What is a Steinhardt Research Center?

DRAFT August 2017

Centers1 are intended to create opportunities for interdisciplinary, externally-funded scholarship among a large group of faculty across academic units.

At NYU Steinhardt, we create opportunities for interdisciplinary scholarship through a limited number of cross-faculty, research-active centers. Each center creates a collaborative intellectual community with unique and complementary foci that transcend programmatic, departmental, and even school boundaries. In developing research centers, we aim to build intellectually vibrant communities of scholars who are well-positioned to solve some of society’s most pressing social problems.

Our establishment of centers stems from the premise that interdisciplinary scholarship requires a formal structure to support cross-departmental interconnections. Centers intentionally are designed as orthogonal to departments; centers should be created only when there is a strong case to be made for why the mission of the center cannot be achieved within academic departments. Centers allow for faculty across diverse areas of scholarship to share ideas, methods, best practices, and findings; collectively learn about new ideas for the field; and conduct research collaboratively. In short, they create a shared intellectual space for faculty who are conducting convergent areas of work to support one another. Our goal is to establish centers to support the full breadth of interdisciplinary scholarship being conducted across Steinhardt faculty.

Note that in some cases, faculty within programs or departments may wish to create intellectual communities within (rather than across) their respective units. Our office strongly supports such initiatives in enriching the intellectual life of academic departments and increasing collaboration among faculty within such units. In these instances, however, we firmly believe that the department is a sufficiently robust administrative home to serve the needs of such intellectual communities. As such, a “center” is not needed; instead, faculty may seek to create a “consortium”, research lab, or other collaborative entity to support their work, within the program or department, or within an existing center or institute.

Principles of the Center Structure/Center Criteria

A center must meet the following criteria in being named as such and having access to the institutional support of a center as detailed below.

A center:

  • provides an opportunity for collaboration across departments within Steinhardt, and/or across schools within NYU. Given the stated objective of a center—to create opportunities for interdisciplinary scholarship across faculty in different units—it is imperative that a research center includes faculty scholarship from more than one unit and disciplinary perspective. Centers whose faculty members and research projects are housed only within a single unit will not fulfill the primary goals of the center structure.
  • does not duplicate the work of another existing center at the School. To avoid the competition among centers, new centers must largely complement, rather than duplicate, the conceptual space of another center at Steinhardt. While there may be some minimal conceptual overlap in research areas between centers, the “center of gravity” of each center must be different from one another and Center Directors commit to differentiating the core focus of their center’s work to maintain a well-defined mission. Center Directors must solicit feedback from the Vice Dean for Research and Faculty Affairs and the Center Working Group for changes in mission and scope to ensure that centers remain, as much as possible, distinct from one another. Centers whose missions become increasingly aligned may be merged into larger center units.
  • involves a critical mass of faculty. Centers are intended to involve the work of a large number of faculty members. The richness of interdisciplinarity cannot be fully leveraged without a large group of faculty, a minimum core of five+ faculty and a larger group of ten+. Smaller groups of two or three faculty who wish to collaborate regularly may want to create a “consortium” or other collaborative entity to support their work. While the early stage of a center may involve a somewhat smaller group of faculty, a center must demonstrate the potential to involve a larger group of faculty across units over time.
  • involves substantial external grant-fundraising. Because centers are both administrative as well as intellectual units, external grant funding of sufficient magnitude must be part of the center to warrant the administrative burden of a center structure. Typically, this means 5-10 externally-funded grants totaling well over $1-2 million in total awards.

Note that involvement in a research center by a faculty member is completely voluntary. Faculty members should select, for each of their research projects, the center that will best support that area of scholarship. This also implies that faculty members may become members of multiple centers, as it is the work or project (i.e. area of scholarship), not the faculty member, that should be aligned with each center’s mission. Faculty members can also choose to administer grants directly through departments, as well. Steinhardt’s revised indirect cost return policy makes it such that departments see no financial impact whatsoever when faculty select to run their research through a center.

Center Activities

At the core of a center’s activities are the conduct of a coherent body of research. Activities conducted by centers are intended to:

  • support the shared intellectual interests of the faculty who are central to the center’s mission;
  • increase the quality of faculty research by sharing best practices, methods, and innovations;
  • increase the visibility of faculty research by placing it within a larger body of research and providing opportunities for external visibility;
  • increase the impact of the scholarship of the center by ensuring that the work informs practice and policy.

As such, in addition to the groundbreaking research that faculty in centers conduct, centers often:

  • host colloquia on shared research interests
  • conduct training workshops on common topics of interest
  • distribute findings across projects via social media, web- or print-based dissemination strategies.

