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By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

University’s federal research expenditures inch upward as GW falls in rankings

Sage Russell | Assistant Photo Editor
Pamela Norris, the vice provost of research, speaks during a Faculty Senate meeting.

GW’s federal research expenditures increased by about .32 percent in fiscal year 2022, but the University dropped in expenditure rankings among higher education institutions, according to a report at the Faculty Senate meeting Friday.

The University’s federal research expenditures rose from about $161.35 million in FY2021 to $161.87 million in FY2022, but GW dropped from No. 91 to No. 95 in the National Science Foundation’s Higher Education Research and Development Survey. Faculty senators said they were concerned about delays in research approvals and payments for research staff, which Pamela Norris, the vice provost of research, attributed to staff turnover in the Office of Research, Integrity and Compliance.

“Our federal research expenditures have continued to increase year over year over this time, but our competition is increasing at a quicker rate than we are, and thus our overall ranking relative to our peers has been decreasing in the recent past,” Norris said.

Norris said a “significant” investment in research is necessary to continue GW’s trajectory of increased federal research expenditures and growth in rankings.

Among peer schools, GW ranked eighth in federal research expenditures, with the University of Pittsburgh placing highest among peer schools in the 12th spot. GW, at No. 95, landed in the bottom half among peer schools but ranked higher than Northeastern, Tufts, Tulane, Georgetown and Syracuse universities.

Faculty senate members asked Norris why GW fell in the research expenditures rankings.

Philip Wirtz, a faculty senator and a professor of decision sciences and psychological brain sciences, said he is concerned GW isn’t spending federal funds to conduct research at similar levels as in prior years. He said the University used to have more consistent rankings year to year, reaching No. 81 in 2016 and 2017.

“Are we headed in the right direction?” Wirtz said. “Are you anticipating that our ranking will get better, or where are we headed?”

In response, Norris said she sees “optimism” for a “significant” increase in research expenditures in FY2023 because the federal expenditures are up by about 23 percent compared to this time last year, but it’s “hard” to say what GW’s “competition” will be doing.

Faculty senators probed Norris on staffing turnover in the Office of Research, Integrity and Compliance, which they said impeded research approvals and GW’s ability to hire and pay researchers.

Faculty Senate Executive Committee Chair Ilana Feldman said staffing issues led to “very long delays” in the Institutional Review Board — which has the authority to approve or disapprove research under Food and Drug Administration guidelines — approvals for faculty research. She said delays have inhibited faculty productivity and their ability to train students.

Sarah Wagner, a faculty senator and a professor of anthropology, said GW has issues paying research staff and consultants, adding that researchers who submitted invoices have gone six months before being paid. She said when GW cannot pay researchers, it is inflicting “reputational damage” on the University.

“I’m staying up at night because I can’t pay folks, but also because it’s mortifying when you can’t, for people who have done work for your project,” Wagner said. “And it takes so many emails, and that takes me away from the fundamental thing of why I get into research in the first place, which is to do research.”

Norris said the Office of Research, Integrity and Compliance has faced a “very large turnover” and is working to reorganize increased responsibilities. She added that changes in federal regulations around human research subjects, GW’s “diversified” research portfolio and work to meet requirements of the Associate of American Universities — which granted GW membership last summer — have caused the backlog in research approvals.

She said she’s had meetings with human resources and is beginning to have meetings with principal investigators, or those who are responsible for trials or research grants, to map out and address issues in paying research staff.

“I began with ‘This is the challenge I’m seeing and then how it impacts the research enterprise,’” Norris said. “And now they’re beginning to hear the specifics.”

The University’s total research expenditures — coming from the federal government, state and local governments, business, nonprofit organizations and institutional funds — have remained consistent at about $250 million since 2018.

The University allocated 67.7 percent of research expenditures to health-related studies in FY2023, consistent with the share of research expenditures focused on health studies in the previous fiscal year. The University allocated a quarter of health-related research expenditures to medicine and health sciences, and social sciences accounted for 15.7 percent, while science and engineering received 13.7 percent, according to the report.

Researchers saw an increase in active awards, or awards that expire after the fiscal year, with 2,448 in FY2023, the highest number since FY2014, according to the report. Highlighted awards include $12 million for kidney failure patient research from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute and $12 million to research workforce development in engineering from the Office of Naval Research.

“GW is emerging as a real leader in this workforce development space and I look forward to supporting other faculty that wish to stand in this arena,” Norris said.

Norris said she oversaw the creation of a new orientation system for researchers, called the Spark to Impact Series. She said this online video library of orientation materials, such as grant writing workshops, will be helpful for onboarding researchers and continued professional development.

Norris said her office invested in “electronic infrastructure,” with improvements like securing an enterprise-wide license for LabArchives, an electronic tool for lab collaboration. Norris said her office also secured access to a federal relations firm, Lewis-Burke, to improve GW’s approach to federal funding opportunities.

Norris said her office is working to increase experimental research opportunities for undergraduate students. She said students can get involved in research through work-study positions offered in certain labs.

“Work-study students don’t have to go work in the library, in the cafeteria,” Norris said. “They can come work in your lab and your research projects and have a significant complete, could be a career-changing experience with them.”

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About the Contributor
Rory Quealy, Assistant News Editor
Rory Quealy is a sophomore majoring in journalism and mass communications from La Grange, Illinois. She is the 2023-2024 assistant news editor for the Health and Research beat.
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