February
6th 2011
Sunday roundup: unicorns, meritocracies, and humanities grants edition

Posted under: American history, bad language, Gender, jobs, wankers, women's history

Pure meritocracies, humanities grants, and unicorns!

I’m waaaaaayyyyyy behind on a number of projects whose deadlines are already in my rear-view mirror. I really shouldn’t blog at all, but I can’t resist letting you see what’s going on on the few blogs I’ve been able to check into this week. So here’s something for you all to click, read, and discuss while I’m away: 

  • First, Zuska reports on a recent conference session that featured some women SciBloggers talking about the “Perils of blogging as a woman under a real name.”  She writes, “[t]he discussion ranged over a lot of topics, and near the end, someone in the audience said ‘I don’t want to get a [job/fellowship/grant/whatever] because of affirmative action, I want to get it on my own merits.’ I said, why do you imagine that the dudes getting those jobs now all got them all on their own merits? . . . . Why do we imagine everyone else who gets stuff got there all by their lonesome with no assistance from anyone else? I don’t even know what the fuck it means to get somewhere all on your own merits. You can’t even learn to wipe your own ass all on your own merits.”  That is, if you bother to wipe at all, and just think of how many undeserving non-wipers are getting all of those jobs, fellowships, and grants instead of us, the overly-conscientious committed meritocrats?
  • Speaking of grants, in “Humanities People Like Money, Too!” Notorious Ph.D., Girl Scholar provides an example of worthwhile service to her university in volunteering for a Research Advisory Council to educate the Office of University Research on the facts of humanities grants and their relative scarcity and small dollar amounts that nevertheless are incredibly helpful to humanities scholars (especially those with 3-4 teaching loads, like her!)  Click and laugh away at her OUR’s suggestion that “If you got a Guggenheim, we’d support it. . . . so… What does ‘ACLS’ stand for?”  I’ve never gone through any university grants office when I’ve applied for research funds.  I guess my uni, which does a lot of research funded by the Homeland Security boondoggle (particularly around germ warfare) as well as NIH dough, long since decided that bothering with grants for $60,000 or smaller isn’t worth their time.
  • Jeremy Young reports that Tony Grafton is back with another column in Perspectives this month in which he cites in particular the discussions here and at Jeremy’s blog last month about his January American Historical Association’s President’s column.  (Sorry–Grafton’s column is behind a members-only firewall, but for those of you who are AHA members, here it is.)  Here’s a pretty cool idea:  Grafton writes that “[f]ormer [AHA] president Lynn Hunt pointed out, as did a number of correspondents, that we need to find ways to defend professional history and historians without simply being defensive. To that end, over the next year, I hope to visit a number of different institutions and describe how some of our colleagues are actually doing history, as scholars and teachers. One thing I’ve already learned from these collegial and helpful responses: just by telling the truth about what many of our colleagues do, we can kill off some of the zombie ideas and factoids that reappear endlessly in the polemics about universities.”  If you want to volunteer to host Grafton in your History department, let him know!
  • If you’re reading this, Tony Grafton, you could do worse than to visit our pal Jonathan Rees, a fellow Coloradoan and Professor at Colorado State University-Pueblo who blogs at More or Less Bunk and has strikingly sensible things to say about teaching, scholarship, and the historical profession at large.  See for example his outrageous claim that “People Running Universities Should Have Experience Running Universities.”  (What a contrarian!)  Everyone knows that education–especially higher education–is the one industry in which it’s a positive good to have zero prior experience before assuming a high-profile leadership position.

52 Comments »

52 Responses to “Sunday roundup: unicorns, meritocracies, and humanities grants edition”

  1. Notorious Ph.D. on 06 Feb 2011 at 11:32 am #

    Thanks for the link, Historiann. I do think there’s a disconnect there. But some of the discussion over at my place has turned to questions about where overhead costs go in Humanities grants (as opposed to science and social science grants that have associated costs that we don’t — or at least, I don’t think we do), so I’m going to post a follow-up tonight or tomorrow dedicated especially to this issue. When that post goes up, I’d love to hear from people in university research offices who can shed some light on this.

  2. Jeremy C. Young on 06 Feb 2011 at 12:06 pm #

    Thanks very much for the link. I like your suggestions to Grafton!

  3. Indyanna on 06 Feb 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    I’m glad Notorious got on this topic. Our equivalent “agency” (if I can use the term so loosely) does in fact have a category for available “Humanities” grants when they send out their monthly e-blasts to the faculty. If you click on it there’s usually only about three things there, each of them running something like: “U.S. State Department seeks multi-university collaborative partner to advise [South Central Asian Country] on long-term strategies to enhance and develop civil societies.” Deadline [three days from now]. These folks have no idea what people in the “actually-do-research-and-write-things” disciplines do for a living. I once considered jumping on my field-specific H-Net list and seeing if a proposal could be scared up, but I decided it wouldn’t be that much fun to be that little funny. Like Historiann, I keep my scholarly stuff off-site and out of channel. Once they realize what they can skim as “overhead” for the electricity running through our desktops they’ll probably come after that too. And the subject of “human subjects” follies as applied to the humanities would require a whole other post.

