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Centers & Institutes

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Centers & Institutes

Organized scholarship units - structured organizations that perform research, education, outreach, and creative activity exclusive of academic departments - are important components of the university scholarship enterprise because they are of sufficient size, duration, administrative organization, and scope to address intellectual or creative challenges that lie beyond what can be achieved by other means. Such units have special value within academia because they can drive fundamental change in research and education, build collaboration across fields and institutions, involve industry and government in creative ways, stimulate new modalities of academic administration, help create new facilities and instrumentation, and frequently lead to spin-off technologies and companies. Furthermore, they tend to be exceptionally important in both faculty and student recruiting and can help build prestige for the university both nationally and internationally.

OU subscribes to the philosophy that faculty should be given a free hand in proposing appropriate organizational structures to maximize their likelihood for success in scholarly endeavors. It also recognizes that effective practical implementation of this philosophy requires strategic planning, meaningful guidance and its effective communication, and appropriate oversight to maximize the use and impact of available resources as well as ensure accountability. Consequently, the university's policy on organized scholarship units attempts to balance flexibility with accountability and is formulated around the following guiding principles:

  • Faculty members are best suited to defining the nature and administration of organized units for conducting their scholarship.
  • Organized scholarship units should not be created indiscriminately but should have a purpose and operating structure that clearly leads to measurable outcomes in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
  • Periodic merit review is essential for maintaining high quality in scholarship and ensuring wise investment of university resources. It should be conducted in a manner that extracts the needed information with minimal disruption to the organization being reviewed.
  • University support for organized scholarship units should be balanced with its support for other modes of research and creative activity, especially individual investigators and early-career faculty.

Organized scholarship units typically carry the title "center," "institute," and "laboratory," though such terms have a wide range of interpretation even within a given institution, and thus can be confusing. Shown below are general notions of how these terms are applied in academia. At The University of Oklahoma, faculty are free to use whatever terminology they feel is most appropriate, though in some cases, e.g., a consortium or survey, the choice is prescribed by legislation or other policies.

Center - An organized, typically though not necessarily multi-disciplinary, entity that may or may not constitute a formal budget unit. Centers undertake research and creative activity, perform service, and/or enhance education in ways that otherwise could not be achieved. Centers typically do not offer degrees or credit courses and should not duplicate or compete with existing programs, serving rather a complementary role to enhance the mission of the university. Although centers may have their own administrative and technical support staffs, they typically are linked to or reside within one to several organizations such as departments, schools, and colleges. In special circumstances, a center may be the name of a building, e.g., Stephenson Research and Technology Center and Sarkeys Energy Center, which itself may administratively house other organizations. Still other centers comprise faculty from multiple departments, schools, and colleges, within none of which the faculty may be said to "reside" entirely.

Institute - Generally synonymous with a center, but at many universities, institutes are parallel to departments or schools, having their own faculty lines and tenure procedures that complement those in academic programs and containing within them centers, facilities, and laboratories. Institutes also can offer degrees and credit courses either by themselves or in collaboration with academic programs. Some institutes, e.g., the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies and the Carl Albert Center, are formal programs and in such cases, the terminology should be maintained. The term institute also can refer to short-duration programs on specialized topics offered for credit.

Consortium - Typically a group of individual, private, or other non-federal, non-state entities which pool their financial resources to support a specific research program or set of programs that seek a common goal. In return, the consortium members often receive first access to research outcomes and intellectual property and other benefits.

Survey - An organization that typically serves a dual role as a university research and/or service unit as well as a state agency. Surveys often are created by enabling legislation, receive base funding from the state, and operate under specific guidelines for performance, review, and continuation.

Laboratory or Group - A formal or informal organization designed to support scholarship and creative activity, education, technology transfer, and/or service in one or more disciplines through the provision of equipment, personnel, and related infrastructure. Laboratories/groups can range from those operated by one or more faculty to a much broader facility that engages private industry and multiple disciplines.

