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Research and Graduate Education
at Michigan State University:

An Overview


Multidimensional excellence is the overall mission of Michigan State University (MSU). This report of the Council on the Review of Research and Graduate Education (CORRAGE, hereafter referred to as the council) examines two dimensions of the University's mission--research and graduate education. These dimensions are interrelated and mutually reinforcing. Both need to be revitalized following the past decade of retrenchment.

In 1989, Michigan State University charged the council with the responsibility for the first full-scale review of research and graduate education since the publication of the document "A Report to the President of Michigan State University from the Committee on the Future of the University" in 1959. (See appendix 1.) The council, which spent 16 months on this in-depth review, included graduate students as well as faculty members from throughout the University.


Statistics paint an impressive picture of the phenomenal growth of research and graduate education at Michigan State University. For example, the University awarded its first doctoral degree to a student in botany in 1925; only 66 years later, MSU has over 8,000 graduate students in more than 200 departments, schools, centers, and institutes. More than 1,800 of 8,000 students are international students from 107 countries. The total research expenditure for 1988-89 was $122 million including state and federal funds for the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station and external grants, contracts, and gifts for other units in the University.

In spite of this impressive array of statistics, the council reached an inescapable conclusion during its deliberations: graduate education and research support are under severe stress at MSU. The University lacks centralized advocacy for graduate education. There is evidence of a decline in quality of some graduate programs in the 1980s. External research funding leveled off in real (inflation-adjusted) terms between 1988 and 1990. Moreover, the loss of 90 tenure-system faculty positions in the last decade coupled with inadequate support services make it difficult for MSU to maintain nationally competitive research and graduate programs. These and other factors must be addressed in order to halt this pattern of deterioration.

From 1950 to 1980, MSU witnessed a period of phenomenal expansion in its research capabilities. But the severe resource constraints of the 1980s forced numerous adjustments. The University's current Refocusing, Rebalancing, and Refining process, known as "R3," aims at positioning the University to capitalize on emerging opportunities and to withstand the resource limitations of the 1990s. However, the R3 process was set up as a temporary administrative instrument with a three- to four-year timespan. The council has tried in this report to help the University move decisively to improve the quality of graduate education and to significantly increase its national stature as a public research university. To achieve this goal, additional resources must be found.

The Pursuit of Excellence:
The Challenge and the Strategy

(Chapter 1)

The collective strength of MSU's 200-plus academic departments, centers, and institutes rests on its faculty, staff, and graduate students; the ability of faculty and administrators to articulate a shared vision for the future; the identification of areas of comparative advantage; and the ability to mobilize and concentrate resources on selected area of excellence. The quest for excellence in research and graduate education dominates this report. However, in order to turn revitalization into reality, this quest must be backed up with real resources--faculty, support staff, physical resources, and operational support.

As we look to the future, the challenge before Michigan State University is the development and adoption of a multidimensional strategy for achieving excellence in research and graduate education consistent with the institution's status as a member of Association of American Universities (AAU) and with its land-grant tradition. The strategy can succeed only if graduate education, research, and outreach are strengthened through a partnership between faculty and administration in planning ahead for 10-15 years. But new resources must be found to revitalize graduate education and to support research and outreach. As the University reconfigures itself for the 1990s and beyond, human, financial, and infrastructural constraints will require creative problem solving, with extensive faculty and administrative cooperation in reducing administrative costs and increasing the amount of external funds for research and graduate education.

RECOMMENDATION 1: Primary recommendation. Our primary recommendation is for the President and the Board of Trustees of Michigan State University to make a policy decision to improve the quality of graduate education and research and thereby to increase MSU's national stature among public research universities. The administration and the Board of Trustees must mobilize new and existing resources to strengthen research and graduate education.

To provide the means to revitalize graduate education and to increase support for research, we recommend in chapter 2 that a CORRAGE fund be established to make available about $5 to $7 million per year in additional resources (recommendation 4, following). This fund should be supported by core funds from a variety of sources including a small but fixed percentage of the University's general fund; donations from alumni of various graduate programs; and income from patents, inventions, and licenses derived from the past research of MSU faculty and graduate students.

(Chapter 2)

The reputation of a university rests in large part on the quality of the research and scholarship carried out by its faculty and graduate students. Research is the foundation that supports the teaching and outreach missions of MSU and is consistent with both the University's AAU status and with is land-grant tradition. Research that is true to the University's values and ideals must be comprehensive, rigorous, and unfettered by convention and prejudice. We affirm that it is essential to the University and to society that the research and scholarship conducted by our faculty be of the highest quality.

