Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council (STAC)

Making Innovation Central to Rhode Island's Future Gina M. Raimondo, Governor

URI Commission for Research and Innovation Recommends Major Moves to Strengthen URI, Make Research a Top Priority

Published on October 7, 2008

Justice Robert G. Flanders, Jr., Chair of the University of Rhode Island Commission for Innovation and Research, today presented state leadership with a report and set of recommendations detailing steps URI must take to become a nationally competitive research institution.  The report and recommendations were presented at the quarterly meeting of the Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council (STAC), which championed the creation of the Commission.

Download - URI Commission Report (pdf)
Download - URI Commission Report Executive Summary (pdf)

The Commission used a set of comparative qualitative indicators developed by the Center for Measuring University Performance, together with quantitative indicators recommended by the Commissioners, university research experts, and URI faculty and leadership, to assess URI's current position and formulate recommendations to grow the size and competitiveness of URI's R&D programs; produce a larger, better trained workforce in science and technology; and increase industry engagement and commercialization activities at URI.

The Commission found that on most measures, URI lags behind in building research capacity. Most significantly, URI did not experience the research growth over the past decade that fueled new capacity at other universities.  According to the National Science Foundation, federal R&D expenditures increased by 117 percent from 1996 to 2006. URI's federal research funding grew by just 29 percent, while neighboring public research university peers more than doubled their federal research funding. By not keeping pace with the overall growth in national R&D, URI lost market share-even though much of the federal academic R&D funding awarded in this period supported research in fields in which URI has a solid foundation of expertise.

In its report, the Commission concluded that URI and state leadership must commit to making bold changes and creating the conditions necessary to significantly enhance research and innovation capacity at URI.  In support of this objective, the Commission organized its analysis and recommendations around three fundamental issues: leadership and culture, modernization and flexibility, and building research capacity. 

To improve leadership and culture, the Commission found that URI must do more to develop visionary, experienced champions of research-to envision, fund and guide URI's growth and transformation. To modernize and become more flexible, the Commission concluded that URI must undertake major changes to policies, practices and procedures that currently hinder rather than support research, as well as develop a sustainable financial model for the university to support a stronger research-based institution. To significantly expand research capacity, the Commission has recommended that URI add significant numbers of new research faculty, develop new incentives to attract top researchers, aggressively pursue grant opportunities and private sector partnerships to raise levels of research funding, and raise non-tuition revenue to support the research enterprise.

The Commission's three priority recommendations are as follows:

  1. Attract a new president with demonstrated experience in building university-based research capacity, and who is capable of leading a transformative change effort at URI.
  2. Create a sustainable financial model for URI that provides university leadership and the Board of Governors with the flexibility to make necessary investments in building research capacity.
  3. Jump-start URI's research capacity with a $100-million public investment through a bond initiative to capitalize the attraction of 20-30 world class research faculty, and to provide state matching funds to catalyze federal research grant procurement efforts.

"The work of this Commission affirms that URI has in its reach many of the essential building blocks to strengthen its current position as the state's lead public research institution.  However, the Commission unanimously agrees that to emerge as a nationally competitive research university, URI must expeditiously make progress on many fronts and that incremental changes will not be sufficient to drive this transformation," said Commission Chair Flanders.  "It was an honor to work with this Commission, state leadership and faculty and administrators at URI to create our report and recommendations.  Now, we turn our attention to the next step: seeing these recommendations come to fruition."

In addition to Chairman Flanders, the nine-member Commission included Lord Alec Broers, a well known and respected scientist and research administrator in the United Kingdom; James Coleman, vice provost for research at Rice University;  President and Chief Executive Officer of Women and Infants Hospital Constance Howes; respected Rhode Island business and civic leader Carol Grant; University of Rhode Island Vice President for Research and Economic Development Peter Alfonso; Margaret S. Leinen, chief science officer for Climos; Saul Kaplan, executive director of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation and executive counselor to the governor on economic growth and community development; and David Hibbitt, former chairman of ABAQUS, Inc. STAC provided staffing support for the commission.  STAC was supported by Clarendon Group, which conducted the research and analysis cited in the report.

"We need to help URI fulfill its potential as an economic engine for Rhode Island.  Not only do strong research universities stimulate growth through tech transfer and commercialization activity, they provide access to higher education-an increasingly important aspect of producing workers ready for 21st century jobs," said Commission member Saul Kaplan. "The work of this Commission confirms that URI is one of Rhode Island's most important resources and central to our efforts to create an innovation economy that produces good jobs for every Rhode Islander."

To sustain the effort necessary to bring the Commission's recommendations forward, STAC is partnering with the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education and has established an implementation committee that will work closely with state leaders, URI leader¬ship and URI faculty to ensure the necessary commitment to making URI a nationally competitive research institution.  Members of the implementation team include Commission members James Coleman, Robert Flanders, David Hibbitt, Saul Kaplan, Margaret Leinen, and Commissioner for Higher Education Jack Warner.

