November 1, 2003 | CUNY Matters Columns
I have been thinking lately with considerable pride about the cell wall proteins of funghi, high-spin molecular nanomagnets, the impact of nursing home placement on family caregivers, unnatural lipids, and the introduction of indivisibles into calculus instruction. These are among the hundreds of research topics recently explored by productive research scientists and scholars on every one of CUNY’s campuses.
These far-flung projects, with their sometimes mystifying titles, all have two things in common: they have been supported by grants, contracts, and awards from private institutions or government agencies, and their funds were administered by the Research Foundation (RF) of the City University.
As chairman of the foundation’s board, I recently had the pleasure of joining its president, Richard F. Rothbard, in presenting the annual report for 2002.
It presents an impressive array of major externally funded research projects that were supported under its auspices that year. So numerous were these projects that only awards of more than $10,000 could be listed in its hundred pages. (The electronic version, accessible at the Web site given below, lists those awards as well.) In spite of the nation’s economic downturn in the last few years, the Research Foundation set a record of $287 million in funds administered in 2002.
Our review of the achievements of that year served to remind us that this current year marks a milestone in our history–the 40th anniversary of the foundation’s establishment. In January 1963, the N.Y. State Board of Regents granted the absolute charter to the foundation, which is a private, not-for-profit educational corporation that engages in the post-award administration of private and governmentally sponsored programs at CUNY.
Beginning in 1970, the University assigned the Research Foundation the responsibility for administering all grants and contracts awarded to any constituent college, and in 1983 the relationship between the RF and CUNY was formally reaffirmed in these words: “Research, training and service activities are basic obligations of the University, the colleges, and the faculty, and it is in the public interest that faculty be assisted in such endeavors… Research is a necessary activity for the maintenance of professional competence, and also serves the city, state, and nation by advancing the frontiers of knowledge.” The foundation has lived by those words ever since.
In the 40 years that have passed since its creation, the foundation has overseen hundreds of millions of dollars worth of activity on behalf of CUNY scholars, scientists, and researchers, as well as other public and private organizations. The foundation also receives, holds, and administers gifts, and acts as trustee of educational or charitable trusts made to CUNY. Among the activities it supervises are research in the natural and social sciences, training, curriculum planning, assessment, job placement, program evaluation, and software development.
In addition, the RF also administers the PSC/CUNY Research Awards. This program is funded under the collective bargaining agreement with the Professional Staff Congress and provides financing for faculty members, especially junior faculty, to embark on research that may ultimately lead to external funding.
Such wide-ranging services demand a considerable work force. During the most recent year, the foundation employed 11,900 individuals, paid an average of 4,500 people in each bi-weekly pay period, and hired 3,000 replacement staff. About 130 full- and part-timers staff the foundation’s headquarters on West 57th Street. The foundation works closely with grants officers on the individual campuses, who handle much of the preparation and submission of grant proposals.
Though always closely associated with CUNY, the foundation is governed by its own board of directors. The vice chair is Frances Degen Horowitz, president of the Graduate Center, and among the other 13 members are Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Louise Mirrer and CUNY college Presidents Christoph Kimmich, Eduardo Martí, Gail Mellow, and Marlene Springer.
The board had been pleased in particular that the foundation has been in the forefront in the use of technology to serve its clientele. Processes that in the past took weeks or months and generated mounds of paper are now handled in minutes electronically. The opportunities for human error, often the most frustrating, have been nearly eliminated from many of the most important functions carried out between the field and RF headquarters.
Also improved is the RF web site, which is now being used to inform interested parties about new funding opportunities, changes in sponsor regulations, research news, legislation, contact information, and employment opportunities. I urge anyone interested in learning more about the Research Foundation’s activities and resources to visit its web site, www.rfcuny.org.