From its inception, MSU has been committed to the discovery, application, preservation, and extension of knowledge for the purpose of human enablement. In some areas of study, MSU's strength lies in its basic and applied research and outreach program functioning as a dynamic and interactive system. The tradition of integrated research and other scholarly activities positions MSU to assume a strong leadership role in the years to come. Nevertheless, we recognize the special; responsibility and privilege of scholars in universities to conduct basic research without concern for short-term solutions to immediate problems.

Research in the University is conducted in a variety of ways. Many MSU faculty member pursue research and other scholarly activities with little need for external funding or with partial funding from fellowships and scholarships. However, in many disciplines, extensive public and/or private external funding support is absolutely essential and has become a pervasive fact of academic life. External funding provides additional resources to the University, not only in direct support for individual research projects including graduate student stipends, but also through indirect costs that support the general fund.

The recommendations to follow from chapter 2 are designed to accomplish a single objective: to increase significantly the quality and quantity of research at MSU and thus to enhance its stature as a public research university. Four key recommendations and three areas requiring special study are needed to accomplish this objective:

RECOMMENDATION 3: Increase research facilitation grants to units.
We recommend raising the level of research facilitation allocations to units, colleges, and the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies (VPRGS) from the current 22 percent to 30 percent. A reasonable approach would be to increase it by equal increments over the next four years. We recommend that this 30 percent be apportioned as follows:

  • 5 percent to the VPRGS for research facilitation
  • 10 percent to the colleges that generated the overhead funds to be used for research support
  • 15 percent to units that generated the overhead funds to support ongoing and new research

In order to verify that the research facilitation grants (RFGs) are used to provide incentives to faculty in obtaining external support, we further recommend that the MSU Department of Internal Audit ensure that each unit set up a separate account number for these RFGs and that chairpersons or directors consult with the principal investigators on the allocation of the research facilitation funds. The RFG accounts should be closely monitored by the Office of Planning and Budgets (OPB) to ensure that they are used to strengthen the research
enterprise as intended.

RECOMMENDATION 4: CORRRAGE Fund. To provide the means to improve the quality of graduate education and to increase support for research, we recommend that a CORRAGE fund be established to make available about $5 to $7 million per year in additional resources. The fund should be supported by core funds from a variety of sources including a small but fixed percentage of the University's general fund and donations from alumni of various graduate programs.

We further recommend that the University reevaluate the current policy and practice of assigning all revenues from patents, inventions, and licenses to the MSU Foundation. Although the foundation allocated funds to MSU to support a variety of excellent projects, we believe that the royalty income generated by research should be reinvested in research. In addition, we believe that the Offices of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies (VPRGS) and Provost should have more direct control of the allocation of those revenues to ensure that they are reinvested in research and graduate education. We suggest that the royalty income currently assigned to the MSU Foundation be reallocated as follows:

  • One-third of the funds should be allocated to the VPRGS for faculty research grants, matching grants, and funds to prepare proposals for major research programs. In this way, the VPRGS can incrementally increase the amount of money available for individual faculty research grants under the revised title "all-University research grants." In making awards from these funds, care must be taken to assist junior faculty launching their research programs and to ensure diversity in faculty principal investigators and research areas and issues.
  • One-third of the funds should be allocated to the Assistant Provost and Dean of the Graduate School (AP&DGS) for the direct support of graduate students. An innovative approach would be to establish and fund a major all-University graduate fellowship fund (see chapter 3, recommendations 16 and 20).
  • One-third of the funds should be allocated to the Provost as discretionary funds.

RECOMMENDATION 5: Strengthen industry ties. We recommend that the Offices of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies (VPRGS) and the Vice President for University Outreach strengthen ties and communication with industry and encourage collaboration in research between the University and industry, as well as between the University and state government, through increased participation by units and colleges. To make this possible, the VPRGS together with the University Research council (URC) should initiate a review of MSU's current policies and, where necessary, develop new policies and guidelines to facilitate such collaboration.

RECOMMENDATION 8-10: Strengthen research infrastructure. The research infrastructure should be strengthened by increasing faculty participation in space decisions, improving communication between units and the MSU libraries on needed resources, enhancing the resource-sharing capabilities of the MSU Libraries, assuring that faculty and graduate students have adequate access to the MSU Libraries, and ensuring that computer facilities are as up-to-date as possible.

