|Research VP candidate Staben focuses on moving forward|
Chuck Staben, acting vice president for research at the University of Kentucky and a candidate for vice president for research here, gave a public talk last Wednesday, at which he focused on moving the University forward.
Staben began by talking about his background. Originally from Chicago, he did his undergraduate work in biochemistry at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, then earned his doctorate in biochemistry at University of California Berkeley. He did his first post-doctorate at Chiron Research Laboratories and completed a second post-doctorate at Stanford. He then came to Kentucky, where he has spent the last 18 years rising through the faculty ranks and serving as chair of biology.
Staben observed that UND has been making good progress in research, but that we need to do more, and that he could help, with assistance from the University community.
Staben said he likes both “nuts and bolts” and top-level viewpoints, and that he likes to put resources and people together to change both them and the state. “I’d like to help students and the state have an impact,” he said.
He said he could do that by combining two components: leadership and management. “You need both,” he said. “You need leadership to set vision, to bring people to a place they haven’t been and aren’t sure they want to go.” You need management skills to handle resources, assess progress, and “keeps the nuts and bolts straight.”
He said Kentucky is working to be a top 20 research university, and communication has been very important in the process.
He then turned the program over to the audience for questions, the answers to which are summarized below.
** Although he couldn’t solve all UND’s problems and doesn’t know the institution that well, Staben said there are issues. “You probably need more clarity and resources to move forward,” he said. He added that faculty and researchers need to better understand budgets. “It’s your money, and you should understand the reason dollars go where they do,” he said. He said that he shares spreadsheets with researchers and explains why decisions are made, and that he also admits when he makes mistakes. As a smaller university, UND needs to cultivate, build, and identify opportunities. And he could help. “There are simple things you can do to facilitate research on campus,” he said. “You’re doing some things well.”
** In response to a question from a student regarding research opportunities for undergraduates, Staben said he’s long been involved in that area, and that his first administrative job focused on that. He was able to grow the Kentucky undergraduate research program from 30 to 100 students. He said undergrad research is one of the things UND does well, and that Kentucky is not doing it as well as he’d like. “A central office can help by facilitating research, tracking numbers, encouraging interaction and communication” with deans and others. “I’m interested in doing this well. It’s near and dear to my heart.”
** One faculty member mentioned that UND has a fairly young research culture, and asked Staben how to find resources and how to convince people and faculty that research is not at odds with the educational mission. Steben said that you can convince most reasonable people by showing them that priorities align. “You must understand their priorities and show how yours mesh with them,” he said. And you can do that by addressing their concerns about economic development, retention of graduates, and more. Like North Dakota, he said, the University of Kentucky has a problem with more students leaving the state than they would like. Stemming that talent loss is important, and research opportunities have proven to be one way of stemming the “brain drain” from a state.
** Regarding the balance between teaching and research, Staben said research must be an expectation for faculty. There are only so many hours in a work week, and expecting faculty to teach along with a heavy research load is a problem. Instead, he emphasizes flexibility, with all faculty contributing in different ways. “I don’t buy that teaching and research are inconsistent,” he said. “You can’t teach properly unless you understand the field through research.” Often, Staben said, researchers make the best teachers.
** In response to a question wondering if undergraduates can perform actual research rather than technician work, Staben said that having students just do tech work does not serve them well. The key, he said is to rethink undergraduate research and help students build on skills. In a follow-up question asking how students can do research if they don’t have the necessary knowledge, he said that sort of attitude disturbs him. “We don’t have all the answers; no one days,” he said. “We do research to increase our mastery of the subject. I think a good mentor can help unskilled students contribute and perform research. They don’t need to know everything.”
** When asked how he could facilitate particular research programs with which he isn’t particularly conversant, Staeben said that he has just one research background. But, he said, ideas come from the faculty and departments, and his job as research vice president would be to develop programs and move them forward. He said his role would be to run interference up and down the chain of command and encourage legislative involvement. “I can help,” he said. “Educate me, and we’ll work together.”
** When asked if he’s currently performing in research, he said he’s been more active in publishing over the last couple of years, for which he credited a graduate student. He said he’s less active in the lab, and his work on genome projects is data-based and collaborative. He added that if he were to get the job here, he would be unlikely to continue his research. “Other research is more important than mine,” he said. He said that he retains his scholarly interests and intellect, and has taught while in the vice president for research office in Kentucky. “I like teaching and administration,” he said.
**When asked about UND’s EPSCoR designation, Staben said Kentucky is also an EPSCoR state. In 1997, he said, the Kentucky State Legislature passed a law requiring Kentucky to be a top 20 research university by 2020. And the president got people to buy into that vision. The university settled on multiple indicators, agreed on goals, and developed a business plan. The legislature accepted and funded the plan, Staben said, and “now we need to produce. It’s a challenge, but the struggle is part of the fun.” He said it’s great to be part of a place that’s seeking to improve. “There’s a new dialogue in the state,” he said, “between the university, faculty, and the legislature.”
**When asked in which area he has the least amount of knowledge, Staben said that philosophy is probably his weakest area. But, he said, he doesn’t hesitate to pick up the phone and ask for information. In the VP research area, he said, he’s weakest in intellectual property, and finds human subjects research challenging, as well as economic development. But, he says, he would rely on backup expertise.
-- Jan Orvik, Writer/Editor, University Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 777-3621