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UIF (University Initiative Fund) UIF Article Archive

A Letter From the President to the University Community

June 3, 1997

Dear Colleagues:

It is my great pleasure to announce the first round of awards from the University Initiatives Fund (UIF). Provost Lee L. Huntsman and his advisory committee have recommended, and I have approved, UIF funding for six academic and two support-services proposals.

You will be struck at once, as you read the adjoining list, by the strongly interdisciplinary character of these proposals. This is not an accident, of course. In announcing the UIF almost eighteen months ago, and again in formally inviting proposals last August, we stressed that one purpose of the fund was to "address programmatic needs that stretch across several schools, colleges, and departments." We all know that intellectual and educational frontiers today tend to be at the intersections of disciplines; we also know that traditional academic structures can make it difficult to work at these frontiers. The UIF was meant, in part, to give special encouragement to that kind of work, as one way of blazing a trail to the future.

Clearly, that's happening. The proposals we received reveal an exciting richness and depth of interdisciplinary thinking on this campus. I believe the UIF has played a valuable role--arguably its most valuable role--in serving as a catalyst for this kind of thinking. Even ideas we were unable to fund through the UIF will help move us toward a more cross-disciplinary future.

These proposals also stretch across all the University's missions. Almost every project will simultaneously strengthen our undergraduate and graduate education, extend the reach of our research, and give us new approaches to public service. Here, too, the theme is integration--building programs in which our multiple missions nourish one another.

But there are other stories here as well. The UIF was conceived as a strategic tool, a means of guiding our evolution even as our resources shrink. What sort of future do these proposals foretell? Let me point out a few common themes by looking at the individual proposals where each is most evident.

The humanities project signals our commitment to strengthening the vital core of traditional learning. It reflects the current excitement--some would say ferment--felt across the humanities disciplines. The new programs envisioned by the Center for the Humanities, with broad participation from departments in the College of Arts and Sciences, will serve to infuse the curriculum with this excitement and to communicate it to the broader public.

The Center for Nanotechnology exemplifies another goal: positioning the UW as a national leader in emerging fields. Nanotechnology will invent the tools of the future, from tiny machines, motors, and sensors to new drug delivery systems. The new UW center, a brilliantly innovative marriage of physical sciences, life sciences, and engineering, will put UW teaching and research at the cutting edge of this developing field.

Innovations that capitalize on existing UW strengths pervade these proposals; two projects are especially good illustrations. The new undergraduate program in neurobiology will extend the UW's extraordinary talent in this field, drawn from both the School of Medicine and the College of Arts and Sciences, into a broad-based curriculum for undergraduates. The health sciences proposal for interdisciplinary partnerships in clinical education, led by our top-ranked nursing school, is a pilot project to develop the kind of team-oriented training essential to health-care practice in the future. It will build on our across-the-board strength in the health sciences and on Harborview's expertise in dealing with special patient populations.

We also sought initiatives that addressed significant public issues of our time and region, in keeping with our mission to serve the broader community. The knotty questions raised by advances in genetics are certainly among those issues; they will be at the center of a wide-ranging proposal from the School of Public Health. And the Puget Sound Regional Synthesis Model--perhaps the most daring, ambitious, creative, and risky of these proposals--will study and teach the interaction of human society and the natural environment in this region. With its high-tech "Virtual Puget Sound" drawing on disciplines from all around the campus, and its plans to bring academic and public communities into joint consideration of regional agendas, this proposal promises to have a major impact both on and off campus.

These six successful academic proposals show an undeniable tilt toward UW units that have historically been good at winning competitive grants--the sciences and health sciences and engineering. This was not our intent, though perhaps we should not be surprised. I am pleased, however, that as a group these proposals invest at least as heavily in teaching as in research; and that such units as law, public affairs, and education have important roles in two of the five science/technology proposals.

Still, we need to work harder, next time around, to make the UIF process more inviting to units from which we had few proposals this time, such as the arts and the smaller professional schools. This will mean offering help and support to disciplines that are less accustomed to the competitive-grant process, or perhaps less well suited to the prevailing interdisciplinary model. I would welcome your ideas about how best to do this.

In fact, I intend to begin a campus-wide conversation about how to make the UIF process better. The results of this first round were outstanding, but the UIF is so important to the University's future that we must scrutinize the process carefully and make sure it is as good as it can possibly be.

The UIF guidelines specify that since administrative units collectively provide one-third of the dollars contributed to the fund, they should as a group get at least half of that amount back in funded proposals. Both of the successful support-services proposals from this round bring broad benefits to the campus as a whole. The Minority Affairs project is centered on undergraduate service learning and will strengthen the UW’s ties with communities and K-12 schools. The Executive Vice President’s innovative plan to streamline procedures for payroll, personnel, grants and contracts, travel, and purchasing will improve productivity--and reduce stress--for every unit on campus. Using Web-based technologies for this purpose is a brilliant idea that will save the institution millions of dollars.

You may be wondering by now why there are no price tags attached to these proposals. The answer is that the selection process turned out to be unexpectedly complex and indeed is not yet finished.

Provost Huntsman, who took charge of the UIF process when it was already under way, had the imagination to see that an all-or-nothing response to each proposal would not necessarily be in our collective best interests. Trying to capture both the best and the most of the new ideas, he went back to deans and originating faculty with proposals for modifying, combining, economizing, finding other funds, and so on. In the end, not a single proposal was approved exactly as it was submitted, and because some negotiations are still ongoing, the levels of funding are not yet finally fixed. Once they are determined they will be publicly announced.

In this interactive process, by the way, some very appealing projects were found to be candidates for other kinds of funding. These proposals do not appear on the adjoining list, but they are among the new and creative things that will be happening at the UW as a direct result of the UIF.

As the original guidelines allowed, we are reserving some of the 1997-99 funding for a second round of proposals, with timing not yet determined. We will first be providing critiques of proposals, based on the committee's deliberations, to all the finalists in this round. We will also, as I noted above, review the process with faculty and deans and incorporate what we’ve learned into revised guidelines for the next round.

In a sense, the UIF process is never finished, because we will periodically evaluate the success of these new initiatives. These evaluations will be shared with the University community, as accountability demands. Almost by definition, the UIF takes risks, and we must be prepared to acknowledge when programs have not fulfilled their promise and their resources are best reallocated once again.

I hope you share my excitement about this first round of UIF awards. The entire University community has had the foresight and loyalty to undergo, voluntarily, a certain degree of fiscal pain. Our reward, I believe, is a climate of dynamic thinking that reaches far beyond the relatively small number of projects the UIF can fund. The ideas generated by the UIF, now and over the next several years, will help keep this university among the best institutions of its kind.

UIF (University Initiative Fund) UIF Article Archive