II. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND
To understand the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
(UCAR) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and
their relationship with the university community and the National
Science Foundation (NSF), it is helpful to consider the origins of
this special coalition and the ongoing leadership provided by the
universities. This intrinsic university role has been continuous
since NCAR's founding and affects all aspects of UCAR and NCAR.
A. BACKGROUND OF UCAR AND NCAR
In 1956 the president of the National Academy of Sciences
appointed a Committee on Meteorology to undertake a searching
examination of the status of research in atmospheric sciences.
The committee consisted of nine prominent scientists from the
community, six of whom were in scientific disciplines other than
meteorology and hence able to view the state of research on the
atmosphere with broad objectivity and detachment. After more than
a dozen meetings, the committee made its recommendations to the
academy in February 1958. These were (1) that basic research at
the universities be substantially augmented, and (2) that a
National Institute for Atmospheric Research be established.
The university community responded quickly and by the end of
February had organized the University Committee on Atmospheric
Research and initiated a planning process to respond to the
academy's recommendations. In July representatives from 14
universities endorsed the establishment of a non-profit
corporation to foster support of meteorological research at the
universities, organize and operate a National Institute for
Atmospheric Research, and support the education and training of
the personnel required to carry on an expanded program of
Twelve of the 14 universities announced in October their decision
to band together and assume the responsibility for organizing and
operating the new institute. A major milestone in realizing this
initiative was reached on March 16, 1959, when the University
Corporation for Atmospheric Research was established as a non-
profit Colorado corporation
The first meeting of the UCAR Board of Trustees was held on April
2, 1959. Later in the year, UCAR signed a contract with NSF to
operate the institute, renamed the National Center for Atmospheric
Research, with support from NSF. The UCAR trustees recruited Dr.
Walter Orr Roberts as the first director of NCAR and president of
UCAR, and in June of 1960 NCAR and UCAR were formally established
with headquarters in Boulder, Colorado. Roberts described the
goals that the universities, NSF, and UCAR's first leaders set for
the new center:
- to acquire, construct, establish, own, equip and operate an
institute for atmospheric research and other laboratories and
facilities for atmospheric research and for research in related
More than 35 years later, the basic mission of UCAR has remained
remarkably true to the vision of Roberts and the university
founders of UCAR and NCAR. That mission, as it is articulated
- First in our purposes was for NCAR to be an intellectual
center where basic science of the utmost quality would be
cultivated both through the research of the permanent staff and
through cooperative work with scientists from other research and
educational institutions in the United States, Canada, and abroad.
- to support, enhance, and extend the capabilities of the
university community, nationally and internationally; to
understand the behavior of the atmosphere and related systems and
the global environment; and to foster the transfer of knowledge
and technology for the betterment of life on earth.
B. UCAR, NCAR, AND THE UNIVERSITIES
The symbiotic relationship among the universities, UCAR, NCAR, and
NSF has been essential to the planning, management, oversight,
operation, resource allocation, and review of NCAR since the very
beginning. This multifaceted management structure has few, if
any, analogs with other organizations. It reflects the vital
stakes of the participants in the partnership and the relatively
small size and collegiality of the atmospheric sciences community.
(A list of UCAR members and affiliates appears on the inside cover
of this document.) A senior scientist at NCAR recently observed,
after a lengthy description of the management structure to a
foreign colleague, "Come to think of it, the relationship between
NCAR, UCAR, NSF, and universities is quite complicated.
Interestingly, it seems to work. Allowing universities to oversee
NCAR through UCAR ensures that NCAR performs its research and
service to meet the needs of various universities and to advance
our science with strong collaboration with university scientists."
The positive nature of the most recent community-based reviews of
NCAR demonstrates that "the system," which has evolved in an
empirical way over the 36 years of UCAR history, does indeed work
very well. Key to this success have been three overarching
- involvement of the universities in all aspects of UCAR
and NCAR's structure and activities, including governance;
defining the UCAR and NCAR missions; developing strategic plans;
setting goals and priorities; collaborating in research,
educational, technical, and other activities; and conducting
regular peer reviews of UCAR and NCAR;
- setting of general strategies, goals, and priorities by
consensus-building among the stakeholders, including NCAR
scientists, UCAR and NCAR management, university scientists, NSF
program directors, and members of the larger national and
international scientific community; and
- "bottoms up" development of specific ideas and plans,
consistent with overall community priorities and the UCAR and NCAR
missions, by the creative scientists, engineers, and educators in
NCAR, the universities, and UCAR.
The roles of the key players implementing these paradigms are
discussed in Section VII. In summary, the development, review,
and evolution of priorities and goals at NCAR and UCAR are based
on a multifaceted, iterative consensus-building process involving
NSF, the UCAR members' representatives, the Board of Trustees,
UCAR and NCAR managerial and scientific staff, and the university
community at large. It is a distinctly non-hierarchical process
that evolves continuously.
