More than 150 faculty and staff gathered at Lamberton Hall on March 19 to learn about Research Futures, a newly launched initiative to support Lehigh’s continued growth and positioning for the future.
Provost Pat Farrell introduced the plan, which aims “to amplify the quality and quantity of research we’re able to do at Lehigh” with a one-time, $20 million investment in research programs, organizational capacity and infrastructure, and faculty recruiting.
“We [will] make investments over the two or three years that, at the end of those two or three years, will put us in a position that is significantly different than where we are, in a place where we can sustain ourselves in that significantly different place,” said Farrell.
Research Futures, said Alan Snyder, vice president and associate provost for research and graduate studies, is an “investment in expansion of the faculty and staff, and in our growth as a research university, in accord with our shared aspirations, the needs of our students, and our intended place in the world of higher education and the world.”
Approximately one-third of the $20 million will be used for faculty hiring, through assistance in assembling support for new hires, Snyder said. The remainder will be used for other purposes that advance research, such as investments in major research opportunities; investments that support community-building and ideation across the faculty such as workshops, study groups and symposia; startup of college research support offices; and other elements of research infrastructure such as facility renovations and shared services.
“One mark of a great place is that, as good as you are, you still see ways in which you might grow and change, and as good as you may have been in the past, you still see ways in which you need to live into the future,” said Snyder. “Lehigh people do some extraordinary work … It’s relative to public concerns, responsive to that human urge to understand, deep and difficult as befits an academic enterprise, and communicated by people with an urge to inform other people.”
Snyder emphasized the significance of the research environment to the student experience at Lehigh as well. “If you have a chance to listen to students describe what they’ve discovered through their own independent work, and if you listen to them talk about how they’ve been challenged and changed by the process of doing it, or if you go to a seminar and listen to the quality of questions asked of guest speakers by our students, you’ll get a glimpse of how young minds can be cultivated in an environment like ours,” he said.
Snyder identified and expanded upon four strategic elements that he said will characterize the university’s intentions going forward.
Excellence: Lehigh faculty should produce “work that merits the highest admiration of academic colleagues … I want to emphasize that the word is ‘merit.’ Risky, contrarian, potentially field-changing work is often not recognized at the outset. So the shortest path to publication might not be the path you want to take. We need an environment that supports that kind of work, and the choices people make inherent to pursuing that kind of work.”
Coalescence of faculty members around areas of strength: “These should become fertile, supportive, intellectually generative and challenging environments for our faculty, undergraduates, graduate students and fellows, and attractors for new faculty and students who consider joining us. Whether the actual work people do is solo or team-based, people can benefit from working under a collective umbrella in which colleagues support and challenge each other, take collective responsibility for their students, and share resources and relationships.” Snyder pointed out that collective strength can help in sustaining inherently long-term lines of research that we recognize to be important.
Public value: “We should earn the trust and appreciation of non-academic communities, be they professional communities of practice, governments, industries, lay communities or nonprofit organizations. We should merit and maintain relationships that bring new insight to our work and new opportunities for our students.”
Value to students: “The research environment and the relationships it secures should serve as the foundation for an unprecedented experience for students at all levels. That’s something we just cannot let go of … In my mind, our success as a research university is tied up in our ability to do this exceedingly well”
Snyder also announced an advisory committee for the components of the plan that his team will oversee. The committee includes Susan Woodhouse, associate professor of counseling psychology; Jim Gilchrist, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering; Naomi Rothman, associate professor of management; Amardeep Singh, associate professor of English; Jebrell Glover, associate professor of chemistry; Kathryn Zimmerman, senior director of emerging initiatives; and Kate Bullard, research program development officer.
Investment in Faculty Recruiting
With regard to the faculty hiring portion of the plan, Farrell encouraged faculty to start thinking about ideas now. A good proposal for a new hire, he said, will include a long-term view and long-term plan; an explanation of how the current and future environment will benefit from a particular faculty hire; milestones or indicators that determine progress; an expected return on investment; and consideration of other elements required for success.
Farrell said he plans to formally announce expectations in September 2019. College search request proposals will be due in April 2020, new lines will be approved in May 2020, and recruiting will commence during the 2020-2021 academic year. The first cadre of new faculty from this new plan will arrive at Lehigh in Fall 2021.
“These are the key investments we make … in our future. We’ve got an opportunity to increase the amount of investment from what we’ve been able to do so far, I would hate to see us squander the opportunity. I would like to see us really make good use of it in as many ways as we can, and that’s what we’re trying to do: make the best use of the opportunity in front of us,” said Farrell.
Stating that “The story that all of us need to write is ‘Lehigh uses its resources, its creativity, its opportunities, to grow as a 21st century, student-centered, globally engaged, research university,’” Snyder emphasized that this should be a creative process, requiring the Lehigh community to “be clear about the kind of academic environment we intend to build … be frank with ourselves about ways in which we’re not there yet ... imaginative about how things can be different … true to our covenants with stakeholders.” He directed participants to the Research Futures website as well as to email his office with ideas. A copy of the March 19 presentation is available on the website.