  4. Comrade PhysioProf on 06 Feb 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    Once they realize what they can skim as “overhead” for the electricity running through our desktops they’ll probably come after that too.

    This notion that charging indirect costs to grants is “skimming” is total fucken bullshitte. Do you thinke the electricity running through your desktop is free?

  5. People running universities should have experience running universities. « More or Less Bunk on 06 Feb 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    [...] on this same subject today opposite my response. Since this post is getting some serious traffic thanks to the illustrious Historiann, let me ask you all this: Are there any other states besides Colorado where a significant number of [...]

  6. Historiann on 06 Feb 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    Comrade: you’re right, electricity costs money. But I’m paying for the majority of the electricity my laptop uses, because I work at home the majority of the time and do 100% of my research and 90% of my teaching prep at home or off-site in archives or libraries that offer recharges gratis to researchers.

    So should I bill my uni for the electricity they’re NOT providing to me?

    Humanities grants don’t pay the facilities tax or whatever you want to call it because 1) they’re so small and 2) our research is so solitary and has such low overhead cost. I would think that that would make it an opportunity for enterprizing universities who want to improve their reputations and their standing in the U.S. News and World Report. Funding humanities research is remarkably inexpensive and cost-effective, but I’ve come to the conclusion that no one wants to do this precisely because it’s so cheap. There’s no honor or prestige in sponsoring something that doesn’t cost big bucks.

  7. Comrade PhysioProf on 06 Feb 2011 at 1:44 pm #

    Elite universities like the one I work at spend a fucketonne of money supporting humanities research.

  8. Historiann on 06 Feb 2011 at 1:53 pm #

    Maybe that’s why they’re *elite universities*!

  9. Comrade PhysioProf on 06 Feb 2011 at 2:43 pm #

    I keep telling them to stoppe wasting money on reading bookes and shitte and give it to productive scientists, but so far they continue to ignore my advice.

  10. Historiann on 06 Feb 2011 at 3:00 pm #

    Can you come give a talk at my uni about this? Maybe they’ll (not) listen to you here, too!

  11. Notorious Ph.D. on 06 Feb 2011 at 3:01 pm #

    Hey! My research on tuna-herding is going to be fucking transformational, Comrade!

  12. Another Damned Medievalist on 06 Feb 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    I’d LOVE to have Tony Grafton visit my university, if only because my very small department seems to have a very similar idea of what “good” looks like when it’s finished, but few similar ideas of how to get there — not to mention very different ideas of how to defend the field :-)

  13. anonymous on 06 Feb 2011 at 6:15 pm #

    Many U offices don’t “charge” overhead, or will negotiate a lower rate, on humanities and smallscale grants. That’s okay.

    What’s not okay is not running money through the proper channels at a university. It is, in my opinion, fraud. And to say that humanities don’t use University resources is patently false. If 30% of your time is budgeted to research, 30% of your office is research, and its cost shouldn’t be charged to tuition dollars, whether you deign to use it or not. Also, the humanities, last I checked, liked to use things like the library. Interlibrary loan. Postage for sending out research articles. Paper for printing book manuscripts. If your grant isn’t being skimmed, a student is (or the taxpayers are if you are public). Hey, maybe that’s okay if external dollars won’t pay for valuable research that the U has said is part of your job, but if they will? It’s wrong for them not to pay the full bill.

    Argue that the pie is distributed unequally between STEM and everything else — I agree.

    But grants should pay their own way. If your work is important enough for anyone outside the U to care about it so much they throw money at it, it is important enough for the funder to be billed correctly for the FULL cost of research, including your budgeted research time. Period.

    In my opinion, giving funders extreme closeout discount research by falsifying its true and full costs, in the end simply further devalues the humanities. Which are not, in the end, *truly* cheap.

  14. anonymous on 06 Feb 2011 at 6:31 pm #

    Notorious, here is a primer on overhead costs:

    The ballpark rate is calculated by the feds based on the cost of the things the university provides to research (including faculty offices, equipment, faculty time, administrators, and core facilities like labs and libraries).

    That rate is then negotiated for nonfederal grants. Usually downward due to a grant program’s overhead limitations.

    When the money comes in, the biggest part of it goes to central admin to pay for the offices and administration and janitors and labs and libraries and so forth.

    A much smaller part of it is usually given to the dean of the college. Humanities or Arts and Sciences or whatever. This gives them a slush fund to reward the faithful. To give extra cash to certain departments or profs for certain endeavors.

