NU budget to include boost for research

Sheila Burt

As Northwestern officials hash out final decisions about next year’s budget, they said new funding for NU’s research infrastructure is a top priority.

The university will pump in at least $5 million in new investments to improve research support for next year’s budget, said Eugene Sunshine, senior vice president for business and finance.

“We’ve grown a lot and we’re growing a lot more,” Sunshine said, “so it’s time for us to take a step up in terms of the commitment of resources.”

The new funds will buy improved research tracking systems and also create a new Office of Research Integrity, which will oversee investigations of research practices and resolve issues with federal regulators.

The new office will be led by Timothy Fournier, currently the Institutional Compliance Officer at the University of Pennsylvania. Fournier will serve as associate vice president for research integrity starting Feb. 16.

The increase in money for research infrastructure follows investigations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The university paid a $9,400 civil penalty to the USDA in January to settle part of the department’s investigations into NU’s research record-keeping and the treatment of lab animals.

NU also paid $5.5 million to the federal government last February regarding claims that researchers misrepresented the amount of time spent on federally funded projects.

A separate USDA investigation regarding possible violations of the Animal Welfare Act is pending.

NU officials said many of the complaints resulted from the volume of research projects growing faster than facilities and staff support.

“With this expansion of research has come more complexity and it’s very important that the university get it all right,” University President Henry Bienen told The Daily last week.

“There’s just no leeway on it,” he said. “It’s just things we have to do.”

Sunshine called the increase a “sizable amount” and the largest he can remember in recent years. He also emphasized the necessity of the increase.

“If you’re not willing to slow down the rate of growth,” he said, “then you have to make the commitment to the research infrastructure.”

The jump also will help meet funding needs for major science buildings under construction, such as the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center on the Evanston Campus, Sunshine added.

Increasing the university’s research infrastructure means hiring additional staff and continuing to work toward integrating information from different systems.

“We need to meet the needs of the federal requirements in keeping track of everything,” said C. Bradley Moore, NU’s vice president for research. “Right now we’re playing catch-up.”

Moore said new systems will keep track of grants, finances, animals and other research-related data. Using the Internet, the systems will communicate with each other — something they previously have not done.

“We’re trying to make it easier for faculty to meet all the government requirements,” Moore said. “Our goal is to give them all the information we need in a very clear way.”