Facility or Resource - A typically informal or generic, all-encompassing designation for any unit, i.e., center, institute, consortium, survey, laboratory, group, that provides resources to a broad range of interests. A Core Facility or Resource is one viewed by the OU Vice President for Research and Partnerships as core to the university's mission and typically receives central funds, e.g., the Radar Innovations Laboratory and Crustal Imaging Facility.

To maximize flexibility while ensuring clarity of structure and process, The University of Oklahoma defines two types of organized scholarship units. This terminology is applied to all such units regardless of their designation as a center, institute, consortium, etc. The classification is determined by the Vice President for Research and Partnerships in consultation with other university leaders.

University Strategic Organizations

University Strategic Organizations (USO) typically are established units involving multiple disciplines, as well as mature linkages with industry and government, that represent core strategic activities of the university. Like CDO below, USO are expected to promote the incubation of creative ideas and innovative/disruptive technologies, though within a somewhat more mature, structured framework and mission directly aligned with university and/or state strategic research directions. Owing to their strategic importance, USO receive a portion of their funding as ongoing base support from the central administration, though in most cases the majority of funding will come from external sources. The designation "USO" replaces the former terminology "approved center."

College-Departmental Organizations

College-Departmental Organizations (CDO) are created solely at the discretion of one or more departments, schools, colleges, and/or other existing organizations and are supported principally by funds from those organizations and perhaps by organizations external to the university. CDO are the principal though not exclusive mechanism by which the early stages of non-traditional, creative activities of imaginative people are encouraged and accommodated. Sometimes referred to as "skunk works" in the business literature, such activities tend to be transformative in character because of their inherent flexibility. The establishment, naming, administration, review, and continuation of CDO rest entirely with the funding organizations.

The administration of organized scholarship units is a vital component of their overall operation. The following is provided as general guidance.

Administrative home unit - Organized scholarship units may be linked programmatically to one or more departments, schools, colleges, or other units. Consequently, defining a single home unit for administrative purposes can be problematic and even inhibit the activities of the organization. Thus, care should be taken in specifying administrative structure and organization alignments. In most cases, a decentralized structure, i.e., not reporting directly to a vice president, is preferred to ensure strong linkages between the organization and the academic enterprise.

Leadership - The administrative framework of the organization should be structured so as to maximize overall effectiveness, quality, value, contribution to stated goals, communication, and congruence with state, university, college, and/or departmental goals, as appropriate. The leadership may involve one or more directors, e.g., director, co-directors, directors having oversight over specific areas such as research, education, outreach, and normally those most senior will be regular faculty of the university. These individuals collectively provide overall intellectual leadership and ultimately are responsible for the success of the organization. Ideally, the success of an organization will not be overly dependent upon the capabilities of a single leader, thus promoting the development of new leaders for effective continuity during absences, e.g., sabbaticals, as well as succession planning. Working with other university leaders and external advisors, as appropriate, the organization leadership sets overall strategic vision, is responsible for funding, review, and maintenance of an effective administrative structure, and is the primary point of contact for reporting. Although some portion of the leaders' time may be budgeted in the organization, part of their responsibilities should include formal instruction in order to ensure regular contact with the program in which tenure resides. In some cases, organization leaders may receive an administrative supplement for serving in a defined role. In all cases, such individuals should be evaluated according to department and college procedures per the Faculty Handbook.

Faculty and staff alignments with scholarship units - Alignments by faculty and staff with organized scholarship units, other than those holding administrative appointments, may be formal or informal and are left to the discretion of organization leaders and appropriate academic administrators unless otherwise specified by the Vice President for Research or Provost. Salary lines for non-administrative faculty aligned with centers, institutes, and consortia might reside partly within the organization or remain entirely within their home academic unit.

University Strategic Organizations (USO) typically begin on July 1 and are five years in duration, with an annual funding rate of $150,000 per year based on the availability of funding and pending satisfactory annual reviews.

