University Implements Task Force to Boost Doctoral Rankings


Published: February 2, 2011

After several Fordham University Ph.D. programs missed the mark, ranking in the bottom half of the National Research Council (NRC)’s report of doctoral programs released in September, the University created a task force to address what the main problem seems to be: lack of research.

“Research is essential to the university,” Rev. Joseph McShane, S.J., said. “It enriches classrooms and faculty. It affirms our identity as a university.”

Due to this heightened need for greater research, Fordham provost Stephen Freedman created the University Task Force on Research Competitiveness, appointing law professor Joel Reidenberg as chair.

According to Reidenberg the task force, which meets every two weeks, is working on developing a university-wide approach to improving all units of research activity.  Among the main responsibilities of the task force are to develop strategies for attaining university research goals and to align university resources with these goals. Comprised of faculty and administrators representing a cross-section of the university, the task force will submit a report to the provost at the end of the semester with suggestions on how the university can improve.

“It’s really clear we are disappointed in the NRC results. It raised broader questions in the community—how can we build research strength?” Reidenberg asked a group of about 30 people in O’Keefe Commons on Jan. 20, during one of two forums held at both the Lincoln Center and Rose Hill campuses for faculty to brainstorm ideas and offer suggestions to the newly formed task force.

“We need to figure out what’s working and what’s not—assess what we’re doing well and what we need to work on,” Reidenberg said.

Reidenberg said the task force is not concerned with evaluating particular doctoral programs against their NRC rankings—it’s about pushing a culture of research.

One way the research reputation of a university is strengthened is through impressive faculty. A goal highlighted at the forum was to create a pool of money for an “opportunity hire”—adding a new faculty member that is respected in a certain field to strengthen the department.

“We need to take advantage of the brutal economy,” Stephen Grimm, assistant professor of philosophy, said at the forum. “The people who are coming in now are really extraordinary—it’s always been a buyer’s market, but now it’s even more so.”

Another option discussed was giving faculty more time for independent work. For faculty members, committing to research while teaching is a major challenge that prevents them from making developments in their fields. Currently, the teaching load for Ph.D. professors is 3-2, which means teaching three classes one semester and two the other.

“People who want to publish need time to publish,” Elaine Crane, professor of history, said at the forum. ““It’s very hard to publish with a 3-2 load, especially when faculty at comparable universities have a 2-2 or even 2-1 course load.”

Because of the variety of doctoral programs Fordham has, mandating criteria such as publishing a certain number of books is not the intent of the task force.

“We are looking at broader, cross-cutting ideas and culture change,” Reidenberg said. “The task force can’t get into a lot of detail in recommendations because often research competition will be discipline specific.”

Additional suggestions discussed at the forum included stricter regulations on faculty tenure and a greater research collaboration between faculty and students.

According to Reidenberg, a challenge the task force will face is resources: both the time of faculty members and financially.

Though the task force has come about as a response to the NRC rankings, Fordham maintains that the grading criteria the NRC uses is often challenged by universities,   “The NRC is working on five-year-old information. And in a lot of areas, things have changed,” said Bob Howe, director of communications at Fordham. “It gives us a place to start—where we are now and where we can change.”