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Eberly College of Arts and Sciences Research Planning Report

In summer 2023, Dean Dunaway assembled a group of faculty members to provide guidance from different perspectives around the WVU Eberly College of Arts and Sciences (ECAS) concerning future directions in support of research and scholarship following Academic Transformation. The group members were Paul Cassak (Physics & Astronomy), Jessica Deshler (School of Mathematical and Data Sciences), Jennifer Hawkins (Biology), Lindsay Morris-Neuberger (Communication Studies), Jason Phillips (History), Jennifer Sano-Franchini (English), Claire St. Peter (Psychology), Sam Workman (Rockefeller School of Policy and Politics). The group was facilitated by Duncan Lorimer and Christopher Plein for the Dean’s Office. Following an initial meeting with Dean Dunaway and upon his recommendation, the group devoted time during the 2023-2024 academic year to three main areas: (i) relations between research and graduate education; (ii) operations in support of research; (iii) key areas for future research investment and focus. 

The group’s discussions and deliberations served to further highlight the overarching reality that the research and graduate education process is deeply intertwined with the fundamental teaching and engagement missions of the college and university. The findings and recommendations also relate to broader efforts to engage undergraduates in teaching, research, and engagement. They also recognize that all faculty, regardless of appointment, are part of research, creativity, and discovery at WVU. This report first outlines some guiding principles that grounded the deliberations, before addressing the areas of concern. In addition to the specific recommendations provided throughout this document, it is strongly recommended to engage with ECAS faculty to establish a strategic plan of research priorities, objectives, and commitments.

Guiding Principles for Future Planning and Action

The group aimed to adhere to broad principles and commitments to guide the discussion and to help future action. Foremost among these was a basic philosophical question: What is meant by promoting the research enterprise, particularly at a time when there are resource limitations across the university that have an impact on research productivity? Addressing this can help in communicating and prioritizing recommendations and strategies. The committee identified three principles that guided their recommendations.

  1. Adopt a strategy that encourages broad institutional support for research.

    • Though Carnegie criteria for R1 status have recently changed, the goal of meeting R1 metrics should not be the primary driver of research strategic planning at the university. Instead, R1 status should be a result or a by-product of a broad, productive, and inclusive scope of research across disciplines at WVU. As one of the largest colleges, ECAS plays a crucial role in the overall success and recognition of WVU as it seeks to expand its research mission. 
    • While acknowledging and responding to practical economic and political realities beyond the university that prioritize such things as workforce and economic development for the state, ECAS must also continue to value broad-based research, discovery, and creativity.
  2. Faculty, graduate, and undergraduate research are inextricably intertwined with education.

    • Enabling and empowering students to conduct research enriches the educational experience and is a selling point in recruitment and retention for students, faculty, and staff. ECAS units have engaged in these efforts, and they can be further built upon.
  3. Acknowledge that the disciplinary diversity of ECAS is an asset but can also create challenges in communication, prioritization, and strategic effort.

    • As one team member said, when facing adversity, “we’re not in the same boat, but we are in the same storm.” Acknowledging this helps promote clear and transparent communication about the allocation of resources and strategic prioritization in ECAS and the distinct nature and character of the academic disciplines that are part of the Eberly community.

Research and Graduate Education

Discussion Point 1:  When considering the future of research in ECAS, it is important to bear in mind the deep and close relationship between graduate education and research.

Graduate students conduct research on behalf of the university, support faculty research through research assistantships, work in labs, lead and collaborate on papers. Graduate student success has a direct bearing on the national and global reputation of academic programs at WVU, with downstream impacts on undergraduate enrollment, faculty recruitment and retention, etc.

It is important to acknowledge that graduate student researchers contribute to WVU’s land grant mission and service to the state. Across the disciplines, graduate students and faculty have made contributions in various ways, such as in rotations and field placements, and education and outreach efforts. Continued support for graduate students will foster this community and state engagement and allow ECAS to continue to serve our land grant mission.

Recommendation:  Strengthen investment in graduate and undergraduate education.