"I agreed to serve on this Commission because I believe that URI can and must become a nationally competitive public research university. This change in course is necessary to secure the future success of URI, support graduate and undergraduate education, and, above all, support Rhode Island's effort to grow a high-wage, innovation economy," said Coleman. "The work to fulfill this ambitious vision for URI has just begun. Support for the Commission's recommendations must be cultivated both at URI and among the general public in order to accelerate a change in culture wherein URI's full potential as a driver of economic growth is fully appreciated. This will be challenging but very rewarding work."

The Commission established three specific benchmarks for measuring URI's transformation:

  • Achieve a "Research University/Very High Activity" designation from the Carnegie Foundation by 2015.
  • Double total levels of research and development funding in the next five years, achieving total research funding of $140 million annually by 2015.
  • Achieve measurable economic impact in Rhode Island through the development of a technology-oriented workforce, technology transfer and greater collaboration with industry.

"We are proud of the work this Commission has completed on behalf of STAC and on behalf of all Rhode Islanders," said STAC co-chair Clyde Briant. "STAC is committed to partnering with state leadership to support URI's growth as a research university.  All of Rhode Island will benefit if we are successful in this endeavor."

Click here to see the Providence Journal article

Click here to see the Providence Business News article

Click here to see the South County Independent article

Commission Biographies

Honorable Robert G. Flanders Jr., Chair
Robert Flanders served eight years as an associate justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court before returning to the private practice of law in 2004. Today, he is a partner in the law firm of Hinckley, Allen & Snyder, LLP. He serves as an adjunct professor of public policy at Brown University, where he teaches constitutional law, and as an adjunct professor of law at Roger Williams University, where he teaches courses on the judicial process. Judge Flanders is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Brown University. Flanders serves as a member of various boards of directors and commissions, including the Rhode Island Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education (chair),  the Care New England hospital system, Women and Infants Hospital (vice chair of the board), the Providence Performing Arts Center, the Veteran's Memorial Auditorium, the Rhode Island Historical Society, Common Cause of Rhode Island, the Brown University Leadership Advisory Council and the Greater Providence YMCA, where he served as Chairman of the Board for a three-year term that ended on May 29, 2003. 

Dr. Peter Alfonso
Peter Alfonso is the vice president for research and economic development at the University of Rhode Island. In previous research administration positions, he served as the vice president for research at the University of North Dakota, associate vice president for research at the University of Tennessee and as associate provost for research, University of North Carolina at Greensboro. From 1991 to 1999, Dr. Alfonso was a professor and head of the department of speech and hearing science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and from 1977 to 1991 served as a research scientist at the Haskins Laboratories in New Haven, Connecticut and as assistant professor, associate professor and professor of speech-language pathology and audiology at the University of Connecticut. He has held a number of adjunct research and academic appointments in the United States and abroad. Since earning his Ph.D. in speech science and experimental phonetics from Purdue University in 1977, he has been awarded more than $20 million in federal research awards, and has published more than 130 book chapters, articles and abstracts in speech acoustics, perception and speech physiology, particularly in the areas of speech motor control in normal and speech disordered populations. Dr. Alfonso is a 1990 Fulbright research scholar to the Netherlands, a fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and a fellow of the American Council on Education.

Lord Alec Broers
Alec Broers has a long record of distinguished service.  He is a well known and respected scientist and research administrator in the United Kingdom who has a summer home in Jamestown. Among a long list of prestigious positions, he spent nearly 20 years in research at IBM and has served as the head of the engineering department at Cambridge University in England and as vice chancellor (or, president) of that university. Recently, he served as the president of the Royal Academy of Engineering (2001-2006) and delivered the prestigious BBC Reith Lectures. He is now retired, but his ongoing activities include chairing the science and technology committee of the British House of Lords.  He is a pioneer in the area of nanotechnology and was knighted and made a life peer by Her Majesty the Queen in recognition of his contribution to engineering and higher education.

Dr. James S. Coleman
James Coleman is vice provost for research and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Rice University where he is responsible for overseeing Rice's research and research-driven economic development activities including partial oversight of the nationally renowned entrepreneurship center, the Rice Alliance. Prior to that he served in various academic research positions including: vice chancellor for research and professor of biological sciences, University of Missouri - Columbia (MU), and vice president for research and business development at the Desert Research Institute (DRI).  Prior to that he was an assistant professor and then associate professor of biology at Syracuse University and a program officer at the National Science Foundation (NSF).  Some of Dr. Coleman's other key professional activities include serving as a member of the board of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, the Southern Universities Research Association, the Alliance for Nanohealth,  and the Gulf Coast Consortium. He also currently serves as a member of the Economic Development Advisory Committee of the Greater Houston Partnership and the Houston Angels Network and served on the boards of other economic development organizations including the Missouri Innovation Center and the Nevada Technology Council, as well as an elected board member of the coalition of EPSCoR states.   Dr. Coleman has been a principal or co-principal investigator on approximately $40,000,000 in grants and has contracts and more than 75 publications including co-authoring the cover article of the September 18, 2008 issue of Nature. Dr. Coleman holds a B.S. (Forestry) from the University of Maine, and a M.S., M.Phil and Ph.D. in physiological ecology from Yale University.

