Research at Kansas University's Lawrence campus is done under the umbrella of the KU Center for Research. At the medical center, it's done under the umbrella of the KU Medical Center Research Institute.
Those two organizations, set up as affiliated corporations, coordinate on-campus research and manage construction projects and infrastructure maintenance for areas of campus dedicated to research. On the Lawrence campus, that includes the new Multidisciplinary Research Building, the Structural Biology Center and other buildings primarily on West Campus. At KUMC, the new Structural Biology Center is a major building managed by the research institute.
Roughly $290 million was spent on research on both campuses last year. In addition to managing the construction projects, the research corporations are often responsible for funding construction, often through bonds.
KUCR has $92.3 million in outstanding bonds, primarily for the Multidisciplinary Research Building and phase three of the Structural Biology Center. Phase four is being funded through the Kansas Bioscience Authority. The existing bonds will be paid off by 2026.
All told, the budget for KUCR this year is $24.4 million, up from $22.3 million spent last year and $23.2 million spent in 2006. That budget includes money for overhead from research grants as well as state appropriations.
This time last year, Kansas University's research operations were behind budget for income, just as they were trying to fill a new research facility on West Campus.
By July, the KU Center for Research's leader had stepped down and the graduate school had been combined with the research division under the leadership of interim Vice Provost Steve Warren. But after a year of changes and adjustments, the research efforts on the Lawrence campus appear to be rebounding.
"This year is going just fine, as we're going to either hit our budget or modestly exceed it," said Warren, who was named vice provost for research and graduate studies earlier this year. "We are now in a stable situation."
That's opposed to last year, when the center for research was still using a funding model that anticipated growth in federal research funding. In reality, Warren said, federal funding had stagnated since 2003, when the Iraq war started.
In terms of real dollars, or how much that money can buy, funding had decreased. Federal grants include a portion that is to be kept by the institution to cover overhead so that when federal funding stagnates, budgets at universities can take an immediate hit.
Last year, KU took in $2 million less than what it expected in research overheads. For the 2008 budget year, KU is anticipating taking in about $20 million in overhead expenses from research activities, about the same as was budgeted.
"The worst thing you can do when research dollars dry up is just stop," Warren said.
At KU, the Multidisciplinary Research Building is now meeting its overhead targets, which help pay bonds on the building, and Warren said the slowdown won't halt KU's plans to expand research facilities on West Campus.
At KU Medical Center, the KU Medical Center Research Institute hasn't had to deal with declining funds. In fact, despite no growth in federal spending, the medical center has seen its research dollars increase, said Paul Terranova, senior associate dean for research and graduate education and head of the research institute.
"Our research grant portfolio has increased by 17 percent each year for two years running," Terranova said. "Even with the flattening of the budget, our research budget has increased slightly."
Terranova said three significant factors contributed to the medical center's ability to weather the downturn and grow its research portfolio: One, the medical center has hired a number of new faculty, so more people are applying for grants; Two, the center has received a number of large grants; And three, it has organized its research by area of the body, rather than by academic department.
"What happens when you put these individuals together, like the neuroscience group, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts," Terranova said. "They talk to each other. They stimulate ideas. Great ideas and grant applications as a result usually end up being accepted."
The medical center has added nearly 200 faculty since 2003.
Both Warren and Terranova emphasized that while KU has always been involved with research, it wasn't until recently that it became a major mission of the university. The KU Center for Research was created a decade ago, Warren said, and Terranova mentioned the blue ribbon Time to Get it Right in 2005 as when the research emphasis became paramount at the medical center.
As research becomes more important, leaders on both campuses are hoping to turn their innovation into useful technology and, consequently, dollars.
Earlier this month, the university announced the technology transfer offices on both campuses would combine under the leadership of Jim Baxendale. KU research spokesman Kevin Boatright said the combination reflects that more research is done across disciplines and campuses.
"The elimination of duplication was really the driving force," Boatright said. "This will make an easier, smoother process for faculty who are inventing medical devices, treatments and procedures of any kind. It will make it simpler for them to do research and easier for companies to work with the university."
The new office will report jointly to Warren and Terranova, as well as a 13-member board chaired by KU Provost Richard Lariviere.
Lariviere has made the renewed emphasis on research a priority of his since arriving at KU in 2006.