded centers through external funding, and that funding runs its course, and itâÄôs not renewed or maybe the problem they were trying to address was solved,âÄù Hanson said.