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The evolving URC

University Relations Committee takes on broader mission

By Kerry Cook, Cornell University
Chair, University Relations Committee

Kerry Cook

Kerry Cook.

The University Relations Committee was formed to advise the UCAR president on issues related to UCAR's interactions with the university community. A broader role for the URC has developed over the years, and we are currently in the process of changing the committee's name to better reflect its expanded purpose. So this is a fitting time to remind the UCAR community about the URC's history and to provide an update on our activities.

In 1972, 13 years after UCAR's founding, the UCAR trustees tasked a standing committee of that time, the Evaluation and Goals Committee (EGC), with advising the UCAR president on improving communications and scientific interactions between the universities and NCAR and reporting to the members. One concern was the degree of involvement of the universities in the science and facilities at NCAR—an issue that is still with us. The EGC advised that a new committee be formed "to increase our ability to look, listen and learn about university activities, interests, and interactions with NCAR; to identify trouble spots before they become long-term sources of irritation and inconvenience; to increase our effectiveness in communicating to university scientists and students information about opportunities for interactions with NCAR and the use of NCAR capabilities." As a result, the University Relations Committee was established in 1974.

Proposals and more

The URC of 2007 has a more collaborative character, and it participates more directly in strategic planning and other activities. A more descriptive name for the URC, the President's Advisory Committee on University Relations, has been proposed to reflect these expanded activities and responsibilities. Nonetheless, the responsibility of the URC in evaluating unfair competition with the universities remains an important one. It comes in the form of reviewing proposals for non-core support submitted from NCAR and UOP. Originally, the URC read all of the proposals submitted by NCAR for support from NOAA, NASA, and other agencies and evaluated them for unfair competition with university science. Today, this is impossible due to the large number of proposals submitted. We still carry out a proposal review, and that is one of our most critical tasks, but we do it differently.

The URC has developed a successful partnership with UCAR/NCAR/UOP management to evaluate outgoing proposals. We now read summaries of randomly selected proposals, including budgets, personnel information, and the principal investigator's justification of why the proposal is appropriate for the NCAR mission and does not compete unfairly with university science. In preparing proposals, NCAR/UOP scientists are required to follow guidelines that encourage collaboration with university scientists and address issues of unfair competition with university proposals. The guidelines have been recently modified and clarified, and the URC plans to meet with NCAR scientists to discuss them and to consult with the scientists about ways to foster more collaboration between NCAR and university scientists for the benefit of both.

Referring back to the 1972 quote in the second paragraph, you will see that some of these issues will probably never disappear. They may, however, serve as a source of creativity that strengthens the entire community if managed well.

Prominent among current URC activities are contributions to setting the agenda for the October meeting of UCAR members. Based on positive feedback from the members on the NCAR open house in fall 2006, we are planning a "reverse open house" for fall 2007 to showcase university research activity to NCAR scientists. URC members will serve as the guinea pigs for this first trial. Such open houses may become a regular feature of the fall meeting, most likely alternating with NCAR presentations.

A relatively new and very positive activity is our work with the Advanced Study Program. In addition to providing the ASP director with general advice and feedback from the university community about ASP programs, such as UCAR's graduate student programs, a URC subcommittee assists with planning and evaluation for the Faculty Fellowship Program.

Who we are

Currently, the URC has 17 members. Thirteen represent UCAR member universities, including affiliates; three represent UCAR (two from NCAR and one from UOP); and one is the liaison to the URC from the Board of Trustees. The UCAR representatives formerly attended meetings as "resource people," but a couple of years ago they became full voting members by action of the URC. The membership of the URC is elected as a slate prepared by the Nominating Committee, with attention to balancing the membership and choosing active participants. We meet twice a year. Our spring meeting gives us—and the UCAR management team—an opportunity to visit a member university, and it always involves significant interactions with the faculty and students of the host institution. We also meet immediately after the fall members meeting for a half day, to evaluate the success of the meeting and also to conduct other business such as hearing the report from the non-core proposal review team.

The URC will surely continue to evolve as needed, but it will remain an important conduit for university scientists to voice their concerns and ideas and will continue to support effective two-way communication between the UCAR president and the university community.

URC members

URC members with UCAR and NCAR staff at the spring 2007 URC meeting in Monterey, California. Left to right: Vanda Grubišić, Desert Research Institute; Rena Brasher-Aleva, NCAR; Larry Winter, NCAR; Sepi Yalda, Millersville University; Tim Killeen, NCAR; Valerie Koch, NCAR; Kerry Cook, chair, Cornell University; Lisa White, San Francisco State University; S.T. Wu, University of Alabama in Huntsville; Jim Hansen, Naval Research Laboratory; Eve Gruntfest, University of Colorado in Colorado Springs; Hanne Mauriello, UCAR; Gordon Farquharson, NCAR; Clara Deser, NCAR; Richard Anthes, UCAR; John Merrill, University of Rhode Island; Joyce Penner, University of Michigan; Michael Morgan, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Alan Robock, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey; Wendy Abshire, UCAR; Maura Hagan, NCAR; Richard Orville, Texas A&M University; Len Pietrefesa, North Carolina State University; Jack Fellows, UCAR. (Photo courtesy Susan Friberg.)



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