    A much much much smaller part of it is usually passed from the college to the department, where it becomes a slush fund to reward the faithful, at the Department Head and/or a faculty committee’s discretion.

    A very tiny portion of it is sometimes (but not always) given by the department directly to the faculty member who got the grant, as an incentive for getting such things. This allows him or her to do something that the grant won’t directly support, like buy a laptop to telecommute, or travel to a conference to present a paper.

    The basic process is not different between science and humanities. Only the amounts and proportions (and who counts as The Faithful Favored) are different.

    As to what the large pool of administrative charges pay for, get a copy of your university’s indirect cost agreement with the feds.

    The End.

  15. Indyanna on 06 Feb 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    @ anonymous: I couldn’t disagree more. My time is not “budgeted” to anything, quantitatively or otherwise. Course load is contractual. Class times are scheduled by the registrar. Office hours are contractual. Beyond that, it’s off the grid. The three rhetorical “legs” of the academic “stool” are teaching, research, and service. I decide how to distribute between them and the U decides how much to (or not to) reward me for it. Figuring out what percentage of letterhead goes out over research inquiries as opposed to letters of recommendation is good for the accountants, good for associate deputy vice presidents for administration, not good for the culture or the community. It’s exactly the kind of institution the adminispherians would love to build–and are building. Next up, we could modify those classroom clickers to do double duty in measuring six minute billing intervals like in the law factories. Somebody’s brother-in-law/vendor would get a nice deal, but where would it end?

  16. anonymous on 06 Feb 2011 at 6:38 pm #

    And, since apparently tonight I am conducting apologia for The Man, let me just say that one reason people don’t think anything but waste happens with this supposedly unnecessary “tax” money is that they don’t know that every person, fixture, furnishing, or shrubbery on a (research) university campus has an invisible tripartite price tag hanging on it:

    Instruction.
    Public Service.
    Research.

    The shrubbery expenses might not be allocable regarding which percent should be in which category. But most other things are — primarily physical space, equipment, and time.

  17. anonymous on 06 Feb 2011 at 6:39 pm #

    Really, Indyanna? Your university doesn’t tell you how much teaching/service/research you are responsible to conduct?? How totally irresponsible of it!

  18. koshem Bos on 06 Feb 2011 at 6:48 pm #

    Grants and overhead: most of the overhead is university income; that’s the reason the uppers press science and engineering to get more grants. Electricity, toilet paper and Lysol cost little. I was trained to live with 50% overhead and like our bankesters, when I ask them to mail overnight 10 copies of a proposal for grants, they give me the bird.

    Grants for humanities: those who think that science can live without history, art and philosophy (to list a few) is doomed to slide downwards fast. If I were to write the checks, humanities will be supported too.

  19. Comrade PhysioProf on 06 Feb 2011 at 6:55 pm #

    Electricity, toilet paper and Lysol cost little.

    This is some kind of joke, right?

  20. anonymous on 06 Feb 2011 at 6:58 pm #

    Notorious, given your new committee appointment, you may wish to learn much more about how indirect cost rates are calculated — in my opinion, it only makes sense to engage in discussions about how the received funds should be distributed if you understand how they were charged in the first place.

    DHHS is the federal agency designated to negotiate indirect costs for most research universities (and their rates apply to all federal grants regardless of agency, e.g. the NEA will either use the DHHS-negotiated rate or stipulate its own program limitation — which it does).

    The information for the DHHS federal-rate-figurers is here:

    http://rates.psc.gov/

  21. anonymous on 06 Feb 2011 at 7:03 pm #

    If only it were a joke, CPP.

    Unfortunately, I can assure you that there exist MANY faculty who believe precisely as koshem just stated, without any tongue in cheek whatsoever.

  22. Historiann on 06 Feb 2011 at 7:10 pm #

    anonymous–you’re making a lot of assumptions that every uni works exactly the way yours does, which is pretty ridiculous. I’ve never heard of a historian anywhere being asked to run their grant applications through a central university office, so we’re not committing “fraud.” And yes, of course, the department chair and the Dean of my college know full well about all of this, because 1) we report every grant application, successful or unsuccessful, on our annual reviews, and 2) we of course need permission from these authorities in order to accept a grant that funds time away from our usual teaching responsibilities.

    I don’t know who you are or what your actual sex is, but you’re in the running for Mansplainer of the Year already, and it’s only early February. Take a walk around the block and get that wedgie worked out, willya? Or, start your own blog in which you lecture imagined scofflaws on the finer points of research oversight. Yeah, that’s the ticket to 3,000 readers a day!

  23. Historiann on 06 Feb 2011 at 7:13 pm #

    p.s. see the response from Ruth over at Notorious’s place on this subject. She sums it all up, and that’s the word of a very experienced senior scholar who has loads of contacts and has held many important administrative and leadership roles both in her institutions and in the profession.

