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A Path Towards Excellence in Research and Scholarship

Our faculty make vital contributions toward improving the human condition through their research and scholarship. Outstanding scholars contribute original research in areas such as school behavior, art and art history, genetics and genomics, additive manufacturing, and autism. This academic vision will continue to support faculty who create new knowledge in their disciplines and in interdisciplinary areas, and develop groundbreaking solutions to society’s most pressing problems.

We will continue to recruit the best and most successful faculty from across the globe to strengthen and enhance the highest level of disciplinary and interdisciplinary research and scholarship. We will seek research partnerships with the most renowned universities in the world. With the goal of building on current strengths and achieving additional areas of faculty excellence, we will invest our precious Next Generation Connecticut and Bioscience Connecticut resources in selective spheres of excellence that demonstrate high potential to solve critical societal problems.

We will use the highest standards for our evaluation of research and scholarship, employing external metrics as one measure in our continuing assessment of our growing institutional reputation.

Extramural research programs, measured through grants and contracts, are vital to scientific discoveries, support for Ph.D. and postdoctoral scholar training, and increased economic development through commercialization and industry partnerships. Great universities are defined by the breadth and depth of their extramural research programs. Although we have many outstanding signature research programs, we can and must increase the amount of external funding for research support at the University. Our external research expenditures stood at $205 million in 2013, as compared with $188.3 million a decade ago, representing only an 8.7 percent increase since 2003. We must develop and invest in increased levels of research development support for faculty, including proposal development, efficient and effective grants management, core facilities, new cutting-edge equipment, and seed grant programs to support our faculty in applying for and obtaining extramural funding to conduct important research initiatives.

It is critical that we examine faculty workloads to ensure that our faculty can succeed in their areas of strength. Faculty who excel in teaching should be supported, and our research-productive faculty must have the time and resources needed to pursue meaningful research. We will continue to align our institutional priorities with those of significant funding agencies, industry partners, and foundations, and to seek philanthropic support for innovative research programs that are attuned to the aspirations of individual and corporate donors. We will further develop incentives and actively work to reduce barriers for collaboration among UConn-Storrs, regional campuses, and UConn Health faculty in order to, make it easier for our faculty to interact, apply for, and conduct collaborative research.

We will support, reward, and demand research excellence. While in this vision we identify several interdisciplinary areas for investment, we must also ensure that our signature disciplinary programs that have already achieved or have potential to achieve national prominence are supported and enhanced. For individual faculty members, we will have high and appropriate standards for research, teaching, service, tenure, and post-tenure review. We recognize that although standards must be uniformly high across the University, the content of those standards will vary by field to ensure excellence within that field and permit us to compete with other institutions seeking to recruit the best faculty candidates.

All Colleges and Schools should review the demands of their disciplines to determine appropriate promotion, tenure, and reappointment standards consistent with uniform University standards to achieve national excellence. In addition, review within Colleges and Schools should not stop at tenure or promotion to full professor; rather, the University Senate should ask Colleges and Schools to create procedures for periodic post-tenure review to ensure continued contribution to the mission of the University. Faculty serving on the Graduate School Council should also review appointments to the graduate faculty, which should be subject to periodic departmental review and renewal.

To ensure fairness and consistency across departments and schools, senior faculty and administrators should review promotion, tenure, and reappointment procedures and decisions across Colleges and Schools. Teaching and service responsibilities should be distributed fairly within departments, consistent with tenure status, research productivity, university needs, and the norms of individual disciplines. In particular, junior faculty members and those hired with responsibilities to more than one department, Colleges and Schools, or institute, should not be subject to disproportionate demands for service.

Investment in Interdisciplinary Initiatives

With our commitment to interdisciplinary research and scholarship, we aim to foster exciting intellectual endeavors and creative problem solving. We have identified and embraced the formation of strong interdisciplinary research teams working at the intersection of two or more disciplines in this plan and modeled it after some of our most successful interdisciplinary endeavors.

We are aware of the need to be careful stewards of our resources and limit the number of emerging and expanding interdisciplinary activities to only those that will create measurable impact. During the past year, the University Academic Vision Committee worked with colleagues throughout UConn to prioritize our interdisciplinary opportunities, and we are proud to highlight these exciting and bold interdisciplinary research areas that emerged as our highest-ranked areas of strategic investment.

