Summer is upon us. For some of us, it is a time to go to the beach and read murder mysteries on our (unpaid) vacations. For some of us, it is time to read or go to workshops or meetings to catch up on the latest developments in our field (often paid for out of our own pockets). For some of us, it is a time to earn some necessary cash by teaching a summer school course or two. Some of us are on twelve-month contracts, so we continue doing what we've been doing all along. And for some of us, it is a time to catch up on research - we're still on the job, but unless we're on a grant, we're not being paid. This brings us to the whole business of grants and money.
Getting Grants on the Job
For many years, professors have been told that in order to get tenure or promotion, they must get a grant. Preferably a federal grant that provided "indirect costs" (more on that in a moment), not some private patronage that just barely covers an expedition to a lost city and back. And some researchers must maintain a steady flow of grant money to remain employed.
For those researchers on soft money, the steady flow of grant money is an understandable requirement: that's where their salaries come from. On the other hand, for professors, getting a grant may seem like a tricky requirement, considering that both tenure and promotion decisions are supposed to be based on the apparent potential of the candidate as a scholar. On one hand, a grant would show that the candidate has impressed some of the old elephants of the field. On the other hand, lack of a grant may indicate that the candidate's ideas are too novel for the old elephants, which may actually be a recommendation for the candidate.
There are several reasons why a university may require grants.
There is an additional problem. The pressure to get grants is increasing while funding is flat, which means that fewer proposals are funded, which means that there is more pressure to write proposals, and so on. In 2007, Robert Decker and three co-authors in the Federal Demonstration Partnership
- The money. Scholarship was expensive even before medieval astronomers in India and the Middle East beguiled local kings to build observatories. Hence the longstanding need for patrons. Nowadays, science and engineering are even more expensive, and even humanities projects have expenses (as well as requiring support for personnel). The primary form of patronage these days is grants. Yet for universities, grants can be problematic: without sufficient funds for overhead, grants can actually cost a university money: see the late UF President John Lombardi's lament. Still, a lot of research will not get done if it is not supported by external funding.
- The standing of the Candidate. While the university does receive letters of recommendation from outside evaluators, some supervisors regard grants as seals of approval from gatekeepers concerned with higher stakes than journal publications. Unfortunately, taking a grant award as a seal of approval (and a lack thereof as a lack thereof) can be problematic. As we shall see in subsequent articles, grant-awarding agencies have their own agendas and their reviewers may not be as expert as the letter writers.
- The prestige. The fashion mavens have persuaded the USF Board and Administration that membership in the Association of American Universities is the cat's pajamas: the AAU is mentioned six times in the USF strategic plan. And as for grants, the AAU's very first Membership Indicator is "Competitively funded federal research support" - excluding support for agricultural research, which is so lame, man. (Grants from the USDA, state agencies, private foundations, and industries, are relegated to the second tier of Indicators, along with the number of postdoctoral appointments and, last and least, undergraduate education.) Meanwhile, while the Carnegie Foundation takes a more balanced view, USF's "basic" classification as a Research University (very high research activity) depends partly on research expenditures, which brings us back to grants. Carnegie was mentioned four times in USF's strategic plan, always mentioning the basic classification (which is one of six categories). Money buys a good rep.
A Letter From FEA President Andy Ford
The Florida Education Association (FEA) is the umbrella union that represents teachers and education professionals throughout the State of Florida: the United Faculty of Florida is a "local" of the FEA. On May 22, FEA President Andy Ford sent the following letter to Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner and Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.
The 2015 legislative session started with such promise for our state: a billion dollar revenue surplus and a proposed budget from the governor which could return education funding to pre-recession levels and cover the increased costs of an additional 15,000 students.
This was welcomed news given that a recent report by Education Week criticized Florida for spending too little on public schools – earning Florida a D+ in the "school finance" category.
Unfortunately, the opportunity to improve Florida’s national standing regarding education funding came to an abrupt end on May 1.
Now that you have a clearer picture of the resources available to meet the needs of Floridians, you have important decisions to make. We encourage you to recognize that education and health care are both critically important to our state.
FEA and its members are hopeful that progress will be made toward providing affordable health insurance for more Floridians. Families should not have to decide whether to keep food on the table, pay their utility bill or go to the doctor. Florida is better than that.
But we must also make sure our kids come to school with what they need to succeed and we must make sure every teacher has what they need to do an outstanding job.
Our public schools need class sizes that allow for one-on-one interaction, up-to-date technology and materials, safety in classrooms and on our school buses. Our aging school buildings need maintenance and repair so our students are learning in a safe and healthy environment.
Our students with unique abilities need increased and stabilized funding.
Academically struggling students need more reading instruction, after-school instruction, tutoring, mentoring, extended school year, summer school and other methods for improving student learning. Our preschoolers need quality early childhood and pre-k learning programs.
Finally, our colleges and universities need adequate funding to attract and retain the very best faculty and advanced degree candidates. Investment in higher education creates jobs, new industries, and improves quality of life.
Henry Ford once said "Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success."
As you begin again in special session, we urge you to set politics aside and put the critical needs of Florida first.
Florida Education Association
On April 29, in recognition of his years as president of the FEA, and anticipating his retirement, the Senate resolved to commend him "...for his dedication to the enrichment of public education in Florida..."