Research, published materials vary

By Stephanie Bradley and Katrina Kelly

NIU professors’ research and published material are as diverse as all of the different departments on campus.

History Department Chairman Otto Olsen said every faculty member of NIU does research and is a publishing scholar, but there is a difference between the two.

People do research in fields in which they specialize, Olsen said, citing history professors Bruce Link and Allen Koulikoff as examples. He said Link specializes in Russian history and is writing two books on the subject, one of which focuses on the 1917 Russian Revolution.

Koulikoff published a book on tobacco and slaves in Maryland, and currently is writing a manuscript dealing with the rise and fall of yeoman farmers in the United States, Olsen said.

Research is important to the professors’ classes. Olsen said, “In order to be effective, instructors have to be up-to-date in their field so they can train students.” He said he expects faculty to be productive.

One criteria for deciding a faculty member’s salary increase is their scholarship ranking, Olsen said. Faculty are ranked on contributions to their respective fields through research, and will be rewarded for their contributions in time, he said.

Olsen said books and articles rank equally in contribution. Sometimes an article is better than a book if it is better written. How often a professor’s work is published also is a factor. If an instructor writes one book in several years, it does not look as good as contributing several short articles in the same time period, he said.

Another consideration is whether the instructor is writing about a subject that has been given attention before. “A professional historian knows where a contribution must be made,” Olsen said.

Paul Kleppner, director of the Social Science Research Institute, said the institute participates in all types of social science research. A five-year longitudinal study of American youth researching reasons why some children choose to study math and science is a study that has recently received much attention all over the country.

The institute is chosen by state and local governments, and federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation, to do research for them, Kleppner said. Surveys are a major part of the research the institute conducts, he said.

Paula Howard, the institute’s assistant manager for recruitment and training, said the survey questions are displayed on a computer screen. Telephone operators working for the institute ask the questions of the respondents and type the answers into computers.

Surveys are not limited to the DeKalb area or to Illinois, Howard said. SSRI polls survey people all over the country. The length of time the polling takes depends on the number of questions asked, she said. Polling time can range from five to 30 minutes.

Kleppner said the institute obtains jobs by making proposals to federal, state and local agencies. The institute’s services satisfy a “social and economic need. Agencies need work done. We compete with other places to get work and sell our services and expertise,” he said.

A job proposal is sent to prospective employers and reviewed by eight to 10 people, he said. The job is then awarded or not awarded to the institute.

Kleppner said the institute has to work within a budget and also within a time frame. NIU suggests the budget and time frame, which is normally accepted by the agency, he said. The budget, however, is sometimes cut.

“The agency is a little flexible about the time, because it could be their fault (if the institute needs more time). There’s no flex with budget, but the SSRI can transfer funds from personnel to non-personnel, and vice-versa,” he said.

Since NIU continually gets recontracted by outside agencies to perform work, there is evidence that NIU’s studies have a good reputation. The SSRI has gotten an increasing number of requests for NIU to do research, but budget cuts have slowed research down, Kleppner said.

Parviz Payvar, chairman of the mechanical engineering department in the College of Engineering, said although that college has not had time yet to built up a “reputation,” several faculty members have. “It will take awhile before a lot of publications will come from here,” he said.

Parvis said the work that engineering faculty are doing in the thermal sciences and with the laser doppler is “on the cutting edge” of scientific research.

Farhad Azadivar, industrial engineering department chairman, said the department is working with Motorola, Caterpillar, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy. He said the department concentrates on research in manufacturing and artificial intelligence.

Azadivar said funding is scarce at NIU, so the College of Engineering is forced to go to outside agencies and corporations. Much of the state-of-the-art equipment at the engineering building has been donated by these agencies and corporations, he said.

Thursday: How faculty research affects teachers’ classroom performance.