Advanced Materials and Manufacturing

Advanced materials and manufacturing is entering an age when materials are designed at the atomic and molecular level, in contrast to the historic approach of cutting and forming from bulk starting blocks. UConn will aggressively pursue three important areas: design of materials that influence/interact with cells, drugs, radiation, and electricity; programs that encompass discovery of industrial/clinical applications; and exploitation of novel capabilities of additive manufacturing. Six specific academic areas have been identified and their enhancement will make significant contributions to globally important challenges in energy, aerospace, repair/regeneration of tissues, targeted drug delivery, molecular detection/sensing, and conformable electronics and force generation. The primary objectives of these enhancements will be to elevate the stature of the six identified areas from “excellent” to “preeminent”; attract top-level faculty and students; further develop the synergy that exists across departments and campuses; stimulate outstanding STEM education and training grants to parallel the research effort; create opportunities for large-program projects; and further develop expertise to enhance the state’s competitive advantage in research, development, and manufacturing.

Artists, Scholars, and Public Discourse

New initiatives in UConn’s arts and humanities will build on current strengths in scholarship and creative research while creating new directions in engagement. We will explore the establishment of a new Institute for Engaged Scholarship and Creative Research focused on the enormous potential of the arts, digital media and design, and humanities to reach hearts and minds, challenge preconceived notions, and generate new ideas. This Institute will address issues of critical importance in our state and nation, such as environmental change, the cultural impact of technology, and immigration and society. The Institute will sponsor interdisciplinary creative research teams to develop multifaceted programs in Connecticut communities. These programs, which may include performances, exhibitions, school programs, discussion groups, and digital humanities resources, will promote greater public dialogue about the major issues of our time and generate new arts and scholarship in these areas. This initiative builds on important arts outreach efforts undertaken by the School of Fine Arts and the dimension of engaged scholarship through partnerships with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, institutes and centers, and other Colleges and Schools, and has been developed to integrate with areas of strength in humanities scholarship.

Brain, Mind, and Cognition

UConn has the potential to lead in developing new innovations in science, education, and community outreach in the neurobiology of communication, which includes the cognitive, neural, and genetic bases of communicative development, function, and disorder. We have growing strength in cognitive science, neuroscience, and the genetics of language and communication, both at the basic research level and in the application of basic research to disordered communication. UConn is uniquely poised to gain international preeminence in language/communication development via coordinated efforts to connect research from the gene/cell level to the cognition/behavior level. Institute development and coordination coupled with strategic hiring, particularly in bridging fields such as cognitive neuroscience and computational modeling, show great promise, as do current strengths in translational neuroscience. We also have the opportunity to gain an international reputation in research and treatment for such disorders as stroke, dementia, addiction, and autism, in addition to disorders of communication.

Genetics, Genomics, and Personalized Medicine

Genetics, genomics, and personalized medicine are some of the greatest emerging strengths at UConn and have the opportunity to achieve preeminence and international recognition. Much of this work has begun with existing faculty through the new partnership with The Jackson Laboratory and the formation of the Institute for Systems Genomics. Strategic recruitments will be focused in the three main thematic areas of genome biology and evolution, personalized medicine, and stem cell genomics, as well as in the three cross-cutting areas: genome data analysis, interpretation and visualization; ethical, legal and social implications; and genome technology. Investments in a bioinformatics core and building the methods and resources for collecting biological specimens from patients for sequencing and analysis will catapult UConn upward as a leader in the field of genomics.

Health and Wellness

Using preventive and population-based approaches in an integrated fashion, UConn can become a nationally recognized leader in translational research, with special emphasis on underserved populations. Working collaboratively, this group can address the underlying causes of these diseases, support the development of efficacious interventions, and apply new strategies for prevention to minimize their occurrence. UConn already is a pacesetter in many areas of health and wellness, especially with regard to behavioral interventions and health outcomes research. We can leverage the strengths across all UConn campuses and existing centers and institutes to address important challenges in health promotion, disease prevention, and treatment. With appropriate strategic investments, UConn can emerge as a leader in broad-based academic approaches to medical, social, economic, policy, and political issues in addressing the social determinants of health and systems change in five core areas of existing strengths: obesity and obesity-related disorders; infectious diseases (particularly HIV/AIDS), immunology, asthma, and vaccine research and development; cancer (including prevention, therapy, diagnostics, and behavioral interventions); mental health and addictions; and health promotion interventions.

Human Diversity, Disparity, and Rights

UConn will seek to understand and address the persistent challenges of human interaction: celebrating human difference and diversity while addressing harmful inequality and disparities, and achieving rights and justice. Addressing these challenges at home and abroad is central to our land grant mission, and our existing strengths permit us to assume a leadership role in transformative work in this area. We are one of the top institutions in the country for the study of human rights, we have numerous nationally and internationally recognized scholars and programs on economic, educational, health, and identity-based disparities, and we are at the forefront of an emerging area of scholarship that combines studies of populations in diaspora with national and transnational studies. We can harness these strengths through three measures: the development of a Social Innovation Park, effectively a “Social Tech Park,” through which practitioners can partner with scholars and students to create entrepreneurial solutions to the most pressing social problems of our time; the formation of a new Institute for Disparity Studies; and a partnership with the state in developing a Statewide Integrated Data System to facilitate research using state administrative data.

