Saturday, January 17, 2009

Summer Funding

I should have blogged about this before, but didn't notice over break that Yale had "agreed to pay7.6 million to resolve allegations" regarding how it was handling research grants. My understanding is that this primarily related to summer funding -- the government apparently objects to professors saying they're working 100% on their research over the summer and then doing other stuff. (You know, pesky things like writing letters of recommendation or preparing for next semester's classes.) Anyone with more info, please speak up or link in the comments.

Now, of course, this all just boils down to accounting. The university (nominally) pays 9 months of salary, but strangely, we seem to be expected to also be working on our government-funded research during the academic year as well. One would think there might be some understanding that there's some appropriate blurring of time spent on various tasks. But Harvard, responsive as always when it sees another school getting fined, is changing its process to avoid the same sort of investigation. I don't quite get how this works, but apparently my June summer funding for '09 will be paid out over the spring semester, and the rest of my summer funding will be paid out over the fall semester. I'm assuming that when I eventually have to fill out forms accounting for my time they'll be modified so that research time during the year is counted some way as well.

As one colleague said to me, the new system is stupid, but so was the old system, and sometime down the road, some bureaucrat will decide this is wrong, and we'll switch to a different stupid system. What I find most odd about the new system is it seems at least part of the time I'm getting paid from a government grant for work I will only do in the future. That's OK with the government? I imagine if for whatever reason I later decided not to work over June, they'd pull the money back out of future paychecks. I also suppose this provides some understanding of why grant overhead rates, which I generally complain about, are so ridiculously high; if there's really this much paperwork (and computer accounting software setup) involved in grant management, maybe the overhead really is necessary.


Anonymous said...

Actually, the issue of summer salary has been always rather unclear to me. Why are the universities as default paying only for 9 months and not for the entire year? There are some subjects (in fact, math including) where almost nobody is getting any external funding, and so these 9 month salary is de facto 12 month salary.

Anonymous said...

All of you need to come to Australia, we get paid 12 months!

David said...

I worked in a lab as an undergrad, and now work for a BigDefenseCo Inc. University overhead rates are significantly higher than industry overhead rates on government contracts.

You're just in a weird place between industry's obsession with earned value management [discrete task billing], and a lawyer's laissez-faire, "Well, I thought about it while I was on the pot" billing.

Anonymous said...

The new NSF GPG (effective 2009) says that it is moving away from the concept of summer-only support to one of a year-round support (the two month limit remains).