  24. Comrade PhysioProf on 06 Feb 2011 at 7:18 pm #

    Ruth’s comment over there is very good. The others to look at carefully include Brian Ogilvie’s and Katrina’s.

  25. anonymous on 06 Feb 2011 at 7:22 pm #

    Historiann, I am sorry that I am coming across as a mansplainer. I can, however, guarantee that every major research university works the way I described. If it does not, it is probably not in compliance with federal guidelines.

    Please note that I did NOT say that every grant needed to be run through the central grants office. I did say that external funding needed to be run through the “proper channels.” If your university’s grants office has a policy that allows faculty to sidestep it, fabulous.

    If not, bad news.

    Taking external dollars for research without explicit permission to do this is, at a minimum, a very bad idea. Who is authorized to sign the agreement? Who promises the deliverables? Who is responsible for reporting? Who gets sued if it doesn’t happen?

    Possibly some of the miscommunication here is that people are using “grant” to mean “fellowship,” or “award,” or something other than a tit-for-tat legal agreement involving payment in exchange for a specific activity.

  26. Historiann on 06 Feb 2011 at 7:28 pm #

    anonymous–thanks for your further explaination. Over at Notorious’s place, someone also made the distinction between grant, award, and fellowship (I think it was Brian Ogilvie), which I had never really considered as having different implications but of course it does.

    Ruth’s experience is mine, although alas, my grants have been much fewer and much smaller than the glamorous grants she reports. . .

  27. Notorious Ph.D. on 06 Feb 2011 at 7:43 pm #

    …and, I might point out, that Notorious explained that 1) She (like the vast majority of university professors out there) is not at a major research university, and 2) her fellowships, like many of those in the Humanities, are explicitly taken off campus, at research centers elsewhere, using their facilities, rather than her own uni’s, for a year. She begs you to read the post and comments carefully before writing her off as a moron.

    Notorious also enjoys talking about herself in the third person ever since she found Facebook.

  28. Historiann on 06 Feb 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    U iz not moron?

    The residential component of residential fellowships is something that most other scholars just don’t get, because they don’t work that way.

  29. anonymous on 06 Feb 2011 at 8:00 pm #

    Hey, Notorious, I don’t think you are a moron. I applaud your willingness to dig in and learn about this stuff, which is indeed opaque and seemingly counterintuitive, and not something many faculty are willing to subject themselves to. I wish more people had your attitude.

    I am not sure where you said you weren’t at an R1 (though some of my process description is about the law and still holds) — but I only read the thread here and your didn’t skim through the comments on your post until just now. And now that I do, I see that CPP already told you about DHHS and rates and that others explained why even off-campus research has indirect costs associated with it (for grants, probably not for fellowships). Making my explanation redundant.

    Apologies for any offense. Admittedly, I was irked by some common misconceptions (and outright misstatements) about grants and overhead — but that’s not due to what you said here.

    I hope I have that wedgie out now.

  30. Notorious Ph.D. on 06 Feb 2011 at 8:23 pm #

    Fair enough. Truce.

    This is where I want to start the conversation: assuming that we are all people of good faith who want the university, the departments, and individual faculty to have the resources to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

    And, if Historiann will forgive me for using her comments thread as a platform… There are far too many anonymi (anonymoi?) running around comment threads, and “some anonymous person” has a lot less credibility than something more descriptive (though we just have to take those descriptors at face value). We also can’t tell one anonymous from another. So let us know who you are, even pseudonymously. This doesn’t require setting up a Google/Blogger ID — just “sign” your posts at the bottom with whatever consistent name you choose.

  31. That's Grantastic! on 06 Feb 2011 at 8:31 pm #

    Here, I’ll do you one better, since Historiann is generous enough not to require the whole sign-in rigamarole. Grantastic here, f/k/a anonymous — all of the “anonymous” posts in this thread are mine, none at your blog are (as of now — I’m looking forward to that future post), and though I regularly read Historiann, I think I have commented here only one other time.

    On the subject of research grants. :p

  32. That's Grantastic! on 06 Feb 2011 at 8:32 pm #

    And yes, my name is a reference to the language-drift of the powerful words “fantastic.” Just to warm the cockles of Historiann’s heart.

  33. Notorious Ph.D. on 06 Feb 2011 at 8:38 pm #

    Shit, T-G: I think you just came up with my OUR’s new catchphrase, once my war against “granstwinsmanship” ends in inevitable triumph.

  34. Leslie M-B on 07 Feb 2011 at 8:08 am #

    I’m in the process of applying for a $50,000 humanities grant. I will do the work in the summer months, when I am not paid by the university. Yet the university’s indirect costs are so high that I can’t afford to pay myself for the summer work I’ll be doing on the grant–plus I’ll have to reduce the interns’ hours, which means more unpaid work for me. I’ve asked the university for a reduction in the indirect costs, and pointed out that my nonprofit partner is eager to host the grant, but I’m told fewer than 50% of the requests for reduction in indirect costs are approved.

