The tithe: Public research university STEM faculty perspectives on sponsored research indirect costs
Drezner, Noah D
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This study sought to understand the phenomenon of faculty involvement in indirect cost under-recovery. The focus of the study was on public research university STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) faculty, and their perspectives on, and behavior towards, a higher education fiscal policy. The explanatory scheme was derived from anthropological theory, and incorporated organizational culture, faculty socialization, and political bargaining models in the conceptual framework. This study drew on two key assumptions. The first assumption was that faculty understanding of, and behavior toward, indirect cost recovery represents values, beliefs, and choices drawn from the distinct professional socialization and distinct culture of faculty. The second assumption was that when faculty and institutional administrators are in conflict over indirect cost recovery, the resultant formal administrative decision comes about through political bargaining over critical resources. The research design was a single site, qualitative case study with a focus on learning the meaning of the phenomenon as understood by the informants. In this study the informants were tenured and tenure track research university faculty in the STEM fields who were highly successful at obtaining Federal sponsored research funds, with individual sponsored research portfolios of at least one million dollars. The data consisted of 11 informant interviews, bolstered by documentary evidence. The findings indicated that faculty socialization and organizational culture were the most dominant themes, while political bargaining emerged as significantly less prominent. Public research university STEM faculty are most concerned about the survival of their research programs and the discovery facilitated by their research programs. They resort to conjecture when confronted by the issue of indirect cost recovery. The findings direct institutional administrators to consider less emphasis on compliance and hierarchy when working with expert professionals such as science faculty. Instead a more effective focus might be on communication and clarity in budget processes and organizational decision-making, and a concentration on critical administrative support that can relieve faculty administrative burdens. For higher education researchers, the findings suggest that we need to create more sophisticated models to help us understand organizations dependent on expert professionals.