D01.8 RIT Academic and Research Centers

I. Rationale

Centers can play a key role in bringing together groups of faculty, staff, and students to collaborate on research and educational initiatives in novel and efficient ways outside of traditional academic units. RIT’s interdisciplinary, experiential, and collaborative educational model is enabled by organizational structures that foster partnerships across traditional programmatic boundaries. However, the designation “Center” connotes that an entity is an official organization of RIT, and thus carries the responsibility of visibly advancing RIT’s academic mission for both internal and external audiences.

This Policy establishes the types and purposes of academic and research Centers at RIT. This Policy also provides the underlying principles that govern how Centers shall be formed, evaluated, and managed. The specific mechanisms for Center oversight and funding are not detailed here, but shall be created and implemented by the organizational unit wherein a Center primarily resides and operates.

Types and Purposes of Centers

The purpose of establishing an academic or research Center is to enable faculty, staff, and/or students to collaborate on research and educational activities. Centers serve to house such activities in a manner unavailable through existing organizational structures at RIT (e.g., for interdisciplinary endeavors).

The nomenclature in the table below defines and distinguishes specific types of Centers at RIT. The definition of a Center may also include other named entities, including ‘Labs’ and ‘Institutes,’ if they share a purpose consistent with those listed below and are not already covered by a separate University Policy. A Center may span multiple types, or evolve from one type into another, as its purpose and scope changes over time.

The scope of this policy and the nomenclature below is limited to those Centers whose purpose is to advance academic and scholarship efforts. This policy does not encompass Enterprise Centers or other centers that are organized to support teaching or student affairs and/or are primarily led by university staff. The University, Academic, and Faculty Center types relate most closely to faculty scholarship, and are primarily distinguished by the organizational unit at which they are formed and managed. Sponsored Research Centers are concerned with the execution of funded projects run at RIT on behalf of external sponsors.

Center Type

Center Purpose

University Center

Interdisciplinary initiative for high-impact research or education activities well aligned with university strategic aims. Typically characterized by organizational permanency, program autonomy, and shared facilities.

Academic Center

An organization that carries out research and education efforts in alignment with a college’s, department’s, or school’s academic mission. Academic centers may also provide course offerings or support degree programs.

Faculty Center

Faculty-centric initiative organized to catalyze new research or teaching activities. The activities are directly linked to the individual work plans of core faculty members.

Sponsored Research Center

An entity formed in response to an externally funded project, to carry out a scope of work associated with a specific grant or contract. The activities take place as long as external funding is provided for the project.

II. Formation, Management, and Oversight of Centers

Given the diversity of efforts potentially encompassed in the types of Centers described above, this section first establishes universal guiding principles for all Center types, and then sets forth requirements specific to each type.

Center Principles. Every Center shall meet each of the following criteria as a requirement for creation and renewal:

  1. A programmatic focus that aligns with the research and educational mission of the academic unit(s) in which the Center resides.
  2. An ability to meet a need or set of needs not already met by existing organizational entities.
  3. A mission, vision, and goals with a clear plan of how the center will function through sustained activity.
  4. Support from the leadership of the academic unit(s) of faculty, staff, and students expected to participate in Center activities.
  5. Procedures for reporting faculty and staff effort and engagement in Center activities.
  6. Routine evaluation and reporting to justify continued operation as a Center.

While all Centers meet the general principles above, specific requirements for forming, approving, evaluating, and managing Centers will vary according to type and are outlined below.

2.1 University Center

This category of Centers represents large, signature initiatives that have strategic importance to the university and sufficiently high operating costs and complexity so as to require university support to continue their operations and growth. As such, these Centers will have high visibility and shall follow transparent procedures for their formation, funding, and operation. Both the Office of the Provost and the Office of the Vice President for Research will retain oversight for approving and managing University Centers.

The following are the requirements for an RIT University Center:

  • A clearly defined, interdisciplinary focus that engages faculty, staff, and students from multiple academic units.
  • A stated operating budget.
  • A stated organizational structure, including processes for selecting leadership and making Center-level decisions.
  • Publicly available self-governance procedures, to include bylaws and faculty affiliation agreements that detail how and under what conditions members of the RIT community can join the Center and/or access Center resources, and how participation in Center activities will be reported for the purposes of faculty evaluations.
  • Routine reporting on activities according to the schedule and metrics set forth by the Office of the Provost and the Office of the Vice President for Research. University Centers are not permanent designations, and these offices shall develop criteria and processes for approving, continuing, modifying, or discontinuing a Center based on routine evaluation

Center Evaluation and Renewal. University Centers shall be evaluated on no less than a five-year cycle, where outcomes of this evaluation may be continuation, restructuring, reduction (for example, to become an Academic or Faculty Center), or discontinuance. The Office of the Provost and the Office of the Vice President for Research shall follow a transparent process for making and communicating decisions regarding creation and renewal of University Centers.

