Conversation With The Dean
Celebrating And Investing In Research At SMU
Q. If a key to SMUís future is its investment in research today, how
will you rely on the fund-raising initiatives of the upcoming Second
Century Campaign to help support that?
A. Research is a business that cannot be grown without investment.
A gift given in the interest of building the research enterprise is a gift
that will go on giving by enabling the University to attract more federal
funding in future years. That said, I have identified several broad targets
for support from the campaign.
Investment in Faculty From benchmark universities, it is clear that
research activity in terms of grant dollars expended increases exponentially
with increasing number of faculty conducting research in fields
that have federal dollars available. This is strong evidence that SMU must
increase the size of the faculty in the sciences and engineering if we
want to reach a target of $50 million per year in research expenditures.
Investment In Graduate Education Graduate students are the
muscle that performs much of the research at universities. SMU needs
to develop funding for fellowships so that our stipends allow us to
compete for top graduate students.
Investment In Infrastructure National Science Foundation statistics
show that for every $1 million in research conducted, about 5,000 square
feet of laboratory space is required. So, to support $50 million in annual
research expenditures, we will have to double the amount of lab space
at SMU from 125,000 to 250,000 square feet! Thatís a challenge, because
lab space is expensive. We need to take a hard look at that ďtraditionalĒ
laboratory model and consider alternatives that could increase research
at SMU without requiring so much up-front investment on infrastructure.
One alternative that stands out would be to emphasize growth in the
computationally intensive subdisciplines of the sciences and engineering.
Every field in science and engineering has an aspect thatís highly
dependent on significant computing muscle, and investment in a highperformance
computing center would enable us to significantly expand
research in those areas. Although we must not abandon laboratory-based research, a high-performance computing center would
cost only a fraction of the price of 125,000 square feet of new
lab space. A high-performance computing facility could open
up new fields for SMU such as bioinformatics, climate modeling,
modeling of large economic markets, traffic modeling, petroleum
basin and aquifer modeling, and creation of improved
virtual reality training modules for psychology and education.
And faculty across the University could benefit immediately
from access to the center. For example, the Physics Department,
which lacks the computing power to process large volumes
of data, would be able to engage the CERN Large
Hadron Collider experiment (see article on page 14) at a high
level, increasing the profile of SMU as a research university.
Q. A University goal is to strengthen scholarly research
and creative achievement. How does this fit into the
strategic plan to increase academic quality at SMU?
A. Expansion of research at SMU is necessary if we are to
improve our standing in the ranks of U.S. universities. Although
not the only way to track the level of scholarly activity,
research expenditures constitute the metric most commonly
used to compare university research activity and impact.
Not surprisingly, there is a strong correlation between research
expenditures and perceived academic quality. Virtually
all of the top 50 universities in the U.S. News & World
Reportís rankings do more than $50 million of sponsored research
a year. These are institutions that also house top programs
in the humanities and arts. It is clear that a strong
research program is no deterrent to academic excellence in
other fields and probably indirectly promotes their success.
Increased funding for research creates a new revenue
stream and translates into more publications, greater visibility
for the University and more faculty and graduate students
with whom undergraduates can interact.
The U.S. Newsí rankings are not the only metric to which
we should pay attention. The Carnegie Institute publishes a
classification of universities that contributes to public perception
of institutional quality. To be classified among the
highest-performing research universities, an institution must
have research expenditures exceeding $50 million per year.
Rice and Notre Dame, which have no medical schools and
are comparable to SMU in size, perform $60 million to $85
million a year in federally funded research. Thatís a range to
which SMU can aspire.