Provost's March 2014 Message to the Faculty

Auburn University Interim Provost, Dr. Timothy R. BoosingerMarch is always a busy time for our campus. While spring break is a welcome opportunity for faculty and students to rest and recharge, the remaining weeks of March and April often become a sprint towards the end of the semester.

I hope you will make some time to participate in this year’s Research Week on April 14-17. Research Week is an important opportunity for our campus to demonstrate its commitment to discovery by showcasing the scholarly talents and innovations of our faculty and students. This year’s agenda includes many noteworthy lectures, exhibits and sessions; I encourage you to register to attend.

Enhancing research is an important priority identified in our Strategic Plan. Auburn is classified as a university with high levels of research activity. This is fitting. Research, scholarship and creative work are emphasized in our mission statement. We offer the PhD in 45 disciplines, award over 1,500 graduate degrees each year, and conduct millions of dollars in sponsored research. However, it is in the contest for research funding, coveted journal publication opportunities, citations, and scholarly awards that the competition among universities is probably fiercest. While the very top research universities dominate many fields, effort and quality are rewarded across the research sector of higher education.

In recent months, I have grown increasingly concerned that Auburn's research contributions, while notable, may not be expanding to match our intentions. During his recent meetings with the colleges and schools, Associate VP/Provost John Liu has indicated that many faculty have echoed this concern, especially with gradually reduced research support at the university. Under the leadership of both Dr. Liu and Vice President John Mason, we need to take careful stock of our research competitiveness and find ways to strengthen this crucial contribution to the state of Alabama and to our academic disciplines. The budget model being considered would provide clear new rewards for success in sponsored activities, but we will not realize our best intentions without a strong across-the-board commitment to our role as a center of discovery and application of new knowledge. To this end, the associate deans for research (ADR) are working hard to prepare for an ADR Retreat to be held on April 25, 2014. I encourage each of you to provide your best ideas through the ADR in your college or school.

Graduate students are certainly a critical element in our research enterprise. As we seek to enhance student success at all levels, several new resources are being developed to assist with the advising and training of our graduate students. Intensive advising and mentoring are a critical part of graduate education and lay the groundwork for successful careers among those who earn advanced degrees. In order to supplement the direct mentoring provided by major professors and departmental graduate program officers, an online  graduate program checklist has been developed that will provide feedback to graduate students as they successfully complete each step of their degree requirements. This tool will soon be available to students through AU Access. Additionally, many who earn graduate degrees do not remain in academia, but pursue careers in private enterprise and government. The Career Center and the Graduate School have partnered to provide Versatile PhD, a professional development resource to help graduate students and new PhDs identify, prepare for, and excel in non-academic careers. The OVPR and the Graduate School have also partnered to establish the Visiting Scholars and Postdocs Program to help postdoctoral and visiting scholars get the most professional benefit from their time at Auburn.

In recent messages, I have aimed to keep you informed about the strategic budgeting initiative—our attempt to align our resources with Auburn’s mission and goals. Over the fall and winter, we successfully concluded a key phase of the initiative. Using 2012 financial data, we have now developed a detailed understanding of how well our current budget allocations line up with our mission-driven activities. It is clear to me and to your deans that our current resource allocation method has not resulted in optimal alignment. We can do better, and an alternative “Auburn Model” is taking shape, with academic purposes as its first priority and with strengthened incentives for instruction, student success, and sponsored activity. At a retreat with me on January 16, the deans agreed unanimously to move forward with the development of an incentive-based budget model for Auburn.

Over the coming weeks, I will meet with the faculty of each school and college to present an outline of the approach being considered. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, efforts will shift from model design to infrastructure development, as we build the tools and governance that will be needed to make a new budget approach operational. We need to check our reasoning against new financial data from 2013 and to develop financial reports and planning tools that deans and others would need in a new planning environment. We also need to work with administrative support units and auxiliaries, who have waited patiently while the work has concentrated on designing solid and reliable academic incentives. Now, though, it is time to bring these units into the process, so that they can learn how an incentive-based model will affect their planning. Since Auburn’s mission is academic, the initiative remains focused on academic work. I ask for your patience as we bring other parts of the University into the loop to build the support that academic units will need. If you have any questions specific to the budget initiative, please email them to strategicbudgeting@auburn.edu.

If all goes well during this phase of infrastructure development, we will be ready for a “practice round” in fiscal year 2015, running the new model in parallel process while continuing to build our actual budget allocations one last time using current methods. We are still some distance from implementing an incentive-based budget model. A lot of study, training, and risk assessment remain before we make a full transition, probably in 2016-17 or in 2017-18 at the latest. But I am encouraged by our progress so far and believe that this initiative will significantly improve Auburn University.

As always, thank you for all you do for Auburn University!

Last Updated: March, 2014