By Geeta Dutta, Office of Research Advancement and Partnerships

In November 2017, the Faculty Senate and the Office of Research jointly chartered a task force to review Washington State University’s Centers, Institutes, and Laboratories (CILs) policies and procedures associated with defining, creating, reviewing, and renewing CILs.

Previously, the Faculty Senate’s Research and Arts Committee (RAC) reviewed proposals, made recommendations for the approval of new CILs, and created reports for the Faculty Senate and the vice president for research, which were then sent on to the University president. The RAC also reviewed and renewed CILs every five years. But it was the Board of Regents that provided ultimate approval.

Early in the process, the CILs Task Force determined unanimously that the laboratory designation will be left to the discretion of the deans and the vice president for research. Therefore, the recommended policies and procedures identified by the task force will impact the centers and institutes (C/I) only.

The CILs Task Force engaged stakeholders across all colleges and campuses, reviewing and discussing the C/I definitions and guidelines. The task force quickly acknowledged that existing procedures created a barrier for C/I directors to submit applications to the RAC for formal approval, which resulted in the proliferation of entities that used the C/I designation without formal approval. The review process was cumbersome, inefficient, and infrequent to adequately inform those with fiscal oversight authority. In addition, there was no provision for discontinuing a C/I that was no longer meeting stated goals. Subsequent discussions then focused on reviewing definitions of C/I, their respective missions and objectives criteria for establishment, and expectations for outcomes.

The task force determined that most C/Is require some degree of institutional commitment, whether from central or college-based resources, and should be fiscally responsible to those units providing resources. C/Is that require significant institutional commitments should meet more stringent requirements for approval and renewal. In addition, some collaborative units exist that do not require institutional resources but still support and advance the University’s mission.

Task force recommendations

After numerous discussions, review of guidelines from numerous peer institutions, and WSU’s current CILs guidelines, the taskforce created a report with recommended changes that will facilitate entrepreneurship, innovation, and collaboration at WSU while also establishing improved oversight and accountability for centers and institutes.

A summary of key recommendations is below. The complete list can be found in the report.

  • Accountability for the oversight of the C/Is moved from the RAC to the fiscally responsible unit.
  • Administrative processes streamlined for application,annual reviews, and the renewal process. The time for new C/I approval will be shortened from approximately one year to eight weeks.
  • A central registry of C/Is will be created so that the WSU community, as well as the general public, can easily identify these various units in one common place.
  • Entities that may be looser collaborations of faculty and do not require institutional resources will be recognized and encouraged. These collaborative units will be formally recognized and tracked by the University but will differ from C/Is and, thus, have fewer requirements for approval and renewal.

Implementation Plan

The report was approved by the Faculty Senate on February 7, 2019. The recommendations received final approval from the Board of Regents on May 3, 2019. The Board of Regents also approved the delegation of final approval of C/Is from the Board of Regents to the University President, which will greatly reduce the time period from application to final approval of a new C/I.

Procedures for transitioning, renaming, or discontinuing C/Is have been established. It is expected that all C/Is and other collaborative units at WSU, whether currently formally approved or not, will complete a respective application process and will be entered into a central registry of C/Is and collaborative units.

Based on the recommendations of the task force, an online application form will be developed to streamline the process while allowing input from multiple stakeholders in a specified timeframe, progressing efficiently through the approval/review steps. The recommended steps in the approval process will reduce time to approval from as long as one year to about eight weeks. Annual reports will be submitted online to the oversight authority(s) and the RAC, along with a comprehensive five-year review.