Some centers also provide administrative support that augments what is offered by Steinhardt’s Office of Research to provide more individualized P.I. support, space for research teams, seed funds for projects to incentivize research in certain areas and provide support in the grant- writing or completion stage of a project, and training opportunities for students.

Proposing a New Center

The Office of the Dean at Steinhardt will consider all proposals for the development of a research center. Please reach out to Pamela Morris, the Vice Dean for Research and Faculty Affairs at pamela.morris@nyu.edu.

Proposal elements must include:

  • Mission and Goals of the Center. State the overarching mission of the center and its goals. In doing so, please comment as well on a) the relevance to Steinhardt’s (and NYU’s) mission and focus; and b) the complementarity and conceptual distinctness with existing centers already at Steinhardt. The historical context for the center can also be included here.
  • Faculty and Projects of the Center. Please list Steinhardt and NYU faculty whose work is well aligned with the center (current and proposed). Please note those whose interests and research would make them most likely to form the “core” of the center. Also include current and proposed center projects by name, funding source, award amount, and funding date. Please note those projects that “fit” most squarely in the center’s mission and thus should be considered “exemplar” projects for the center.
  • Core Center Activities. Please list the primary activities of the center. These should be designed to meet the center’s goals, above.
  • Governance Structure. What is the proposed governance structure?
  • Benchmarks. Please list planned benchmarks for success in short-term (one-two years) and long-term (five+ years). Describe any threats to meeting these benchmarks and planned opportunities. Please indicate ways in which the Office of Research can support the center’s efforts in meeting these benchmarks.

Please note that it is our belief that Steinhardt cannot meet its mission of rich interdisciplinary scholarship, while maintaining administrative efficiency, through the establishment of a very large number of research centers. As such, proposals for new centers must make a compelling case for an area of scholarship that represents the work of a large number of faculty that is not currently addressed within the existing group of cross-faculty research-active research centers already in existence in Steinhardt.

Proposals will be reviewed by the Dean and the Vice Dean for Research and Faculty Affairs. All newly proposed centers will present their mission and goals to the Steinhardt Center Working Group for feedback during this review process.

The Trajectory of a Research Center – Centers Under Development

Not all centers will be launched meeting key thresholds for all of the criteria set forth for the establishment of a research center at their inception. We fully understand that some centers need some time “under development” as they hone their research focus, attract interested faculty across the school and university, and raise external resources to support faculty research. In some (albeit relatively rare) cases, a center may be established in advance of the key defined benchmarks noted above. However, all centers, but especially those in the early
phases of development, must meet a set of pre-identified benchmarks agreed upon between the lead faculty involved and the Vice Dean for Research. Until key benchmarks are reached, the center may be considered in a “pre-center” stage. Evidence of strong progress toward those goals makes a center eligible for support and Center Working Group involvement, as detailed below.

Likewise, centers who no longer serve to meet the criteria for a center as detailed above (e.g., do not involve a critical mass of faculty or research and/or provide the opportunity for cross-unit collaboration) might be sunsetted. In raising this option, we recognize that short periods of
lower-than-expected grant funding are to be expected in the life of a center and, as such typically such short-term dips would not be sufficient, in and of themselves, to warrant the closing of a center. When a center closes, faculty will have the option of transferring their grants to another center or to a department, as they choose.

Steinhardt Support

As discussed in the memo on ICR policy (dated September, 2016), centers core funding comes from indirect cost recovery (ICR) return. Twenty-five percent of the indirect cost expended on grants housed in that unit will be returned to centers.

All indirect cost recovery accounts must have an annual budget submitted to the Office of
Research with a proposed spending plan. Centers are expected to support center activities as described above from these resources, all of which are intended to enhance the grant-making and intellectual enterprise of the center.

Center Working Group and Ongoing Strategic Review

Center Directors meet once each month throughout the year as a group with the Vice Dean for Research and Faculty Affairs to discuss the specific needs of the school’s research community and to determine ways in which practices and policies in the centers can be aligned to meet those needs. The meeting also provides a forum for coordination and communication between Steinhardt centers and between centers and Steinhardt’s Office of Research.

Centers will be annually evaluated by completing a financial report and strategic plan. The Office of Research will pull data on research funding for each center from the University Data Warehouse. The annual strategic plan, that includes a SWOT analysis, is intended to inform center and school-wide planning respect to short- and long-term goals for each center.

1 At Steinhardt, historical precedent requires us to use the terms “center” and “institute” interchangeably. For ease, we use the term “center” in this document.