|| Research Policy Committee
Overview of Activities
At the first meeting of the Research Policy Committee (RPC) on September
10, the chairperson was selected and several issues of concern to
committee members were identified. These included UT policy concerning
indirect cost return, and issues related to research ethics. Subsequent
meetings of the RPC during this academic year addressed some aspects
of these issues.
The RPC meetings on October 8, 2001, and November 12, 2001, were devoted
to broad policy issues regarding research at UT. On October 8, the
RPC met with Dr. Juan Sanchez, vice president for research, to discuss
UT's policy for allocation of indirect cost return. On November 12,
the RPC met with Dr. Lisa Leiden, director of the Office of Research
Support and Compliance, to discuss whether UT is conforming to federal
government regulations based on human subject research. Further information
about these meetings is given below.
The RPC meetings on February 11, March 4, and April 8 focused on problems
concerning the working environment for graduate research assistants
at UT Austin.
On February 11, the RPC met with Dr. Teresa Sullivan, vice president
for graduate studies, Sherry Sanders from the dean of students office,
and Nicole Landes from the student ombudsman's office, to discuss
problems that graduate students might be having as GRAs. The result
of this meeting was a consensus that UT needs to create a "best
practices" statement concerning the mentor-student relationship
when a graduate student is appointed to a GRA position. On April 8,
the RPC met with Ann Brooks, associate professor of education, who
listed steps she thought would be needed in order to begin to formulate
a "best practices" statement. Dr. Teresa Sullivan has expressed
interest in pursuing this and has forwarded our recommendations to
her policy committee.
Summary of Main Results for each Meeting
October 8, 2001
Dr. Juan Sanchez, vice president for research, met with the committee
and one of the main issues discussed was UT policy on indirect cost
return on research grants. Indirect costs correspond to an amount
added to each research proposal to help cover UT's costs for facilities
and administration. It is negotiated with the federal government every
few years and currently amounts to about 50% of all costs (excluding
equipment and tuition) in a proposal. When a proposal is funded and
UT receives these funds, 50% goes to the state of Texas and 25% is
given to the various deans of colleges to be used at their discretion.
The way in which these funds are used is different for each college.
There was some discussion at the meeting about problems that have
arisen when a college changes the way the funds are used without notifying
November 12, 2001
Dr. Lisa Leiden, director of the Office of Research Support and Compliance
(ORSC), and Sharon Brown, associate vice president for research, met
with the RPC to describe the responsibilities of this new office.
The ORSC has three main responsibilities: (1) human subject research,
(2) institutional bio-safety, and (3) animal research. Currently,
ORSC, under Dr. Leiden's direction, is trying to prepare UT Austin
for an audit by the federal government as regards its compliance to
federal regulations governing research on human subjects. It is not
known when this audit will occur, but it will be sometime within the
next few years, and at stake is federal funding that UT Austin receives.
The UT administration is taking this very seriously. The U.S. government
has recently suspended funding at some institutions because research
projects did not have adequate approval or documentation. If UT passes
the audit, it will receive accreditation to pursue human research.
Such accreditation has been granted to UT for its animal research.
The main issue of concern to the federal government is this: Are
the human subjects in research projects protected and do they understand
what will happen to them in the research project? Research projects
that involve human subjects at UT Austin must now receive approval
from the UT Institute Review Board (IRB), which meets once a month.
This approval process must be fully documented and available to the
federal auditors. Beginning in spring 2002, no PhD dissertation, which
involves human subjects, will be accepted by the graduate school unless
it has IRB approval. The ORSC is very concerned that some PhD candidates,
those who began their research more than two years ago, may not have
obtained IRB approval and will have problems when they attempt to
February 11, 2002
The committee met with Dr. Teresa Sullivan, vice president for graduate
studies; Sherry Sanders, from the dean of students office; and Nicole
Landes, from the student ombudsman's office. The purpose of this meeting
was to discuss the working conditions of graduate research assistants.
Dr. Sullivan had a list of GRA salaries and showed that these vary
significantly from college to college. Also, concern was raised about
the length of time it takes for some students to complete their PhD
dissertation work, and a number of scenarios were discussed as to
why this may happen. These included the following: (1) many students
work at other jobs and can only work on PhD degrees part time, (2)
some students delay their graduation to write more papers and improve
their chances for good jobs after graduation, (3) some foreign students
delay to stay in the U.S. longer, and (4) advisers may sometimes delay
the graduation of their students because the students provide inexpensive
The issue of harassment is a concern to Sherry Sanders. Cases of harassment
can involve male or female students, although the majority of cases
involve female students. She mentioned that these cases often involve
the same faculty members and can lead to litigation.