    Grantastic and others, what are your thoughts on the ethics involved here, especially since my project is community-based and for the most part won’t take place on campus?

  35. Janice on 07 Feb 2011 at 8:11 am #

    T-G, I love your nom du comment!

    Historiann, the latest frustration I have with grants is that the major national grant we can apply for wants projects to be linked to grad student research. (Canada’s SSHRC, if’n you’re interested.) And our university has just made it clear that, since faculty renewal is not happening, we will have to teach grad students for free if’n we want to keep our grad program (which we need to keep in order to pay out the grad students we have to support on the research grants we have active).

  36. Historiann on 07 Feb 2011 at 8:13 am #

    Happy Grantsgiving, everyone! (Or should that be, “Granksgiving?”)

  37. That's Grantastic! on 07 Feb 2011 at 10:57 am #

    Leslie, I guess the best way to answer your question is with a few of my own.

    First – I am unclear about the “ethical” dimension of your question.

    Do you mean:

    “Is it ethical for a funding agency to make grants that are too small to perform the work of a project while expecting to receive full ‘credit’ for that project”? No, not in my opinion.

    “Is it ethical for a nonprofit agency to encourage faculty to conduct externally-funded research at their archive/agency/whatever that directly benefits their primary mission without paying for it or crediting the funding agency or research university that subsidized that work?” No, not in my opinion.

    “Is it ethical for a faculty member to omit certain research costs in order to deliver the impression of conducting a very big scope of work for an incredible bargain-bin price, thus gaining a leg up on the applicants who submit straightforward and realistic budgets — including independent researchers and researchers from smaller, non-research-focused institutions who can’t simply leverage ‘invisible resources’ to round out the project support?” This happens all the time, of course. But no, not in my opinion.

    I that these might not be the ethical questions troubling you, but encourage you to think about them anyway.

    On the topic of your institution’s indirect cost rate being “too high” (for what?) that misstatement has been addressed sufficiently, both here and at Notorious’.

    An example of a more accurate statement: “this grant is too small to cover my proposed scope of work.”

    One has the following potential remedies in such a situation:

    1. Reduce your scope of work to fit the alloted budget. Carve out a second project and seek separate funding for that project. This is always the best way to go. It is not always possible — I understand what funding in the humanities is like — but this should always, ALWAYS be your first step and “give the people what they pay for” should be your orienting principle. Research grants *are not charity.*

    2. Solicit cost-sharing or in-kind contributions from your host institution. If your project is the kind I think it might be, your host benefits from it. So maybe they should kick in a bit more than being “eager” to have you. Maybe because they are a nonprofit and have a big name attached they can recruit interns or volunteers to staff your project. Maybe they can give you some hours from an employee or two. Maybe they will give you some supplies or some office space.

    They are unlikely to do any of the above unless you a) negotiate with them; b) point out the cash/exhibit/prestige/fundraising value of your project (if any) to them; and c) tell them the truth — that you are hard-pressed to scrounge together the resources to complete this project and it might not happen unless they pony up in whatever way they can.

    3. Make sure your grants office understands that your project is off-campus and should be subject to the off-campus rate. Ask for (as you have) a reduction, and be sure to explain, in your request:

    a) your efforts at securing additional funds to support the project;
    b) the extent of your myriad efforts at securing cost-sharing commitments or in-kind contributions from your host site;
    c) why your scope of work cannot be reduced such that you have a project that costs only $50k, per the grant guidelines.

    4. Negotiate with your VP for Research office, your college, and your school/department to get an earmarked share of “indirect cost return” to use in furtherance of your project. In about 45 seconds google told me what your institution’s indirect cost return policy is (it’s #6100 fyi) — 50% of the “tax” collected goes to your college, school, and/or department. Make them give you some of this back in support – summer salary or an RA or whatever you like.

    I know this message sounds unsympathetic. It truly is not. [The only thing I am unsympathetic to is something you did not say you were remotely considering -- end-running established funding policies -- behavior I think is egregious and particularly so at a taxpayer-supported school.]

    But, without wanting to blame the (humanities) victim here, and even though this sounds like one of those unhelpful Career Advice For Women columns (Ladies, you have to GET OUT THERE AND DEMAND THAT RAISE or you’ll never get it, and it’s your own fault — even though women who make demands are b*itches and get fired!):

    Act like your research is valuable, and it will be seen as valuable. If you want to be taken as seriously as a STEM professor by the research administration, take them as seriously. Note how much CPP knows about funding policies/procedures — do you think that level of sophistication goes unnoticed and unappreciated by the staff in his research office? I’ll bet his sophisticated understanding of the system helps him to effectively request exemptions for *truly* exceptional circumstances. He is good at explaining things, but his level of knowledge of how the system works is actually NOT unique — among the prolific, respected, successful STEM researchers in any institution. These are the people who end up calling the shots.

