University research centers and the composition of academic work
Boardman, Paul Craig
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The purpose of this study is to assess the extent to which affiliation with a university research center affects how university scientists allocate their work time across their many academic tasks and responsibilities, including research, teaching, student advising, grants and contracts work, and service and committee duties. The key proposition is that institutional variation across university research centers can affect greatly how center affiliated university scientists allocate their work time insofar as some center level characteristics are more conducive than are others to role strain, which is the structural circumstance (Merton 1957) wherein an individual is beholden to center and departments norms and expectations that are divergent. The concept of role strain befits analysis of the impact of center affiliation on university scientists time allocations insofar as it provides a structural framework with which to characterize the time constraints that center scientists face as a result of being dually obligated to a center and an academic department. Moreover, study at the organizational level of analysis emphasizes competition and even conflict between university research centers and academic departments over the scarce resource of faculty time (Geiger 1990, Stahler and Tash 1994, Mallon 2004). This study uses data from a national survey of university scientists as well as data from interviews with university scientists who affiliate with National Science Foundation Engineering Research Centers or Science and Technology Centers. Survey results demonstrate that a centers size, multidisciplinarity, organization within the university, programmatic ties, and external relations increase the time allocated to research, grants and contracts work, and service and committee duties. These findings constitute objective evidence of center induced role strain (Pandey and Kumar 1997, Rizzo et al. 1970) insofar as they identify components of center scientists work environments suggestive of center and department norms and expectations being divergent and even conflicting. Interview results demonstrate similarly that when a center has no ties to an academic department and when its research focus is applied or commercially relevant, workload increases. These findings constitute subjective evidence of center induced role strain (Pandey and Kumar 1997, Kahn et al. 1964) insofar as it is the center scientists themselves observing these divergent norms and expectations. Implications for policy and theory are discussed.