Sustainability and Resilience: Environment and Energy

Human society, and the ecosystems of which they are a part, can be viewed as interconnected systems whose components intimately interact to determine overall sustainability. Sustainability can be evaluated with regard to biodiversity, the flow of energy, or the cycling of materials, as well as with regard to the abundance and distribution of goods and services on which human’s depend for sustenance and well-being. Appropriate interactions involve complex tradeoffs, and this highlights the need for a broad systems perspective, and a willingness to consider the needs of other stakeholders while applying an interdisciplinary view of the development of managerial, policy, and technological responses to important issues. Given these challenges, we propose the creation of an institute to focus explicitly on the interconnectedness of human and natural systems. The objective is to augment UConn’s existing strengths synergistically in areas such as sustainable food systems with research conducted by renowned UConn centers. These include the Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering; the Marine Sciences and Technology Center; the Center for Clean Energy Engineering; the Fraunhofer Center for Energy Innovation; and the UTC Institute for Advanced Systems Engineering.

To implement these interdisciplinary research areas successfully, the individual plans will be reviewed and the following actions will be pursued:

• Within six months, a structure will be identified to guide the development of these areas that will include
a broad advisory committee;

• A steering committee will be formed for each of these research areas with broad representation to identify an implementation plan for the area within the same time frame.

Emerging Areas of Interest

Two additional areas—complex systems and big data as well as creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship—received a great deal of interest over the course of our deliberations. Recognizing the important potential for institutional excellence in these areas, initial funding will be provided to promote interdisciplinary research and training programs in these areas.

Complex systems and big data represents breakthroughs in understanding scientific and human systems based upon modeling and analysis of interactions of massive data sets. At UConn, there is an emerging core of experts in this field, but progress will require the development of core academic and research thrusts and infrastructure capacity to support this discipline to its full potential.

Creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship represents the kind of transformative learning applications that will assist our students in seeking creative solutions to complex societal problems. UConn is already recognized for having a core of innovative scholars examining the determinants of creativity. These faculty leaders will emphasize creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship in undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral education, and integrate academic study and encouragement of these qualities in our faculty, regardless of their discipline, to create a competitive advantage for our students and multiply the impact of our work.

We are confident that significant and sustained investments in these interdisciplinary areas will lead to vibrant growth in scholarly activities and extramural research programs at UConn. The path to excellence in research and scholarship will require significant growth in:

• Refereed and scholarly journal articles;

• Scholarly books (and book chapters);

• Prestigious conference proceedings;

• Juried, commissioned, and invited performances and exhibitions;

• Extramural research grants;

• Patents and licenses;

• Prominent awards and appointments;

• National and international recognition by professional organizations.

To achieve these goals, we will:

• Establish innovative institutes that pursue interdisciplinary research and scholarship in the strategic areas identified above:
o Reporting lines, oversight, and accountability of existing centers and institutes will be revisited in terms of funding and research productivity

o A steering committee will be formed to oversee the formation of new centers and institutes

o Funding of new centers and institutes will be aligned with the University academic vision based on strategic opportunities and the potential to garner extramural grant support

o Overarching institutes may be formed to integrate the activities and improve the productivity of new and existing centers

• Recruit national academy members who can serve as core leaders in strategic areas, and nominate existing faculty for induction into national academies;

• Recruit faculty clusters for joint appointment across institutes and departments to promote interdisciplinary research;

• Build or expand core facilities with shared equipment;

• Assist and support faculty in proposal development and writing;

• Recruit top graduate students and postdoctoral scholars;

• Develop and implement a university workload policy to ensure that research, teaching, and service are appropriately balanced, reflecting disciplinary needs and understanding the need for flexibility based on the competitiveness in specific disciplines;

• Establish the highest standards for evaluation of research performance in merit and promotion, tenure, and reappointment decisions;

• Measure research performance using Academic Analytics and other methods;

• Examine our approaches to research compliance to ensure that research can proceed in an expeditious and collaborative fashion while still maintaining an appropriate level of regulatory compliance;

• Promote faculty interaction through multiple opportunities, including workshops in emerging areas, faculty social gatherings, and salons;

• Implement programs led by Board of Trustees and Endowed Professors to mentor and nominate UConn faculty members for prestigious awards.