Carol Grant
Carol Grant is an executive whose experience has ranged through law, telecommunications and manufacturing for more than 20 years including executive positions at Verizon and Textron.  Prior to her corporate experience, she was a litigation attorney for five years in two major law firms in St. Paul, Minnesota and Boston. Most recently Grant served as chief of operations for Providence Mayor David Cicilline.  In that role, she led the departments that provide basic city services, planning and economic development. Grant has served as chair of the board of the National Conference for Community and Justice, member of the Governor's Economic Policy Council, chair of the Board of Directors of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, and on the boards of the Rhode Island Foundation, Providence Plan, Providence College and the Providence Performing Arts Center.  She is also a member of the board of AAA of Southern New England. She also served as the first chair of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, responsible for the oversight of the transformation of Rhode Island's airport system. She is a graduate of the University of Missouri and University of Michigan Law School.

Dr. David Hibbitt
Dr. David Hibbitt, chairman of Hibbitt, Karlsson & Sorensen, located in Providence, Rhode Island, began his career in engineering with Associated Electrical Industries of Manchester, England, working on the design of large steam turbines for electrical power generation.  From 1972 to 1977 he worked for the Marc Analysis Research Corporation, where he was responsible for the development of the Marc finite element program. In 1978, he founded Hibbitt, Karlsson and Sorensen (now ABAQUS), and began the design and development of the ABAQUS program.  In 1978 and 1980, Dr. Hibbitt taught as an adjunct professor in the graduate school of the University of Texas at Austin. He has served on the editorial advisory board of the International Journal for Numerical Methods in Engineering, and was a member of the Computational Mechanics Committee of the U.S. National Research Council's Commission on Engineering and Technical Systems from 1982 to 1984. He received a Brown University Engineering Alumni Medal in 1997. He has served on advisory committees that assisted the Office of Naval Research and Sandia National Laboratory, in evaluating their research programs in engineering mechanics, and currently serves on the executive council of the U.S. Association for Computational Mechanics, on the North American advisory committee for NAFEMS, an organization that promotes reliability and quality in computational mechanics applications, and on the advisory council for Brown University's division of engineering.

Constance Howes, Esq.
Constance Howes is president and CEO of Women and Infants Hospital, one of the nation's leading specialty hospitals for women and newborns. Prior to this she served as its executive vice president and COO and was vice president and general counsel for Care New England Health System, the health system comprised of Women & Infants Hospital, Kent Hospital and Butler Hospital.  Prior to her appointment with Care New England, she was vice president and general counsel for Women & Infants Hospital.  Before joining Women & Infants Hospital, Howes was an attorney with Tillinghast, Collins & Graham for 17 years where she practiced primarily in the area of business law and served as chairman of the corporate department.

Howes is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber Foundation, the Providence Economic Development Partnership, a member of Providence College President's Council, the Rhode Island Commodores and past member of the American Hospital Association Regional Policy Board  and a member and past chair of the American Hospital Association Maternal Child Health Governing Council.  She is active with CWISH, the Council of Women and Infants Specialty Hospitals.  She graduated magna cum laude from Kenyon College and received her J.D. degree from the University of Virginia School of Law.

Saul Kaplan
Saul Kaplan is the executive director of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation. Kaplan serves as the executive counselor to the governor on economic growth and community development. Kaplan is the chairman of the board of directors for the Quonset Development Corporation and for the Slater Technology Fund. He also is a member of the board of directors for Family Services of Rhode Island and for the Big Picture Company. Kaplan also serves on the Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council and is founder and chief catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory (BIF), a non-profit dedicated to enabling collaborative innovation. Kaplan started the non-profit in 2004 with a mission to bring public and private sector partners together to explore and test better ways to deliver value. Prior to his state leadership role in economic development Kaplan served as a senior strategy partner in Accenture's Health and Life Science practice and worked broadly throughout the pharmaceutical, medical products and biotechnology industry. Earlier in his career, Kaplan spent eight years working for the pharmaceutical division of Eli Lilly and Company. As a marketing plans manager, Kaplan was responsible for developing the launch strategy and successful introduction of Prozac into the U.S. market. Kaplan holds an MBA from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute focusing on the strategic management of technology and a B.S. in pharmacy from the University of Rhode Island.

Dr. Margaret Leinen
Margaret S. Leinen is chief science officer for Climos, a San Francisco-based company that leverages natural processes to reduce greenhouse gasses. Before joining Climos, she served six years as assistant director for geosciences at the National Science Foundation. Prior to coming to NSF, Dr. Leinen was dean, Graduate School of Oceanography and vice provost for marine and environmental programs at the University of Rhode Island. She was also scting fean, College of the Environment and Life Sciences. Dr. Leinen is past president of the Oceanography Society. She served on the board of governors of the Joint Oceanographic Institutions, on the board of directors of the Bermuda Biological Station for Research and on and the Ocean Research Advisory Council. Dr. Leinen also served as the vice chair of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme and on the board on Global Change of the National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Leinen received her B.S. degree (1969) in geology from the University of Illinois, M.S. (1975) in geological oceanography from Oregon State University and Ph.D. (1980) in geological oceanography from the University of Rhode Island.

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