Tropical Biology, University of Georgia -- Memo from James Porter, April 3, 2008

Date: April 10, 2008
To: Tropical Biology Interest Group
From: Quint Newcomer
Subject:Comments on Jim Porter's April 3 memo

Point # 10: One of the ways this place is and will continue to be unique is that it will have multiple disciplinary pillars supporting education and research. Ecology will be one. College of Ed will be another. This creates an incredible dynamic where we will start to see overlap and interdisciplinary work evolve, not only among varied natural science disciplines, but also among social and natural science disciplines. No other research station has that!

Point # 11: Yes, and it really needs to be some sort of year-round presence. That can be fulfilled in teaching, research and outreach areas.

One of the bullet points talks about the funding of the UGA CR office. While I agree that it's currently "crippling" and not the way we should be funded, that's not Ecology's problem to worry about. I appreciate the moral and vocal support, but OIE/the Provost's Office and UGAF need to step up on this one.

I totally agree that we have administrative problems right now. Without the funding support to have admin assistance, we simply can't keep up with the necessary administrative tasks in a timely manner. Relates back to the funding issue, and also to close collaboration with faculty to get things done in a timely way. Now that we have the forms and templates developed and refined, we just need to plan far enough ahead of time and then have the admin support to effectively follow-up and oversee the daily details that need to get done.

I would welcome help in 10-year planning. I keep telling the admin here we need to do that, but there is very little visioning going on!

As for the need for upgrading and expanding research lab space and equipment, they won't do this until there is a demonstrated need. To date, we've had only a couple of ecology students doing research on campus. Which comes first, the researcher or the lab?? Unfortunately, I don't think that we will get funds for equipment upgrades until we can demonstrate that there are multiple faculty and grad students ready to come and just waiting on the improved equipment/facilities. This list of faculty is a good first start. Going the next step and putting these names together with a clearly defined programatic plan that will happen when upgrades are in place is what's needed to get the upgrades. UGAF isn't going to put another dime into the place until there is a demonstrated demand.

Upgrading Internet has been an expressed top priority, from President Adams down to the students. The UGAF knows about this, and is going to fund the upgrade. We have worked out a plan for this upgrade with fiber optic connectivity which is slated for this coming year. The real problem is that neither UGAF nor OIE will support the addition of an IT staff position for the campus. With the upgrade of the campus-wide wi-fi network, central server, workstation upgrade (currently underway), addition of GIS lab that will happen in FY09, bandwidth upgrade, and increased number of network users, we MUST have an on-site IT manager. The current staff is not trained to carry out these tasks, and for both security purposes and efficiency purposes, the current system of outsourcing IT management to a company in San Jose is not a viable option. The IT director and the Chief Security Officer prepared an analysis of our campus IT situation and recommended that we need the IT manager position to comply with safety protocol and effectively serve the campus IT needs. However, this was denied both by OIE and UGAF. The lack of staff to support the IT infrastructure is the big bottleneck, as bandwidth problems will be resolved in short order.

Differential fee structures exist for long-term researchers. They pay $17/day for lodging and meals, pending space availability. We also give such discounted rates for local researchers and students, although we don't yet have programs set up to receive CR students in the existing UGA study abroad programs (with the exception of the CURO symposium, which completely subsidizes the 12 UCR students that participate in that program). However, this is simply because program directors don't ask to put this in their course budgets, not because we don't want to do it. UGA CR campus staff can help recruit foreign students through visits to UCR, UNA, ULACIT, CR Tech, and other local universities and contacts we have with faculty at those universities.

Clarification: Univ of California does NOT own a research station or property. They run a tropical biology program that rents space at a privately-owned center in Monteverde. And it's Texas A&M, not the University of Texas that's building a station, and it's NOT within (short) walking would take 3 days or more to walk between our place and Texas A&M's! They're on the Caribbean slope of the Children's Eternal Rainforest, closer to Arenal Volcano. I'm not really sure about that sentence that "One of their first decisions was to lower user fees and costs for select graduate courses..." Who are you talking about that did this??? A&M isn't even built yet and doesn't have programming set up, and UC is only undergraduate programming.

We work with OTS quite a bit, actually. They send ~10 programs a year to us. Not their typical graduate student courses, but the groups they plan and coordiate logistics for. I would very much like to get OTS' graduate courses back on site. If they come at the time of year when we're not booked, I'm happy to give steep discounts. We already do that sort of thing for other programs that come during low season periods.

While I do need an average of 30pax/night for about 70% of the year to meet break even, that's an average that's propped up by the 4 months/year when I have 65pax+/night and the other couple of months when we're at about 40pax/night. Ideal program enrollment #s are really 22-24. When we get larger than that, transport costs go up significantly, and it's much more difficult to take the group to "intimate" places such as Cabo Blanco. If the program is entirely focused on tropical biology, wouldn't all students likely enroll in all courses offered? Or do you all contemplate offering either/or options?? Doesn't matter to me, just curious.

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