Reporting & Review

Time line for USO Reporting and Review

Annual Profile

USO are required to submit to the Office of the Vice President for Research and Partnerships a one-page (two-sided) Annual Profile summary of activities using a standard template provided. This information must be submitted by March 1 for the previous calendar year's activities, unless otherwise approved, and is used to maintain a working portfolio of university capabilities for both internal and external use.

Annual Review

USO are required to participate in an annual review, essential for maintaining high quality in scholarship and ensuring wise investment of resources. The review process includes a presentation covering the following: center membership, governance, and evaluation; budget; center productivity; interactions and outreach; undergraduate and graduate program involvement; aspirations and future goals; and challenges and assistance needs. Reviews are scheduled in March/April and are conducted by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Partnerships.

Proposal Renewals

If appropriate, USO proposal renewals are submitted to the Office of the Vice President for Research and Partnerships in September of the last year of USO funding (Year 5). Decisions are made the following spring.

Because USOs represent a strategic investment by the university, they are subject to a formal planning, approval, and review process, typically on an annual cycle with the proposal due early in the calendar year. However, under special circumstances, a USO proposal may be submitted off-cycle with permission from the Norman campus Vice President for Research and Partnerships.


Any non-academic unit or informally organized activity is eligible to apply for USO classification. As noted previously, however, organizations so classified typically will have been longstanding entities that reflect core strategic directions of the university. New or existing organizations created by statute (e.g., state or national surveys) are considered strategic to the university and receive USO designation automatically from the Vice President for Research and Partnerships. However, their funding and governance follows the policies and laws associated with their creation and thus, such organizations generally are not eligible for USO ongoing base support.

Proposal Preparation

To apply for USO designation, a proposal (maximum of 10 single-spaced pages excluding biographical sketches) containing all of the following must be submitted to the Norman campus Vice President for Research and Partnerships by the date specified in the solicitation:

  • Mission and Rationale (up to 1 page). Describe the mission/vision of the organization including a discussion of why the organization is necessary, how it proposes to accomplish work that otherwise would not be possible, how it will interact, as appropriate, with other organizations both internal and external to the university, and how it differs from and/or is complementary to other organizations locally and nationally.
  • Congruence with University Strategic Goals (up to 1 page). Describe the congruence of the proposed USO with university strategic goals as well as the expected value added to the local scholarship enterprise. This section also should address, if appropriate, congruence with state and national goals.
  • Program of Research (up to 2 pages). Present a strategic plan of research including specific objectives, milestones, and priorities/phases as appropriate, along with expected outcomes. Of particular significance is the manner in which the research plan builds upon or enforces strategic research directions of the university.
  • Leadership and Governance (up to 1 page). Describe the proposed governance model to be used, qualifications of leaders and other participants, programmatic linkages to departments, schools, colleges, or other units, split appointments, etc. Also, discuss proposed membership of the Advisory Committee (see §7.3).
  • Special Requirements (up to 1 page). Discuss any special requirements associated with the proposed USO including space, required renovation, equipment, transportation, hazardous materials, supercomputing and data, etc. If organization needs cannot be met by existing resources, a justification for those proposed must be provided in the Financial Plan.
  • Financial Plan (up to 2 pages). Present a business plan for the first three years including anticipated funding sources and amounts, planned expenditures, leveraging or cost sharing, personnel costs, etc. For years four and five, present only a summary of anticipated needs and expenditures. Base funding requested from the university can be used for anything deemed necessary, but this use must be justified and weighed against other sources.
  • Metrics for Assessing Outcomes and Impacts (up to 1 page). Provide a set of metrics, both qualitative and quantitative, by which the proposed USO wishes would be evaluated as part of the formal review process (see §9). Possibilities include but are not limited to the following:
    • Number and quality of refereed publications
    • Number of external, peer-reviewed grants (research, teaching, training) and/or Congressional initiatives
    • Number of large interdisciplinary grants
    • Funding from or meaningful linkages with private industry, private foundations, or other non-government organizations, foreign and domestic
    • Collaborations with individuals from other institutions
    • Juried creative endeavor
    • Licenses, disclosures, patents, number of degrees produced
    • Impact on diversity enhancement and workforce development
    • Creation of new initiatives and areas of scholarship
    • National and international partnerships
    • Public education programs
    • Major conferences initiated or managed
    • Number of invited talks nationally and internationally
    • Extension of scholarship to undergraduate and K-12 levels
    • Healthy/effective linkages with related academic programs
    • Healthy/effective linkages with other USOs
    • Healthy/effective linkages with relevant state and federal agencies
    • External collaborators and extended visitors
    • Assistance/mentoring given to students and early-career faculty

