Scott Davis, Mercer Senior Vice Provost for Research and Dean of Graduate Studies
(The following article was published Feb. 1, 2007, in the Macon Telegraph.)
By Jennifer Burk
TELEGRAPH STAFF WRITER
Over at Mercer University's School of Medicine, assistant professor Susan Cline is researching how to repair damaged DNA, which could prevent cell damage or cancer.
In the same building, associate professor James Thomas is looking for a new treatment for a certain type of breast cancer.
The professors' research is just a sampling of research at Mercer, and university officials hope there's more to come.
Both university President Bill Underwood and faculty members have expressed an interest in increasing research, said Scott Davis, senior vice provost for research and dean of graduate studies.
Davis' position was created last month as a step toward that effort. He formerly served as vice provost at the university.
His new job entails enhancing the university's support systems for research, making contacts, working with faculty to build grants and monitoring different funding agencies, as well as coordinating graduate studies, Davis said.
Mercer is not going to mandate that every faculty member perform fundable research, he said, but rather assist those who want to do so.
Research benefits both faculty and students, providing practical application for abstract concepts, he said.
"Research is a vehicle for learning," Davis said. "You don't learn to tie a shoe until you tie a shoe."
It also gives faculty members a chance to expand their knowledge in their chosen topics, he said.
Thomas, who is chairman of the House of Delegates research committee, said research not only contributes to the learning environment but also the university's prestige.
"Mercer really wants to become a major university, on the same level as Emory or Wake Forest, and in order to do that, we really need to enhance our research," he said.
Universities often are judged by the number of grants they bring in, he said.
In fiscal 2005-06, Mercer brought in $18 million in external funding for research, Davis said. In fiscal 2006, Emory University brought in $353.9 million in research funding, and Wake Forest brought in $197.4 million, according to each university's media relations office.
Davis met with Thomas and the research committee Friday to discuss ways to achieve research goals. Thomas said Davis is trying to get money appropriated in the budget to cover start-up costs related to research.
Cline said she hopes Mercer's push for research will create a "research culture" at the university.
"There has to be a research culture developed, in a sense, to make you competitive for funding," she said. "We have to be able to prove that we can do the research we plan to do."
Research isn't limited to large research institutions such as Emory or the University of Georgia.
"Pretty much every institution has the expectation that their faculty will participate in teaching, research and scholarship, and community service," said W. Allen Richman, an assistant professor of education at Macon State College who focuses his research on how children develop in language and reading.
What varies from college to college is the importance of those three things, he said.
At Macon State, Richman said 60 percent of his time is spent teaching. That differs from his last job at the University of Kansas, where he was a research professor who spent 100 percent of his time researching, he said.
Research allows Macon State to make a name for itself, he said.
Research "is always going to give the return of letting people know we exist," he said. "Everyone knows UGA exists, but for other institutions, private and smaller, it's paramount."
Wesleyan College encourages faculty members to have a research agenda, said Delmas Crisp, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college. The college offers financial support for such research.
Sabbaticals, in which a faculty member may apply to leave campus for a semester or two for research, are available, he said.
Faculty also may apply for a course release so they can cut back on their teaching for research, he said.
Crisp called research "crucial" for faculty members' development.
"It is something that is their passion, their research."
Beth Rushing, dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Georgia College & State University, said universities are centers for research, more than any other industry.
"Faculty research is how we learn new things and how we learn to do things better and make new discoveries or interpretations," she said. "It obviously advances knowledge. In that regard, it's absolutely critical for civilization."
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