    Overall, my unsolicited advice for humanities researchers trying their hand at negotiating with system actors — stop calling your research unique. If it weren’t unique, it wouldn’t research. If you are in the unfortunate position of having to educate your grants office, point out *specific differences* between your research projects/funders and STEM.

    “I work at home” and “My project will be mostly done off-campus at another institution” are — get this — ALMOST NEVER unique circumstances. For all you know, half the damn university uses their grant money to abscond for the summer, managing to conduct research either remotely through conference calls to the RAs in the lab, or ensconced in some partner institution, eh?

    You will have to figure out how your projects/funders are *actually* different, if they are, and be able to explain exactly how. Be open to the possibility that your projects and funders are NOT substantively different — they are simply scarce and poor and unfamiliar to the administrators you have to work with.

    The university runs on a flat-tax model with fat cat loopholes. You (humanities) want a progressive tax regime. This is just as politically complicated at a university as it is in real life.

  38. Western Dave on 07 Feb 2011 at 11:07 am #

    I’d be happier if it were Happy Grantsgetting. As it is, I had to settle for celebrating Ice Cream for Breakfast Day on Saturday.

  39. Leslie M-B on 07 Feb 2011 at 11:32 am #

    Grantastic, thanks so much for your long comment. You’ve given me much food for thought. I intentionally left open what I meant by “ethics” to see what people have to say more broadly, but I admit I’m more concerned about my own ethics (especially as a new faculty member) than the university’s, especially if I decide to go with the nonprofit partner (it’s a new nonprofit, a software and community-development group, so they’re still very much in major-grant-getting mode themselves).

    I totally get why 39% (currently it’s 41%, but it’s going down soon) is a reasonable amount, on average, to charge faculty because of administrative and facilities costs. At the same time, I’d prefer to see a sliding scale, based on the impact the project will have on the university’s staffing and infrastructure (this is measurable, yes?), the PR the project (in this case a local/regional digital humanities initiative) would bring the university (less measurable), and the upfront cost of hiring the faculty member (e.g. my “$3,000 + a computer” start-up funds are in an entirely different league from that of the experimental physicists at my former university, where one physicist told me the start-up costs are close to $800,000).

  40. That's Grantastic! on 07 Feb 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    You should be able to get the off-campus rate of 26%. Have you not discussed this with them? You will also require a waiver from the State Board of Education in order to charge lower than 26% — that’s how serious this issue is.

    Since this nonprofit host is an un(der?)funded startup, it is almost certainly trying to get something for nothing. That’s known as **development** — charity — not grant-getting.

    It doesn’t make them evil. But it does mean that they may be very inexperienced with big-deal money. That can spell trouble for you if you’re mixed up in it.

    If this grant is state or federal in nature (? can’t remember what you said) the new agency likely doesn’t not have all of the proper cost accounting, reporting, purchasing, insurance, and hiring practices in place. These are required of all government contractors and you do not want to be in a situation where someone is on a “learning curve” about the responsibilities that come with taking public money.

    Lawyers and accountants and databases and research policymakers and HR people and public sector purchasing offices aren’t cheap. So, yes, you’re definitely still using these systems at your university. That’s why the off-campus rate isn’t dirt-cheap.

    Even so — again — only half of the money charged to your grant goes to the finance and administration and research administrator people for dispersal around the U. The other half goes to your college/school/department, who might be willing and able to hand you some cash for research costs, directly, according to their specific written policy that encourages such things.

    I don’t understand how you can legitimately run this grant through a new agency with which you’re not formally affiliated. I don’t mean to pry, I just don’t get it. If they’re “strong” enough contenders to legitimately apply for this on their own and subcontract out your summer salary (paid through your university, or hire you as a contract worker if you clear this with your employer) why don’t they?

  41. That's Grantastic! on 07 Feb 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    Possible bad answers to that last question:

    Lack of access to students;

    Lack of willingness to employ and insure all those people;

    Lack of willingness to sink time into a grant application (a tiny proportion of the time a small agency will spend learning to administer a public grant, so a very bad sign);

    Interest in having you go out and get money for their benefit and having your institution subsidize both you and the getting of it.

  42. Leslie M-B on 07 Feb 2011 at 1:59 pm #

    Grantastic, I approached the nonprofit for mutually beneficial collaboration. They have new software I want to use; I have a community. They have a shiny new high-profile grant from a private foundation funding their software development, but not the community-development part of their mission.

    The State Board’s 26% is an interesting number to me, as the federal granting agency states that 12% is the maximum indirect cost amount allowed unless the university has negotiated a federal rate (which it has, through H&HS).