The student ombudsman office appears to be one of the first places
a student will go if they have problems. Nicole Landes gave the committee
information concerning cases the ombudsman office dealt with during
2000-2001. They saw 889 students and officially opened 130 cases.
Approximately 22% of the cases they see concern graduate students.
The problems graduate students encounter include: (1) conflicts with
their graduate adviser/committee, (2) conflicts with instructors,
(3) conflicts with their department, (4) scholastic dishonesty, and
(4) problems with University services.
Many of the problems that students encounter do not get resolved because
students fear retaliation. This is something that everyone agreed
was occurring. It was also agreed that a preferred way to deal with
these problems is at the departmental level, but only a few departments
appear to handle these problems well.
One result of the meeting was a consensus that the
University could be doing more to head off potential problems before
they reach a crisis stage. It was pointed out that there are no
guidelines regarding the student-faculty working relationship at
the graduate level. Students (and perhaps some faculty) have no
idea what is considered to be professional conduct. It was determined
that the Research Policy Committee might help in developing a "best
practices" guideline as regards the working environment for
graduate research assistants.
Teresa Sullivan gave committee members a questionnaire that the
graduate school is developing to gain insight into the range of
problems faced by graduate students. Dr. Sullivan asked if committee
members could read the questionnaire and give her feedback concerning
March 4, 2002
The committee met on Monday, March 4, and discussed the GRA
survey that is being considered by the graduate school.
April 8, 2002
The topics of discussion at the April 8 meeting included: (1)
the summary of results of a recent graduate school survey of GRAs,
and (2) issues involved in the creation of a "best practices"
policy regarding GRA working conditions. An invited guest expert,
Ann Brooks, associate professor of education, described what she
thought might be involved in the creation of a "best practices"
policy. She gave us an outline of how to proceed, which is reproduced
below. In short, she said that it is necessary to get all issues
on the table, and one way to do this is with focus groups. She suggested
setting up three cross-college focus groups (six people in each
group). These focus groups would involve faculty, students, and
administrators, respectively, to help generate issues based on their
experience, and the results should be available for discussion to
a wider group of interested members of the University community.
Professor Brooks indicated that human resources has some experience
with such things and might be helpful.
After Professor Brooks left, the committee again discussed whether
or not creation of such a "best practices" policy was
worthwhile. The committee unanimously agreed that it is worthwhile
and should be done.
Below is a procedure, suggested by Professor Ann Brooks, for developing
a "best practices" policy.
Thoughts on Developing a Faculty/Graduate Student Mentoring Relationship
A Possible Process for Generating the Document
- F aculty-graduate student mentoring relationships
are power saturated.
- Although graduate students are not powerless
in the relationship, students' formal power is only available
through invoking institutional policy or legal sanctions.
- Both participants in a mentoring relationship
need to experience the relationship as beneficial and non-explosive.
- An ethics document for faculty that addresses
this relationship needs to specify the elements of this power
|| Set up three cross-disciplinary/cross-college
focus groups, each comprised of a different group of stakeholders:
(a) faculty; (b) graduate students; (c) administrators, who
address grievances or complaints regarding these relationships.
|| Have each focus group generate a list and
explore issues around breaches of ethics in faculty/graduate
student mentoring relationships, either that they have themselves
experienced or about which they have heard happened or could
|| Record each focus group and have them selectively
transcribed for items directly useful to the list.
|| Cluster the results into topic areas with
major subareas or descriptors.
|| Distribute results to the "ethics document
committee" for comments and then meet again to discuss
a revised document that incorporates the comments.
|| Incorporate insights and refinements into
|| Go through steps 4 and 5 until the "ethics
document committee" is satisfied with the document.
|| Distribute the document to a broader base
of concerned people for written comment. Inform them that no
comment indicates satisfaction with the document as it stands.
||"Ethics document committee" meet
to consider how, if at all, to incorporate comments gathered
from the wider community into the final document.
|| Generate the final version.