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Rightsizing Faculty Educational Requirements

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Fifteen years ago, research faculty at academic institutions had very few educational requirements to fulfill beyond holding a Ph.D. in their field. University policies requiring additional education or training beyond that were minimal, if they existed at all.

It was during this time, high profile cases of ethics violations involving research  faculty throughout the U.S., including Minnesota, alerted the academic community to the value and importance of training in this area. Since that time, universities across the country have experienced a shift in their thinking about the value of additional education for faculty and staff. Now, nearly all universities have some kind of required training for faculty specific to the responsible conduct of research.

The University of Minnesota has been a national leader in this area and maintains a strong commitment to ethical conduct in research and scholarship. The university’s Research Education and Oversight office manages a Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) Core Curriculum for all faculty investigators conducting sponsored research as well as the ever growing list of training  requirements needed to fulfill regulatory obligations.

A recent risk recalibration study conducted by REO revealed that the additional continuing education requirement of its RCR curriculum was no longer needed given the broad range of educational opportunities and requirements that have been implemented  at the U, largely as a result of the national trend toward research ethics education. Eliminating the continuing education requirement, while a small portion of the overall core curriculum, still removes 3,900 total hours annually from the collective administrative burden of 2,400 U of M faculty.

“When we initiated the continuing education piece 14 years ago, we didn’t have the culture of education around research that we have today,” said Sarah Waldemar, director of REO and OVPR’s team lead on the Risk Recalibration initiative. “Now we have education mandated by several different agencies and at several levels of the institution. As our team looks for ways to manage our risk portfolio more effectively, this is one area that we felt was already being covered through the other educational opportunities.”

Waldemar, who presented the report on this study at a recent Senate Research Committee meeting, noted that information about current research policies will still be updated regularly online and faculty will be sent an email annually with a link to the updated site so that access to these training resources remain available when needed, though they are no longer officially required to review it.

Will Durfee, mechanical engineering professor and chair of the Faculty and Senate Consultative Committees, was pleased with the change and praised the university’s risk recalibration initiative.

“I applaud the university’s recent efforts to reduce faculty and staff administrative burden,” said Durfee. “These issues are a big concern for faculty and have been talked about for many years. I am pleased that the administration is listening and that there is action.”

In the coming months, Waldemar’s team will be engaging several units in a new pilot project aimed at reducing administrative burden from the ground up. The goal of the project is to develop a model that will facilitate collaborative review of policies and procedures between faculty and staff across the university system.

Originally published on Research @ the U of M.

Erin Dennis

Erin Dennis

Erin is assistant communications director for the Office of the Vice President for Research and senior editor of Inquiry. 

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