Most importantly, the metrics should establish that the activities of the USO and its benefits to the university could not be achieved in its absence.

  • Broader Impacts (up to 1 page). Describe potential broader impacts of the proposed activity beyond core scholarship goals. Possible items to consider are broadening the participation of traditionally underrepresented groups, linking traditionally disparate disciplines, linking government/academia/industry, enhancing infrastructure for scholarship and instruction, stimulating economic development, improving quality of life, enhancing Oklahoma's or the nation's overall competitiveness, and workforce development.
  • Biographical Sketches (pages as needed). Include biographical sketches of key personnel as appropriate (2 pages per person).

Advisory Committee

Each USO is required to have an Advisory Committee, chaired by someone external to the USO, which meets at least once per year and participates in strategic planning, budgetary evaluation, and assessment of overall organizational effectiveness. Composed predominantly of regular faculty who are not formally aligned with the organization but whose expertise is deemed relevant to center foci, the committee ideally should include external members as well, with all costs of such participation paid by the USO. The Advisory Committee is expected to play a key role in major center evaluations.

Proposal Submission and Review

The proposal is to be submitted electronically via instructions provided in the program announcement. The proposal will be reviewed by the cognizant dean(s), Vice President for Research and Partnerships, Provost, and Research Cabinet, with peer experts consulted as appropriate. The Vice President for Research and Partnerships and Provost have authority for approving the proposal, which then is forwarded to the President for final approval and subsequently provided as an information item to the Board of Regents. In accordance with university policies on the appointment of administrative personnel and title changes, the appointment of a director and other administrative personnel must be submitted to the Board of Regents for approval.

Review Criteria and Notification

Proposals will be evaluated based upon the following criteria, listed in arbitrary order:

  • Technical and/or creative merit of the activities proposed
  • Rationale and necessity of the organization for achieving stated goals
  • Congruence with university strategic goals and potential for enhancing the scholarship enterprise
  • Viability of the proposed governance model and qualifications of the leadership team
  • Nature and value of existing or proposed linkages with other organizations
  • Soundness of the financial plan and rationale for support requested
  • Potential for fiscal and programmatic sustainability
  • Likelihood of success in making meaningful impacts beyond the scholarship being proposed

Proposal review may require three to four months depending upon a number of factors (e.g., time of year, degree to which external advice is sought). The principal investigator will be notified once a decision has been made and will be provided with a written summary of reviewer comments. Re-submission is possible in the event of declination, and the revised proposal should address all points made in the previous review.


University Strategic Organizations (USO)

University Strategic Organizations are organized scholarship units involving multiple disciplines, as well as mature linkages with industry and government, that represent core strategic activities of the university. USO are expected to promote the incubation of creative ideas and innovative/disruptive technologies within a mature, structured framework and mission directly aligned with university and/or state strategic research directions. Owing to their strategic importance, USO receive a portion of their funding as ongoing base support from the Office of the Vice President for Research and Partnerships, though in all cases the majority of funding will come from external sources. Any non-academic unit or informally organized activity is eligible to apply for USO classification. However, those having the greatest likelihood of selection are longstanding entities that reflect core strategic directions of the university.                

University Strategic Organizations