  • Promote more robust graduate student stipends. WVU’s graduate assistant stipend rates are often below those of comparable institutions. Even with WVU’s practice of providing university tuition waivers for GTAs and GRAs, graduate funding packages may not be competitive. Periodically reviewing and comparing graduate assistantship support levels at peer institutions is recommended to align ECAS graduate assistant packages to the graduate education marketplace.
  • Continue tuition and merit waivers for graduate students. The move toward a tuition-driven revenue approach, as reflected in the new budget model, may result in institutional practices that scale back waivers. This should be monitored. Continuation of tuition waivers will assist in advancing the recruitment of strong graduate students. This commitment to graduate education also affirms support for faculty, improving retention. The elimination of meritorious credit hours may likewise compromise the viability of some master’s programs with ripple effects on doctoral education and other areas.
  • Restore confidence in program viability and continuation across the college. Recent programmatic evaluations have created concerns about assessment of programmatic viability which may hurt student and faculty recruitment and retention. The development of clear and comprehensive processes of programmatic evaluation is recommended.
  • Enhance the financial commitment to graduate travel funding programs. This is important for conference presentations and networks, and it is crucial to field work, archival research, and other efforts undertaken by students. This need is particularly acute in disciplines where sources of external funding may be lacking.  
  • Recognize that the elimination or reduction of graduate programs has consequences beyond the immediately affected programs and units. Assess current and potential impacts. Decreased offerings and staffing in World Languages, Public Administration, Mathematics, English, Communication Studies, and Chemistry could create consequences for broader graduate education capacity in ECAS. For example, in the History Department, graduate students have in the past taken language classes to enable them to interpret foreign documents and conduct research abroad, but they cannot take such classes now that World Languages has been discontinued.
  • Seek to identify and address barriers to graduate student recruitment. For example, fee structures, visa protocols, and other factors affecting international student recruitment and retention should be assessed and addressed. Barriers to enrollment for domestic students should also be assessed and addressed. ECAS can help to advocate for broader university effort on both these fronts.

Discussion Point 2:  Graduate student training and  professional development are changing. 

Across disciplines, emphasis has turned to diverse career pathways for students. The changing landscape of higher education and new developments in the private, nonprofit, and public sectors mean that the traditional career path in higher education is increasingly complemented by other opportunities. Some faculty have been proactive in providing professional development support to help orient graduate students to different career paths, but more could be done to support professional and career development.

Recommendation:  Invite faculty to consider how this changing context might be addressed by future research projects. 

  • Support research and assessment efforts that will inform and incentivize research that will guide revisions to graduate curricula and programming. Studies of training and development models across institutions, research focusing on graduate student placement and outcomes, interviews or focus groups with alumni, and other relevant projects can provide needed information on trends, challenges, and opportunities. Through stipends, course releases, or other support, this work might be carried out by faculty, program directors, and others at the department and college level.
  • Such a research and assessment program could culminate with a symposium on graduate education to share useful findings across the university and beyond. Such intentionality, resources, and expertise could help to guide training and development efforts.

Operations in Support of Research

This section addresses operations that support the university’s research mission in: (1) funding, (2) infrastructure, and (3) undergraduate student recruitment. One idea discussed that might facilitate all these areas is a campus-wide committee responsible for developing guidelines for handling research space, building requirements, critical equipment failure, equipment transfers, and dispute resolution (between the Shared Research Facility, Deans, departments, and faculty). An additional role of such a committee could be advising ECAS leadership on research and scholarship  under the new budget model.


Discussion Point 3 Funding-related issues are negatively impacting the ability to conduct research.

Recommendations:  College administration should regularly engage with unit leadership to discuss how to best utilize available resources to maximize the unit’s research enterprise. These resources include startup funds, unit overhead, faculty overhead, foundation accounts, and other research-related revenues.  These discussions in turn can inform decisions on expenditures and investments to support the unit’s research enterprise (e.g., travel, equipment, post-docs, student workers). The new budget model, which allocates all indirect revenue (i.e., F&A) to the colleges, further strengthens the need for close college-unit coordination. The college should also continue to invest in and expand the ECAS-based pre- and post- award functions. Given the College’s broad and diverse sponsored programming portfolio, emphasis should be given to more “in-house” management and administration of fixed-cost contracts, memoranda of understanding, foundation grants, and other types of sponsored programming.

