Provost’s efforts poised to pay off for Wright State, region.
State funds could give it a boost. Legislation could include expanded role for it, too.
— The placing FAIRBORN of Wright State University’s provost on leave comes at a time when the institute he co-founded is about to take a leap forward in stature.
Sundaram Narayanan, the university’s third highest-paid employee, co-founded the Wright State Research Institute along with WSU President David Hopkins in 2007. In recent years the institute has undergone tremendous growth and is in line for a possible funding boost from the state of Ohio.
The Applied Research Corp., the university’s non-profit research administrative arm, stands to gain some $20 million in state general revenue fund money in the new two-year Ohio budget that the Senate approved on Thursday.
If the money survives in the final version of the budget that Gov. John Kasich signs in the next two weeks, the university will take the lead in shepherding federal research dollars to universities across the state.
Neither the university nor Narayanan have commented on the nature of the investigation that placed Narayanan and three others on leave. But it follows a period of huge growth for the university’s research efforts.
Wright State College of Engineering and Computer Science’s research funding grew by 6 7 percent — from $9 million in 2009 to $15 million in 2012 — while Narayanan was dean of the school.
And the nonprofit Applied Research Corp. — which administers contracts for WSRI — saw $11,6 27,052 in contract and grant revenue for 2014, up from $7,030,581 in 2013, according to a state audit dated Jan. 6 , 2015. The Air Force has been a funder of some of the institute’s research projects.
Cindy McGovern, a spokeswoman for the Defense Security Service, said Wright State is a cleared facility under the National Industrial Security program. She said she knew of no investigation into how Wright State and WSRI handle federal research contracts.
“I have no knowledge of any other particular issues other than our normal oversight responsibilities” over Wright State, McGovern said.
A new powerful role
The responsibilities of Wright State’s Applied Research Corp. will grow if provisions in the Ohio House and Senate budgets become law. Its prospective administrative role — shepherding federal research contracts to Ohio research universities — would be a powerful one.
While it would be important for Wright State, “it’s also a really collaborative relationship across all these universities — the University of Dayton, Ohio State, OU (Ohio University), Cleveland State, Case (Western Reserve University), some community colleges, Sinclair (Community College),” said Dennis Andersh, chief executive of Applied Research. “We’re really building a collaborative role to establish this research portfolio.”
Ohio Rep. Rick Perales, R-Beavercreek, placed the amendment for the Federal Research Network into the state budget.
“Other states are doing this and doing this very well,” Perales said. “We have so much capability, so much capacity in the state of Ohio, but we haven’t pulled it all together.”
Wright-Patterson and NASA Glenn may be on opposite ends of the state but they are still “highly technical” institutions that offer lucrative research contracts, Perales said. It’s time for Ohio universities to “start attacking some of those $7 billion that are out there,” he said.
“It’s not a sector, it’s not a region,” Perales said. “It’s the state working together.”
Network seeks to tap federal research dollars
Under its new proposed new role, the Applied Research Corporation will serve as conduit for research jobs statewide, Perales said. For example, UD and UDRI could take the lead in composites and materials research, he said.
“These guys are talking now,” Perales said. “They know who is good at what.”
Anchoring the newly created Federal Research Network at Wright State makes sense, said State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg.
“They are literally minutes from the base,” he said. “I think they will, as they have in the past, work collaboratively with UD (University of Dayton), Sinclair (Community College) and Central State.”
Said Andersh: “It would be basically bringing all of the universities together to collaborate with the state, if you will.”
Such a network might prove useful when a new federal BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) process begins, according to Antani. A BRAC commission and process searches for ways to make America’s array of military bases more efficient, closing and moving some installations. Every community tries to protect its local base.
“If we can show with a BRAC that our universities are plugged in, and are helping and supplying the (Wright-Patterson) base and NASA Glenn, then we think they’re in a strong position to keep those missions at the base and at NASA Glenn,” Antani said.
Perales agreed that the region needs to be prepared for the next BRAC. But he said the need goes beyond that.
“Now we know we have to be ready every day for changes in missions, for realignments,” said Perales, a former squadron commander at WrightPatterson.
Perales said he knows “very little” about why the Wright State executives have been placed on leave.
“I don’t know what the specifics of the investigation (are),” he said.
The fiscal 2015-2016 state budget is due June 30.