Issues for Further Study

RECOMMENDATION 7: Because many external funding agencies are directing funds toward interdisciplinary research in "centers of excellence," MSU should examine priorities and procedures for the initiation of new centers and ensure, via periodic review, that existing centers are competitive and meeting their academic goals.

RECOMMENDATION 13: Policies on proprietary research, intellectual property, research credit and control of data, and patent ownership and royalties need to be developed, promulgated, and applied uniformly.

RECOMMENDATION 14: The critical area of conflicts of interest should receive further study by MSU.

Graduate Education
(Chapter 3)

Programs of advanced study within the University represent the variety, complexity, and high levels of expertise that characterize intellectual life today. Graduate education is the means by which virtually all scholars and other professionals acquire initial mastery of their fields.

The council sees the following institutional obligations concerning graduate education as primary ones: to inspire the next generation of scholars; to prepare qualified students for leadership roles in the professions; to encourage and assist all racial and ethnic groups, women, handicappers, and other underrepresented groups to pursue opportunities associated with graduate education; to provide opportunities in graduate education to qualified citizens of this state and nation; and to involve international students and scholars in graduate programs.

Faculty members have critical roles to play in graduate education; key among these are as mentors, major advisers, and guidance committee members for graduate students. It must be emphasized that successful graduate programs also require dedicated faculty who are committed to teaching graduate-level courses and providing other advanced learning opportunities.

Graduate education at MSU is a highly diverse enterprise both in terms of the number and kinds of students served and the number and kinds of programs offered. Graduate degrees at MSU are awarded in a wide range of fields of study. There are 162 master's degree programs, 115 doctoral fields, and 9 specialist degrees. Although students enrolled in professional master's and doctoral programs at MSU outnumber those in Ph.D. programs, we have chosen to focus on issues most closely associated with the Ph.D. for two reasons. First, the scope and curricula for professional degrees are defined by accrediting or licensing organizations, professional societies, and current practice. By contrast, Ph.D. programs necessarily involve a substantial independent scholarly research effort on the part of the student and well as ongoing faculty guidance and mentoring support. Second, we believe that in addressing policy issues connected to the Ph.D., we are making recommendations that can apply to all graduate programs.

Before 1955, graduate education at MSU was administered through a Graduate School which had designated faculty and direct responsibilities for master's and doctoral degrees. Since that time a system of "indirect administration" has been called for planning, deliberation, and leadership at the central administrative level, while implementation was carried out through programs and faculty in the colleges. The Offices of Dean of the Graduate School and Vice President for Research were combined until 1975 and then separated until 1981. Beginning in 1981, the two positions were combined again under the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies (VPRGS), but nearly all administrative activities have been under an associate dean or two assistant deans. During this last decade, an already small budget for Graduate School has been further reduced. At present, the funding for Graduate School is very small compared to peer institutions in the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) and other institutional associations.

A vital Graduate School infuses the University with an intellectual energy and enthusiasm that comes from no other source. MSU, with its reputation for excellence in undergraduate education, must now devote more of its resources to ensuring parallel excellence in graduate education.

RECOMMENDATION 16: The structure of the Graduate School. The University should proceed to implement the reorganization of the Office of the Provost which establishes the position of Assistant Provost for Graduate Education and Dean of the Graduate School (AP&DGS), separate from the present position of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies (VPRGS), and with reporting lines to the VPRGS and the Provost. The AP&DGS will be the principal advocate for graduate education and must have staff and resources commensurate with that responsibility. The AP&DGS should provide insight and advice on new faculty appointments based on his/her knowledge of the strengths, weaknesses, and needs of related graduate programs and be responsible for the overall coordination and supervision of graduate education.

RECOMMENDATION 18: Reviewing and monitoring graduate programs. The Assistant Provost and Dean of the Graduate School (AP&DGS) should arrange for periodic surveys of unit graduate programs and use the resulting information to help evaluate and enhance the quality of graduate education at MSU. The AP&DGS should also assist in the evaluation described in chapter 5, and , where appropriate, recommend the evaluation of specific graduate programs or clusters of programs. Such reviews should focus on curricular, enrollment, and resource issues affecting quality at the unit and program levels.

RECOMMENDATION 19: Training of teaching assistants (TAs). Existing orientation and development programs for teaching assistants at the unit level and in the Foreign Teaching Assistant Program should fall under the general review of the Graduate School and the Undergraduate University Division. Where necessary, an all-University TA orientation and training program should complement existing programs or should be offered where no programs now exist. Those students seeking to develop their teaching skills for professorial careers should receive special attention. The Graduate School should encourage all faculty to share the responsibility for monitoring the development of teaching skills among their graduate students.