  • In a resource-scarce environment, departments and units need to deploy resources in different ways to facilitate and maximize the research productivity for faculty and students. Involving unit leadership in decisions about how to best allocate resources within that unit may help to achieve excellence in research. There will be a need for priority-setting, which may be best approached as a series of open conversations with Dean’s level administrators and unit leadership.
  • Access to startup and overhead accounts remains a serious concern. Although some progress has been made in recent months, the further release of funds is strongly encouraged. Restricted access to these accounts has had deleterious consequences on faculty productivity/retention and unit performance, including delaying research progress for new faculty, which adversely affects securing external federal funding. Startup and professional development funds allow for development of new ideas, support for critical people, funding research infrastructure and maintenance, subvention funds for publication in top-tier journals, and travel expenses.
  • Assist with improvements Office of Sponsored Programs responsiveness. Units and their faculty continue to be frustrated by bottlenecks and delays in the WVU Office of Sponsored Negotiation and setup of awarded proposals and no-cost extensions, which were once routine, are often held up. Award negotiation and initialization are often delayed. In addition to delaying the collection of indirect costs, this leads to delays in faculty being able to carry out the research and support students. There is also a disproportionate burden on college level post-award administration. For example, the delays are preventing faculty from getting reimbursed for travel and cost the ECAS post-award administrators time setting up suspense accounts. Establishing streamlined systems with clear communication regarding grants would ease the research process.
  • Fixed-cost contracts, memoranda of understanding, and similar arrangements are often utilized in student placements, practicums, internships, and other cooperative learning arrangements (in such fields as Social Work and Psychology). They are also utilized in short-term program activities and service efforts in such fields as Political Science, Social Work, and Geology & Geography. Given the purpose-driven, land-grant mission of the University, these arrangements are especially important given they disproportionately come from non-profits, local governments, and the private sector. All of these represent a real possibility for growing research revenue that feeds into research and graduate instruction. It is this group’s assessment that their management would be best transferred to the College level to allow for more effective communications with funders in pre- and post- award coordination.
  • When funds permit, development of small grant programs may spur interdisciplinary collaboration or provide opportunities to gather preliminary data that could be leveraged into high-impact scholarship, or substantive extramural grants. With the demise of the RSA awards, a college-level program to provide small (~$15k) awards would be extremely beneficial to faculty and make them more competitive for other sources of support. To encourage interdisciplinary research, College grants could build on existing efforts, such as the Community Health Collaborative, to support projects that bridge STEM and health-related research with the social sciences or humanities.
  • ECAS needs to support research travel to help sustain and expand its research presence across disciplines. One way to provide meaningful support for humanists and social scientists is to increase travel support for archival and field work. Instead of maintaining laboratories on campus, these researchers must have access to external resources to carry out their scholarship. College research fellowships that support faculty through course releases would facilitate these forms of research.
  • To encourage research on emergent and key areas, ECAS could develop thematic fellowship cohorts; faculty working on projects relevant to that theme can apply to receive a stipend or course release and support from the research office, along with regular cohort meetings.


Discussion Point 4:  Continued support for college-level and external support infrastructure, such as  libraries, is critical to the success of researchers.

Recommendations:  Advocate for investments in internal and external support systems that enhance research and scholarship. Continue to provide college-based and focused support for services that are being centralized in the new budget model. Work with unit leadership to determine how to maintain local research infrastructure, including laboratory facilities and equipment. Contingency plans are needed in the event that an expensive piece of equipment breaks or fails.

  • ECAS should seek opportunities to advocate for and strengthen library services. The WVU Libraries support all levels of research at WVU. Students and faculty inquiry rely on the libraries’ holdings, special collections, subscriptions, and loan services to engage with current scholarship and create knowledge. Reinvesting in the libraries would improve research productivity at WVU. Stronger libraries would help the university recruit and retain students and faculty. WVU Libraries and ECAS should also strengthen lines of communication and coordination to work together to best identify, maintain, and assess databases and journal subscriptions and book acquisition.
  • It is important to retain ECAS technology support roles. While the new budget model may prioritize centralization of services, it is essential that, given the unique size, scope, and scale of ECAS research and other operations, IT resources are accessible and readily available within the College.
  • Continued investment in shared research facilities is critical. These facilities are a strategic advantage and help recruit and retain high quality students and faculty. As we move forward to a new budget model, it will be necessary to ascertain ECAS financial and mission obligations to these and other collaborative structures – such as WVU research centers.
  • Sufficient support is needed to address logjams and facilitate repair and maintenance of equipment. Deferred maintenance that results from budgetary shortfalls creates the risk of equipment breakdown and research delays. Delays in bringing equipment and instrumentation online hinders research progress. The ECAS equipment fund established prior to Academic Transformation was a good start in this direction and should be sustained under the new budget model.

Undergraduate student recruitment and retention

Discussion Point 5:  Many departments involve undergraduates in research and potentially represent a strong recruiting potential for further growth for both our research and undergraduate educational missions.

Recommendations:  ECAS recruitment efforts and departmental priorities should be closely aligned. This can result from better coordination and communication between the college and units. Such actions might include strategic investments in promising new majors and course offerings, as well as the promotion and expansion of experiential and applied research opportunities in the classroom. An evaluation of the impact of placement tests on various units’ ability to recruit is also a priority.

