Proposal Roles & Definitions

Role Definitions

PI: Principal Investigator

The principal investigator is the primary individual in charge of a research grant, cooperative agreement, training or public service project, contract, or other sponsored project. The principal investigator reports to a unit head or other designated official.

Dept Adm: Department Administrator

Administrative staff at the departmental and dean's office levels provide administrative support for one or more sponsored projects. Included in the department administrative staff category is a wide variety of duties and position titles, including administrative directors, accounts manager, accounts specialist, accounts assistant, assistant to, associate to, senior secretary, principal secretary, preparer, etc.

With respect to financial management of sponsored accounts, department administrators are either "preparers" or "approvers." Preparers complete and process financial, human resource, and other electronic and paper transaction documents. Approvers approve and monitor documents prepared by others. Whereas a department may have many preparers, the number of approvers will be fewer. Because the approver monitors documents completed by preparers, an approver cannot be the same person as a preparer. Some approvers will be certified to process higher-risk transactions (certified approvers, see the below section). Department administrators report directly to their supervisor(s) in the department (e.g., unit head, unit administrator, principal investigator, etc.).

Dept Head: Department Head

The department head is an academic leader with programmatic, managerial, and fiscal responsibilities for a designated area, such as a department, division, school, or center. The department head reports to a dean.

Dean: Dean

Deans are academic leaders who have programmatic, managerial, and fiscal responsibilities for a college or school, and who report either to the executive vice president and provost, the senior vice president for health sciences, or the chancellor of a system campus (Crookston, Duluth, Morris). The dean's office, the administrative center for a school or college, may include one or more associate deans, who report to the dean, as well as administrative staff.

One associate dean (usually referred to as the associate dean for research) has the responsibility to oversee research activities in the unit and thus is delegated the authority to act on the dean's behalf in matters relating to research.

CA: Certified Approver

The certified approver (CA) is the individual who has been authorized by the vice president for research and innovation and appointed by his/her associate dean for research (or equivalent) to approve/deny certain financial transactions based on the administrative requirements of the University and the sponsor. A CA must pass a two-part exam and fulfill annual continuing education requirements. An individual who has passed the exams and participates in continuing education is not a CA until he/she has been appointed.

A CA, while located in the department in most instances, reports to the associate dean for research (or equivalent) for that aspect of his/her job, and his/her supervisor for other duties. A CA must maintain good standing in the Certified Approver Program coordinated by the Research Compliance Office within the Research and Innovation Office.

SPA: Sponsored Projects Administration

Sponsored Projects Administration (SPA) is the only institutional unit legally able to submit proposals to external entities for financial support in the form of a contract, grant, or agreement, as well as the only unit legally able to commit the University on behalf of the Board of Regents in the event an award is made.

The head of SPA is designated as the institutional official and has the authority to sign submitted proposals, to receive awards, and to conduct any other official business with funding agencies, whether federal or private. These authorities may be delegated. The head of SPA is an associate vice president for research and innovation who reports directly to the vice president for research and innovation.

SFR: Sponsored Financial Reporting

Sponsored Financial Reporting reports to the controller, invoices and collects payments, and compiles required financial reports for sponsors.

RIC: Research Integrity and Compliance

Research Integrity and Compliance (RIC) supports the research community by facilitating the investigation of research compliance concerns, overseeing research ethics and compliance education, and assisting other ethics, regulatory, and financial compliance programs across the University.

Other Definitions


The Department of Internal Audits has an independent appraisal function within the University. It is responsible for providing the Board of Regents and the administration with information, assessments, and observations regarding the effectiveness and adequacy of the University's financial, operational and compliance internal control processes, to aid them in fulfilling their oversight responsibilities.

The Department of Internal Audits considers risks broadly and monitors University activities when appropriate to recommend actions that reduce risk to a reasonable level. The department also promotes compliance with University policies and procedures along with applicable laws and regulations, and improves operational efficiencies.

Technology Commercialization

Technology Commercialization is the office that facilitates the proprietary transfer of U of M technology for commercial use in the public good consistent with the University's mission. Technology Commercialization seeks to identify and protect commercializable University technology, including inventions and copyrightable materials, and transfer these technologies to the private sector through licensing or by participating in starting new companies.