RECOMMENDATION 20: Graduate fellowships. The Graduate School should develop a new fund for graduate students based upon existing monies, some additional income from patent and license fees (see chapter 2, recommendation 4), and gifts and endowments. This new fund would be used for recruiting fellowships, dissertation fellowships, and research or professional development.

RECOMMENDATION 21: Graduate student recruitment. The Graduate School, Office of Admissions and Scholarships, colleges, departments, schools, and the Urban Affairs Program should share, coordinate, and streamline recruiting efforts and application procedures. In keeping with the MSU IDEA (Institutional Diversity: Excellence in Action), the patterns of the admission and retention rates of minorities and women should be used in the evaluation of units and their administrators.

The Faculty: Recruitment,
Retention, and Development

(Chapter 4)

Talented, dedicated faculty members are the sine qua non of a distinguished university. Their intellectual powers and energy, harnessed by their commitment to the mission of the university they serve, help to enable institutions such as MSU to strive for and to achieve excellence. Recruitment, retention, and development of an excellent faculty with richly diverse talents, interests, and backgrounds are essential to the University's present and future success. In chapter 4, we make suggestions that will facilitate recruitment, retention, and development of such faculty who are motivated by a strong desire to seek new knowledge, to integrate information, and to expand the thinking in their fields.

Recruiting and retaining quality faculty will become increasingly difficult. Studies such as Prospects for Faculty in the Arts and Sciences have shown that universities in the United States will likely face major shortages of faculty candidates--including women and minority candidates--in humanities and social sciences before the end of this decade and in the physical and biological sciences before the end of this decade and in the physical and biological sciences early in the twenty first century. Central to any effective recruiting effort is planning. Long-range recruitment and faculty replacement plans should be developed and updated regularly. Several issues related to dual-career couples and child care will affect the University's ability to recruit and retain faculty and to facilitate the productivity and welfare of faculty. Many, if not the majority, of recruitment efforts now necessarily involve consideration of partner employment as well.

We must also acknowledge here the new and augmented demands on faculty we have identified in our report. In addition to requiring high-quality research, we have asked for improvements in mentoring graduate students and in training them to be the professors of the future. We have also recommended that the faculty place a greater emphasis on outreach. To encourage such efforts, faculty members must receive significant recognition and rewards. The council believes that failure to act on the recommendations for additional and improved support of the faculty will cause many of the other important recommendations in this report to fall short of full acceptance and implementation.

An institutional commitment to the support and development of faculty is necessary to prevent the waste of resources and loss to the University that occur when promising young faculty members leave. The University should emphasize to a greater extent the development and mentoring of junior faculty with the goals of their achieving tenure and becoming nationally and even internationally known scholars. The primary responsibility for the development of new faculty resides at the unit and college administrative levels.

A key to excellent research and graduate education at MSU is a faculty that considers itself well and fairly rewarded and supported. Chief among these rewards and incentives is tenure. Tenure functions both as an incentive for productivity and as official recognition of the quality and long-term potential of a faculty member's work. Common practice among most universities suggests that several layers of review are helpful in making this most important decision. As a general principle, it is important that each candidate for tenure and promotion in the University undergo a reasonably similar process of review.

RECOMMENDATION 25: Recruitment of faculty. Plans for long-range recruitment and faculty replacement should be developed and updated regularly as part of an overall review of departments and schools. The University should make a commitment to these plans, once approved, to minimize delays in recruiting.

RECOMMENDATION 27: Faculty support. A child-care facility, a partner employment service, and a parental-leave policy should be established.

RECOMMENDATION 28: Junior faculty enablement. Colleges and units should be held accountable for encouraging and enabling the development of junior faculty, especially women and minorities. The evaluation of units in this regard should include advice from minority and women's advisory groups on campus as well as from outside experts and should be consistent with the MSU IDEA (Institutional Diversity: Excellence in Action). College and unit administrators must be certain that all new faculty members are fully informed in writing of the expectations of their positions and the procedures involved in the tenure and promotion process. The availability of support networks and mentors should be addressed specifically in the unit evaluation process.

