Concern regarding staffing levels within the Office of Research and Economic Development has been on the minds of the Tennessee Tech Faculty Senate for nearly nine months, and now some faculty members describe the situation as dire.
The ORED has set a record of more than $23 million in external funding for research, according to ORED Vice President Dr. Jennifer Taylor. She says this is a result of the growth that has been seen over the last few years.
However, concerned faculty members say although staffing issues are permeating university wide, they have reached “crisis level” in ORED.
Tech is a heavily research oriented university, and with the current staffing issues within the ORED, it is feared many faculty who depend on the external funding for research may not be able to meet the obligations required.
Some of the support staff that works within the ORED aids in completing paperwork, entering information and other clerical support work for grants that have already been awarded to the university.
“If that stuff doesn’t get done and our obligations for the grants are not met, we could lose those grants – or be forced to pay back what has already been given to us,” one faculty member said. “It is falling on the faculty to do all that, which they do not have the time to do properly.”
This issue was raised by the Faculty Senate on Nov. 29, 2021, according to meeting minutes and notes.
It was noted the ORED was reorganizing, and new hires would be made; but in the Feb. 7 Faculty Senate meeting notes, Senate President Luna is noted to have said she thought the reorganization of the ORED “is clouding the ability to hire new personnel” as no new hires were made.
Another faculty member said that at some point, it becomes “a leadership issue.”
“It has gotten down to where they only have one person in what is called pre-award and what is called post-award in the ORED,” the faculty member said. “As a faculty member, our job is to do the research. The support staff does all the paperwork so we can do the research that keeps the money flowing in.”
The concerned faculty member said this issue puts faculty members at risk of non-compliance.
“Faculty are understandably very nervous,” the faculty member added. “If we misspend, it comes back on us. It is the university’s duty to provide us with support, and we’re not getting that.”
However, Taylor said currently all obligations are being met.
“I anticipate that we will continue to meet all obligations and get all grants and contracts submitted on time and in good shape,” she said. “Grant submissions and grant processing can be affected by a lot of factors, but at Tech, the processing of grants has all been completed on time and will continue to be done on time.”
Taylor did, however, say that with the increase of grant submissions, ORED is needing to expand its support staff.
She said one new hire has been made and part-time assistance has been obtained while interviews are being conducted.
“Sometimes people get anxious, but the processing of grants has been done on time and will continue to be done on time,” she said.