    I very much appreciate your expertise! Even working *with* the grants people here, the process is incredibly opaque and difficult to get information about.

  43. That's Grantastic! on 07 Feb 2011 at 2:09 pm #

    Let me be clearer about the waiver – I would hate to be the cause of more confusion.

    26% isn’t some secret statewide basement rate. It’s your university’s standard off-campus negotiated rate, which you might be able to get if you ask.

    The waiver is for grants w/ $10k in indirect, per [your university's] policy [#6080]. I would encourage you to read that document, as it also outlines what information you are to include in an indirect cost waiver request.

  44. That's Grantastic! on 07 Feb 2011 at 2:33 pm #

    One last thing for today (!) I heartily disagree with the inclusion of good PR for the U on your list of indirect cost reducers in a better world. Think for a second about how that would work: feel-good projects get more money? Big projects get more money? Experimental potential failures have an even bigger hurdle to overcome?

    Your university’s policy doc is actually quite good. Look at priorities #4 and #5 (which you were to address in your ) — will this grant support junior faculty and/or experimental/difficult-to-fund research such that you do not have alternate funding sources? Will the waived costs go to increase student support?

    These factors favor you much more solidly than “PR,” which does not actually make your project unique or give it a good argument for special treatment.

    Note that a justification of why YOU should get special treatment while OTHERS should not is priority #1 in your explanation.

  45. Indyanna on 08 Feb 2011 at 11:59 am #

    Dear Fellow Humanists:

    Here’s an example from the latest weekly “flyE-r” we get from the Graduate School and Research grants office about an exciting opportunity of “possible interest to humanities faculty.” Viz:

    TITLE:
    Reduction of Vulnerability to Coastal Natural Hazards in Asia
    FON:
    APS-OFDA-11-000001
    AGENCY:
    U.S. Agency for International Development; Bureau for Democracy,
    Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance; Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster
    Assistance
    ITEM:
    Notice seeking applications proposing disaster risk reduction programs
    to increase resilience to coastal hazards and strengthen a culture of
    DRR among the most vulnerable coastal communities in Asia.
    ACTION:
    Applications are due by March 7, 2011. Approximately $3.75 million is
    available to support multiple awards. Colleges and universities are
    eligible to apply. USG and USAID regulations generally treat colleges
    and universities as Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO).
    LINKS:
    Grants.gov notice
    http://www07.grants.gov/search/search.do?mode=VIEW&oppId=66614
    CONTACT:
    E-

    Anyone want to jump-start a blog-wide collaborative
    E-nitiative to try to throw a coastal protection program with an emphasis on resiliency-inducing factors together in, say about 27 days? This is one of only five things in this week’s net, and far from the most abstruse. For this kind of “service” and attention to the special needs and characteristics of our disciplines we should be paying “overhead?”

  46. That's Grantastic! on 08 Feb 2011 at 3:26 pm #

    Man, that looks like a dumb email. Good thing that (according to your posts) you are not in fact HAVING to pay overhead. Somebody else subsidizes it! ;)

    I’m curious — what is the exact nature of your beef with the system? That your grants people suck? Okay. Well, you could demand better service from them, but it’s hard to do that when you keep your “scholarly stuff off-site and out of channel.” Bit of a chicken/egg problem.

    I don’t even understand how you do that. Are you at a community college or SLAC or regional U? An adjunct? I am just so baffled by the positions you are taking here — for instance, the idea that you are somehow only contractually bound to teach courses (though you a) recognize there are still 3 “legs” on the institutional stool; b) do perform scholarly stuff; c) do have a grants office at your institution — so, the idea that you’re budgeted as 100% instruction just doesn’t seem to figure).

  47. That's Grantastic! on 08 Feb 2011 at 4:09 pm #

    Sorry for previous, personalized-question post. Apparently that wedgie is back.

    Here, I will try to explain what that last question reads like to me:

    For this kind of “service” and attention to the special needs and characteristics of our disciplines we should be paying “overhead?”

    Rhetoric that makes *just as much logical sense* as what you wrote…

    Here is an email I just got about some university researcher who is being paid to do something I consider stupid or wasteful. For this kind of “service” I should be paying “taxes”?

    Here is an email from my departmental administrator saying that s/he royally screwed up and did not submit my personnel forms, so Payroll won’t be depositing my money this month. For this kind of “service” I should pay overhead on my research grant?

    The contractors tearing up the sidewalk outside my building haven’t put down any plywood to walk on, and the whole area has been muddy, snowy, and handicapped inaccessible for a week and a half now. For this kind of “service” I should pay overhead on my research grant?

    Every time I go to use the bathroom before class, every last toilet is plugged. Either the custodians don’t feel like keeping it clean or the facilities are rotting from the plumbing up. For this kind of “facility” I should pay tuition dollars?”

