At the final faculty meeting of the semester Tuesday, Professor of Biology Sohini Ramachandran, director of the Data Science Initiative, gave a presentation summarizing the initiative’s proposal to form a Data Science Institute at the University. Faculty members will vote on whether they support establishing the new institute at the next faculty meeting in February.
The current initiative focuses “on the development of computation and statistical methods of analyzing complex and heterogeneous data,” according to Ramachandran’s presentation.
While traditionally quantitative disciplines are the core partners to data science — applied mathematics, biostatistics, computer science, economics and computational molecular biology — Ramachandran believes that “the scale of available data is influencing research in every discipline,” from engineering to the humanities.
“When we look ahead at Brown, we see data science as a new transdisciplinary research enterprise … (that) will lead us to unforeseen breakthroughs,” she said.
The initiative has been developing the institute’s proposal over the last 18 months. A draft proposal was submitted to the Academic Priorities Committee, which oversees the University’s academic programs and makes recommendations to President Christina Paxson P’19 about the distribution of resources in support of education and research, according to the APC website. The final proposal was approved in November.
The Data Science Institute will establish expanded support for postdoctoral fellows, long-term partnerships to bring data science projects to campus, professional development for students seeking opportunities in data science work as well as seed awards, which the initiative plans to begin next semester.
The initiative has laid the groundwork for much of the proposed institute’s work, according to Ramachandran. Currently, the initiative houses the undergraduate certificate in data fluency, which has 54 active certificate declarations, she said. The initiative will also host an event with Mona Chalabi, a data journalist, next semester.
Through the initiative's work, Ramachandran said that she has noticed an “enthusiastic interest across a range of disciplines in both engaging in data science research and incorporating data influence and critical data studies into more and more courses across campus.”
“What I think is achievable with a Data Science Institute is a different picture of how data can influence our research,” she added. “It’s one where we look at our universe, our world and the societies and organisms that are in it through a lens together.”
External assessment of research administration
Provost Richard Locke P’18 presented findings from an external assessment of the University’s research administration conducted by the Huron Consulting Group, “a global professional services firm that collaborates with clients” to create effective operating strategies, according to its website.
The goal of the assessment was to “evaluate research administration across the University and recommend changes to support the goal of doubling in five to seven years,” according to Locke’s presentation.
Following its assessment, Huron found gaps in the systems used by the University to manage its research — including its pre-award and post-award processes — and a lack of communication between the various systems. Locke’s presentation also cited Huron’s findings of staffing challenges in grant writing and post-award management, as well as the need to engage in better training for staff members.
Faculty also cited the need for better proposal development support, staff support for award administration and guidance with difficulties dealing with purchasing processes, according to Locke’s presentation.
To account for these gaps in the University’s research enterprise, Huron recommended that the University “upgrade (its) research administration systems as soon as possible, hire staff in targeted research administration functions, develop standard procedures and training for research administrators across campus … (and) establish clearer connections,” among other recommendations.
In the spring, Paxson, incoming Interim Provost Larry Larson and several academic deans and faculty members across the University will work to develop an operational plan for implementing Huron’s recommendations.
Paxson assured that Huron’s recommendations remain consistent with the University’s previously announced goal to integrate its biomedical and health sciences research with its health system partners, Lifespan and Care New England.
Faculty Executive Committee Report
Kenneth Wong, professor of education policy and chair of the Faculty Executive Committee, discussed the FEC’s efforts to clarify the timeline for final faculty grade submissions and plans to facilitate faculty community-building with Mary Jo Callan, vice president for community engagement, and the Office of the Provost.
The FEC is also working on a draft proposal to permanently extend the faculty’s winter break to Jan. 9, 2023, after its initial implementation during the 2022-23 academic year.
Diane Lipscombe, professor of neuroscience, gave an update on behalf of the Task Force on the Status of Women Faculty.
After a year of gathering both “qualitative and quantitative data” from faculty members, the task force found concerns related to family care, pay equity, tenure and promotion, hiring practices and more, Lipscombe said. The task force will submit its final report to the Office of the President and Office of the Provost next semester.
In her monthly President’s report, Paxson discussed the University’s fiscal year 2021-2022 Annual Financial Report.
According to Paxson, the University closed FY22 with “continued strong financial health,” featuring a budget surplus of $49.5 million and a -4.6% endowment return rate, The Herald previously reported.
Throughout FY22, the University enhanced its financial aid for low- and middle-income students, succeeded in fundraising for international students and advanced DIAP goals for diversifying faculty, Paxson explained.
The University will pay “close attention to inflation trends over the next several months,” Paxson said, with the ultimate goal of achieving a balanced budget each year, maintaining a “reasonable” endowment draw and keeping manageable debt levels.
The meeting also featured moments of silence for the passing of Donald Blough, professor emeritus of psychology, and Ferdinand Jones, professor emeritus of psychology.
Alex Nadirashvili is the managing editor of multimedia and social media for The Brown Daily Herald's 133rd Editorial Board. As a former University News editor, he covered faculty, higher education and student life, though his proudest legacy is The Brown Daily Herald TikTok account.