2.2 Academic Center

Academic Centers are for research and/or education activities within a college or within one or more departments or schools (or equivalent academic unit). An Academic Center may also include course offerings or degree programs.

These Centers shall be formed, evaluated, and managed at the level of the academic unit at which their operation is organized.  Each college that expects to house an Academic Center shall be responsible for creating policies and procedures regarding approval, governance, and evaluation of these Centers.

Formation of Academic Centers at the college level shall require approval of the Dean and Provost; while formation at the department or school level shall, in addition, require approval of the unit Head. An Academic Center reports to and is overseen and evaluated by its associated academic unit(s).

Center Evaluation and Renewal. Academic Centers shall be evaluated on a no less than five year cycle, where outcomes of this evaluation, according to established College policies, may be continuation, reorganization into a different academic entity, expansion (for example, recommendation to become a University Center), reduction (for example, to become a Faculty Center), or discontinuance. Colleges shall follow a transparent process for making and communicating decisions regarding creation and renewal of Academic Centers.

2.3 Faculty Center

Faculty Centers support research and educational activities carried out by small groups of collaborators working together on a routine basis. In some cases, formalizing these collaborations as a Center can provide added benefits to participants, such as greater visibility to external funders or potential students, an incentive for recruiting and retaining faculty, or a mechanism to share research facilities.

Funded vs. Unfunded. If the formation of a Faculty Center does not require incremental funding and is consistent with the work plan of all participants, the Center will be created by the participating faculty notifying each of their unit heads. A faculty member’s membership and activities in a Faculty Center shall be communicated to their unit head during the annual review process over the duration of their involvement.

When a Faculty Center seeks incremental funding and/or will entail a significant change in faculty effort, Center faculty shall provide a proposal to their respective unit heads that clearly articulates how the Center satisfies the principles outlined above and responds to any other criteria that the unit or college may have established.

Hiring and Retention. A special case is for a Faculty Center created as part of a faculty recruitment or retention package. These Centers shall follow the principles described above, but in cases where incremental funding is requested, required additional approvals shall be made by the Unit Head, Dean, and Office of the Provost.

Center Evaluation and Renewal. Faculty Centers shall be evaluated on a no less than five year cycle, with faculty activities documented during the annual review process. This is the mechanism by which oversight and reporting for Faculty Centers occurs. Unit heads shall follow a transparent process for making and communicating decisions regarding creation and renewal of Faculty Centers.

2.4 Sponsored Research Center

These Centers are directly aligned with the scope of work for an externally funded grant or contract, wherein a center structure is required by a sponsor or necessitated by the size of the funding or nature of the work, particularly where large grants require significant coordination among the principal investigator and multiple faculty and staff devoted to the project. Formation of a Sponsored Research Center requires approval of the principal investigator’s unit Head, Dean, and the Vice President for Research prior to proposal submission or at the time of project initiation, depending upon the nature of the sponsored project. Those responsible for approval shall follow a transparent process to make and communicate outcomes regarding Sponsored Research Center formation.

Center Evaluation and Renewal. Sponsored Research Centers shall last for the duration of the sponsored project funding and then be automatically discontinued, although some of these Centers may naturally grow with continued success, at which point they may be considered for conversion to an Academic or University Center, according to those principles.

Reporting and oversight of Sponsored Research Centers occurs principally through the funding agency/agencies associated with the project and the associated policies of the Office of the Vice President for Research.

III. Maintaining Records of Active Centers

To facilitate the visibility, awareness, and impact of RIT Centers, a web page listing Centers of all types shall be maintained by the Office of the Provost and the Office of the Vice President of Research and updated when Centers are created or discontinued (as reported by the units responsible).

These records are important to demonstrate externally that RIT Centers are active, and internally so that RIT administration, faculty, staff, and students can identify opportunities to participate in Center activities and to evaluate the need for creating new Centers.

Responsible Office:
Office of the Provost

Effective Date:
Approved May 8, 2008

Policy History:
Edited August 2010
Renumbered May 8, 2014. Original policy number D01.5
Revised May 5, 2022