  • ECAS is home to several promising new majors that are growing rapidly. Many of these majors (like Data Science, Neuroscience, Professional Writing and Editing, and Scientific and Technical Writing) are attracting diverse and well-qualified undergraduate students. Continued growth of these programs requires investment in new faculty positions and assistance from the college in developing formalized relationships to facilitate research experiences for students as part of the majors. Additionally, faculty members and unit leaders would benefit from knowing what new major promotions/marketing guides or resources are already being produced by the College, and what investments the College is willing to make through existing structures at the College level, to ensure that faculty don't need to spend more time than necessary reinventing the marketing wheel.
  • One way to attract and grow the number of outstanding students in undergraduate programs is by promoting experiential and applied research in the classroom. ECAS could support units in developing innovative, research-related courses and other experiences that support undergraduate students while simultaneously facilitating high-caliber scholarship. This promotes a sense of belonging through research and should help with retention. While many programs do this to some extent, to compete with other institutions, a more systematic and coordinated approach is in order.

Attending to Research Culture and Climate in Times of Uncertainty

Discussion Point 6:  It is crucial to recognize the importance of individual faculty motivation, interest, and support in the research enterprise. A supportive research environment is essential to success. Individual faculty research figures prominently in faculty and student morale around the institution.

Recommendations:  Review teaching allocations with an eye toward synergies among graduate instruction and instructors, the teaching faculty, and the research enterprise. Dedicate attention to supporting a robust culture of research on campus.

  • Address the impacts of the new budget model’s prioritization of student credit hour revenue. The tuition-based model has the potential to become highly reliant on revenues derived from undergraduate instruction. If pursued, and the consequences are left unaddressed, this will create vulnerability and risk for the research enterprise. For example, increased teaching obligations and workloads may cut into research productivity. A focus on undergraduate student credit hour production may complicate the capacity to offer graduate programs and courses. Through the contributions of graduate students, graduate programming contributes to the overall teaching mission.
  • Devote resources to support writing accountability activities. This low-cost activity (costs associated with space, and some light refreshments) has a potential high impact. By providing space and time to write, such efforts help to empower groups to build a supportive community. There is interest among the faculty and students in establishing such groups.
  • Expand the ECAS Connections series to support conversations about research and/or cross-campus collaborative interests. These sessions should prioritize engagement by recognizing participants for their expertise and perspective. Discussions might focus on works-in-progress and other developmental activities to assist faculty in making progress on their research agendas.
  • Create opportunities for expanding the audience for research. Workshops or more organic infrastructure might focus on facilitating how to engage the public, press, and community organizations about research. This would contribute to better publicity and communications about research and provide additional motivation through recognition and engagement among nonacademic audiences. Consider, for example, an Eberly College Public Lecture Series.
  • Explore interdisciplinary research opportunities. Examples might include: a research hub with possible focus on medical humanities or humanities in tech; an initiative built around Appalachian studies; and climate change/adaptation in community development. With their focus on interdisciplinary approaches to local and regional issues, the Center for Resilient Communities, West Virginia Social Survey, and Institute for Policy Research and Public Affairs are well positioned to facilitate such efforts. There are many avenues for partnering with other University centers and institutes to mentor faculty in interdisciplinary and funded work.
  • Facilitate professional development opportunities for newer faculty members, The college should explore options to promote interaction with more established scholars. This might include inviting scholars to campus. It might also include travel support for professional development activities. For example, in fields that are more book-publishing based, book conferences are especially useful, the scholar gets valuable feedback about progress toward tenure and/or promotion.
  • Promote efforts around societal and academic research priorities. Some disciplines periodically identify research priorities and objectives, which are then communicated through their communities. For example, decadal surveys help to set the research agenda in astrophysics as well as other fields of science and research. Other disciplines and groups issue similar priorities, some of which are multidisciplinary – such as the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges or NSF’s “10 Big Ideas.” These and other planning documents outlining strategic priorities could help align research priorities. In addition, societal priorities are often expressed at the local and state government through issue identification and policy development (e.g., workforce development and sustainable economies). Identifying and aligning to these priorities can better position ECAS to compete for external funding and further promotes our land-grant mission.


This report is intended to serve as a baseline for further strategic planning efforts in the Eberly College. Ideally, it can also help to inform discussions and college interests at the university level. Over the course of nearly a year, the work of this group was informed by multidisciplinary perspectives drawn from the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. The group’s explorations and discussion were shaped by the impact of the Academic Transformation initiative, as well as a pending implementation of a new budget model. Thus, a degree of uncertainty exists regarding how these new initiatives will impact research operations. Not surprisingly, morale and confidence has been affected.  At the college level, immediate and proactive steps should be taken to engage faculty to help chart a course forward thereby improving both morale and confidence. Follow up steps, such as further involving faculty in strategic planning, soliciting faculty input through surveys, and engaging in institutional analysis to see how ECAS and its units compare with peer institutions, are some immediate steps that might be taken. Substantive actions, such as making further progress on start-up and overhead fund releases and affirming the place of graduate education in WVU’s mission through the protection of resources and student support, would help to establish a path forward.