RECOMMENDATION 31: Tenure and promotion.
(a) We recommend the establishment of faculty committees (where they do not already exist) to review and make recommendations on all tenure and promotion actions (positive and negative) at unit and college levels. These committees either should be elected by the faculty of the unit or college involved or should be composed of all tenured faculty above the rank of the person being considered for promotion or tenure. Care should be taken so that members of theses committees are representative of the tenured faculty and of the various missions of the unit and college. These committees are advisory to the unit administrator, and each should submit a written recommendation concerning each candidate, including the result of the committees's vote on each tenure and promotion decision. The written recommendation should become a formal part of the review process at each level. The bylaws of the department or school and college should reflect these changes and the process whereby tenure and promotion decisions are reached. These bylaws should be shared with all unit and college faculty.
(b) We recommend that the Academic Council charge the Committee on Faculty Tenure or some other appropriate standing faculty body with conduction a review of the promotion and tenure policies and procedures of all units and colleges for procedural due process, clarity, and fairness.

Planning for Excellence
(Chapter 5)

A university's stature is best gauged by the total of its endeavors and by the quality and spirit in which they are conducted. A reputation for excellence is never permanently secured. It is always subject to challenge and change. In chapter 5, we propose guidelines to assist the University in making difficult decisions to assure future excellence. Since many of our recommendations require the marshalling of human and material resources at a time when fiscal constraints are becoming more severe, we have developed a set of nine principles (listed in chapter 1) about the conduct of research and graduate education at MSU. Our recommendations on priority setting must be read with these principles in mind.

A focus on excellence requires a commitment by the whole University. In order to stimulate and encourage such commitment, broad participation in establishing goals, setting priorities, and evaluating progress is essential. The perception shared with members of the council is that information flow for the current planning process (Academic Program Planning and Review--APP&R) is primarily from department and school chairpersons and directors and from deans to the central administration. Hence, a revision of the planning process is in order.

A broad evaluation process is needed to provide the necessary information for priority setting and resource deployment. We set forth criteria for such evaluations including both a self-study phase and an external review. Such evaluations must be rigorous, purposeful, and timely. We recommend the review not only of units but also of clusters of units that include programs or other areas of study.

The council endorses a strengthening of faculty and student involvement in planning and priority setting at all levels of administration. We believe that direct and visible, proactive faculty involvement will improve morale and cooperation and will contribute to the vitality and spirit of the University as a whole. In addition, such input from thoughtful and responsible individuals will provide a broader perspective and increased expertise and thus should strengthen the quality of decisions made at all levels.

RECOMMENDATION 37: Revised academic program planning and review. We recommend that the current Academic Program Planning and Review (APP&R) process be revised to focus on program analysis and implementation of changes and that it be renamed. The Provost and appropriate dean should report jointly to each college the substantive content of their discussions of submitted plans, and the Provost should convene an open meeting with faculty of each college on a two-year cycle.

RECOMMENDATION 38: Review of all units. We recommend that all units be reviewed on a five- to ten-year cycle to assess their current strengths, emerging areas of interest, and internal weaknesses. These reviews should include expert judgements from both inside and outside the University.

RECOMMENDATION 40: Priority-setting process. We recommend that a priority-setting process be established with the objectives of maintaining strength where it already exists, strengthening essential units that are currently weak. And selectively enhancing units, clusters, and/or programs deemed capable of achieving national and international distinction or that demonstrate extraordinary promise in an emerging area. The process should begin at once, be ongoing, and be long-term. It should be linked to the cyclical review described above, and this review process should play a major role in the establishment of priorities. The faculty and all line administration should participate in establishing priorities.

RECOMMENDATION 41: Committee on the Future. We recommend that a standing committee should be formed to advise the President, the Provost, and the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies on major questions and decisions concerning the future academic direction of the University. This new committee, supplementary to the current governance process, should be composed of an equal number of faculty appointed by the Provost and representatives selected by Academic Council. The membership should be small enough to allow frank, vigorous, and informed participation. The committee should consist of faculty members and at least one graduate student who represent a diversity of perspectives and achievements in the disciplines and are committed to the interests of the University as a whole. The membership of the committee should rotate on a regular basis. The committee should solicit faculty and graduate student input, particularly from those people affected by specific decisions. In addition, the committee should deliberate with a wide variety of constituencies including undergraduates, parents, and industry representatives. The committee should be informed by the new Academic Program Planning and Review process and the reports from the periodic reviews and should set its own agenda. The committee should give an annual report to the University community. The committee's immediate agenda should include a follow-up of the results of the council's recommendations as well as an examination of important area in which the council did not make any specific recommendation.