    Other “Bad Things Happening At My University” are discussed by blaming a specific person or a policy or structure, not the effing funding source (everything there comes from tuition, research overhead, or taxes! Everything!)

    But woe be unto you, research tax collectors, lest you behave like every other unit and perform imperfectly or bureaucratically or with less customer service than someone expects, as (unlike Physical Plant or Libraries) it will be presumed that you are simultaneously stealing – yes, STEALING – 50 cents on every dollar that should rightfully flow to some individual faculty member’s discretion…

  48. That's Grantastic! on 08 Feb 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    (Sorry, EVERYTHING doesn’t come from tax/tuition/research. There’s also, allegedly, the Charitable Funding Set…but in this economy the endowment really isn’t paying for much unless you’re at a top school.)

  49. That's Grantastic! on 08 Feb 2011 at 4:17 pm #

    I’m sure SOME people respond to a horrific photo of maimed child in Iraq by flashing back to their 1040.

    But fortunately, most folks are more sophisticated thinkers than the Tea Party, and are able to verbalize the things they don’t like with more specificity than “Taxes: They Pay For Stuff I Don’t Like.”

  50. Indyanna on 15 Feb 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    Before this post falls onto Page Two, I wanted to supply an update on the LATEST posting classified under “Grants of Interest to Humanists” by our Office of Share The Wealth:
    ========================

    TITLE:
    Reducing Mercury Use and Release in Francophone West Africa Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining

    FON:
    S-OES-11-RFA-0002

    AGENCY:
    U.S. Department of State; Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, (OES) Office of Environmental Policy

    ITEM:
    Notice seeking applications to stimulate actions that will lead to a higher awareness of mercury issues among stakeholders and the sustained reduction of mercury use and release in the ASGM sector.

    ACTION:
    Applications are due March 21,2011. Approximately $198,000 in funding is available to support one award. Colleges and universities are eligible to apply

    ########################

    I guess the fact that we’re “stakeholders” gives us some basis for having something to say here.

  51. Indyanna on 23 Feb 2011 at 10:44 am #

    Here’s the latest “Hot Funding Opportunity for you History and English Types” offering from our Office of Pre-Award and Post-Award Process, under “Humanities”:

    =====================

    TITLE:Georgia Tuberculosis Prevention Project

    FON:
    RFA-114-11-000001
    AGENCY:
    U.S. Agency for International Development, Georgia USAID-Tbilisi Office
    ITEM:
    Notice seeking proposals that focus on the areas in which USAID’s funds will have the most
    impact for not only controlling but also reducing the number of TB cases in Georgia: provide
    training and increase awareness of general medical practitioners to recognize the symptoms of
    TB; provide technical training and monitoring of Direct Observation Treatment Strategy (DOTS)
    clinics across the country rather than focusing on several geographic areas; and provide
    physical rehabilitation of selected TB outpatient clinics nationwide. ACTION:
    Applications are due February 5, 2011. A total of $4.45 million is available to fund one
    cooperative agreement. Colleges and universities are eligible to apply.

    =================

    Whoops, the applications are (sic) due earlier this month. I guess we’ll have to recruit a time travel stakeholder to have a chance for this one…

  52. Indyanna on 02 Mar 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    Another hot funding opportunity, just listed under the “Humanities” category by our grants office, for us smallholder-humanist practitioners who may be running up against tight tenure or promotion deadlines….

    ==================================
    TITLE:
    Air Quality Technical Management Assistance for Indonesia
    FON:
    EPA-OITA-2011-001
    AGENCY:
    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Office of International and Tribal Affairs
    ITEM:
    Notice seeking proposals to provide assistance in developing and implementing air quality management programs in Indonesia. The overall objective is to improve urban air quality
    management in Jakarta, Indonesia and engage in capacity building with air quality officials in
    the City of Jakarta as well as other key Indonesian stakeholders. Proposals for should focus on
    providing expert technical assistance, equipment, project management and logistics,
    coordination of key stakeholders, and development of workshops and training designed for
    Indonesia.
    ACTION:
    Proposals are due by April 15, 2011. $250,000 a year is available for five years for one award.
    Colleges and universities are eligible to apply.
    LINKS:
    Solicitation http://www.epa.gov/international/grants/indonesiaair.pdf, Grants.gov notice
    http://www07.grants.gov/search/search.do;jsessionid=4GJQNkQGnpZT4hpHxGjNVkyb9QG1Lw
    0pKHvKrGZ4ryhlhDQJTJTD!375102673?oppId=73133&mode=VIEW
    CONTACT:
    Katherine Buckley, 202/564-6426. E-mail: buckley.katherine@epa.gov.
    ================================

    May be tough to do this AND e-file with Turbotax on the same day, though…

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