C. MANAGEMENT PHILOSOPHY AND OBJECTIVES
UCAR and NCAR management enables the NCAR staff and collaborators
to achieve the highest levels of accomplishment in NCAR's mission
areas-science, facilities, education, and technology transfer. In
so doing, management encourages and facilitates the attributes
that a national center must have to be successful. Accordingly,
management has adopted the following philosophy and objectives:
- NCAR's programs must be of the highest quality for it to
lead, to serve as a focal point for the scientific community, and
to meet responsibilities to its sponsors and the tax-paying public
whose dollars support the center.
- NCAR must interact extensively and effectively among
disciplines within its own programs and with universities and
other organizations nationally and globally and entrain
participants into its research program from the broader community.
Without such interactions the center cannot be responsive to the
needs of the broader community and would fail to meet its purpose
of extending and complementing the research and educational
programs of the universities.
- NCAR must undertake an appropriate scope of activities
and in particular must address important and challenging problems
requiring teams of people working together over extended periods
- NCAR as a center must possess sufficient breadth to
address the important multidisciplinary problems inherent in the
atmospheric sciences and also to ensure that it can interact with
the breadth of talent within the university community.
- NCAR must be responsive to the needs of its
constituencies. Because of NCAR's role as a national center, its
constituents are many and include its sponsors (particularly its
principal sponsor, NSF), the universities, and the public.
- NCAR must be able to adapt in a timely manner to new
opportunities and must lead in helping to create new
- Management must create an environment that is supportive
of its staff. Any organization's success depends critically upon
the quality of the staff. It is management's responsibility to
attract and retain excellent staff members who work together to
achieve individual and collective goals. Management must ensure
that staff members are given the opportunity to grow to their full
potential. Creating this kind of nurturing environment requires
that the institution provide competitive compensation and the
resources needed to do the work, involve staff in priority-setting
processes, and communicate those priorities effectively and
regularly at all levels.
- Management must provide high-quality administrative
support in a cost-efficient manner. Management must also develop
and implement fair and consistent policies for employees and
visitors. Essential administrative support also includes
providing the space and facilities necessary to enable the
research, technology, education, and other parts of the NCAR
mission to be accomplished.
- A final ingredient in successful management is fiscal
responsibility and integrity, to ensure that the institution's
financial resources are used effectively and efficiently.
High-quality management is an essential part of any organization.
As summarized in the next section, the quality of NCAR's divisions
and programs has been found to be very high and its support to the
community through facilities excellent. Evidence of the quality
and relevance of NCAR's staff and programs is found throughout
this document. By following its management philosophy and meeting
its objectives, UCAR and NCAR management plays an important
leadership and support role in making NCAR the success it is.
D. SUMMARY OF NCAR DIVISIONAL REVIEWS RELATED TO FOURTH-YEAR
In 1996, the third year of the present five-year cooperative
agreement between UCAR and NSF, NSF conducted a review of NCAR
divisions and programs using seven community-based peer-review
panels. The Scientific Programs Evaluation Committee (SPEC)
[SPEC Members: Franco Einaudi, NASA, Chair; Eric Varron,
Pennsylvania State University; William Cotton, Colorado State
University; Paul Hays, University of Michigan; William Merrell,
Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment; Joyce
Penner, University of Michigan; Albert Semtner, Naval Postgraduate
School ] of the UCAR members participated in the review
process by nominating potential reviewers for NSF consideration,
providing two observers to each review panel, and reporting on the
effectiveness of the review to the UCAR members. The review panel
reports, as well as NSF's summary of the review process and UCAR
and NCAR's responses, have been provided to the panel under
The NSF summary cites three central findings of the reviews just
completed that are directly relevant to the current review:
- Quality of the science is very good to excellent, often
unique, and, for the most part, befitting for and greatly enabled
by a center environment;
- Service to the community is of high quality, responsive,
and fulfills the vast majority of internal and external (to NCAR)
- Scientific and managerial leadership within each entity
reviewed is highly regarded and is considered a significant factor
in enabling the very positive findings on items I and II.
In addition to these central findings, each of the individual
divisional review panels made comments pertinent to the current
review. Each review panel noted the positive impact of the
programs of the individual NCAR divisions on the quality of the
nation's atmospheric and related sciences. Selected third-year
review panel comments, such as the one below, are quoted verbatim
throughout this document.
These divisional reviews have provided clear evidence that NCAR,
as a scientific center, is unique in its breadth of activities and
is fulfilling the mission expected of it by its constituents in
universities and laboratories that are involved in atmospheric
research and education.
"In the opinion of the panel, NCAR is an
essential facility ensuring prominence of the U.S. in all parts of
atmospheric science worldwide."
The reviews, as would be expected, also identified some issues
to be addressed. NSF provided UCAR and NCAR management with an
analysis of the overarching issues identified by the reviewers and
responses were submitted to the foundation.