Chapter Six: Research Faculty
The senior vice president for research and innovation reports to the executive vice president and provost (office of the provost). Research faculty are supported by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation.
As valuable contributors to institutional missions, research faculty members are entitled to fair treatment and compensation, access to professional development opportunities, recognition for their accomplishments, and participation in the life of the university community.
The Office of Sponsored Programs maintains Information and guidelines regarding Principal Investigator Eligibility and Criteria on the website of the Office of Sponsored Programs.
research associate, senior research associate
research scientist, senior research scientist
research assistant professor, research associate professor, research professor
Project Associate* - project associate, senior project associate, project director
*Note: Hiring into the Project Associate series was suspended in August 2020. Questions regarding current employees in the Project Associate series can be directed to the Office of Research and Innovation.
A summary matrix of qualifications, approval requirements, general expectations, salary guidelines, and typical position responsibilities for employees in the research faculty can be found on the Research and Innovation website.
Research faculty appointments are designated to promote and expedite university research activities. Research faculty rank descriptions create several series common to current sponsored research or outreach projects.
When establishing research faculty positions in this track, particularly at the research associate level, departments must ensure that the work anticipated for the employee is sufficiently complex and sophisticated to warrant a faculty position. A variety of staff roles are appropriate for research personnel, depending on the nature of the work proposed and the credentials required. For example, laboratory and research specialist I or II is usually the appropriate staff role for personnel overseeing laboratory, animal care, or research support, conducting routine tests, compiling data, collecting and preparing samples.
Careful preparation of the position description by the principal investigator and/or department head and/or supervisor is essential in determining whether the position is staff or research faculty. Staff positions must be used where appropriate; exceptions are granted only in very rare cases.
The Office of Research and Innovation administers and supports the university’s postdoctoral associate positions. Appointment to this faculty rank is usually reserved for persons who have been awarded a doctoral degree no more than four years prior to the effective date of the appointment with a minimum of one year of eligibility remaining and are engaged in research for a restricted period under the direction of a faculty mentor. The position of postdoctoral associate is intended to be a limited-term traineeship lasting two to four years (not to exceed five years), during which the individual works under the supervision of one or more senior faculty mentors in preparation for a career in academe or research. Funding is usually from a grant, contract, or a postdoctoral fellowship. Postdoctoral associates are considered temporary or short-term appointments by definition and are not appropriate for regular appointments (see regular appointments).
The maximum cumulative allowable duration of employment for a postdoctoral associate held by a single individual, even at multiple institutions, will be five years. The maximum allowable time an individual may be employed in the rank of postdoctoral associate at Virginia Tech is five years. Continued appointment beyond five years would require a promotion in rank.
Typically, postdoctoral associates have very limited responsibility for project management, supervision of personnel, or design of the research project on which they are funded. Rather, the position enables the individual to continue studies in a specialty area while gaining practical experience in the field. The postdoctoral traineeship may include opportunities to write and submit grant proposals. With the approval of the department or chair, the postdoctoral associate may serve as co-principal investigator. In certain cases (such as young career award proposals), a postdoctoral associate is permitted to submit a grant as a principal investigator. Requests for principal investigator status may be submitted to the Office of Research and Innovation.
Searches are not required to fill a postdoctoral associate position.
A person appointed to a research associate rank contributes to research activities using standard and non-standard procedures appropriate to the field. Persons appointed to research associate ranks are not eligible to be principal investigators; however, exception requests for principal investigator status for senior research associates may be submitted to the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation.
The research associate rank is the entry, or most junior, rank for research faculty members involved in sponsored projects. However, the work may vary from that which is appropriate for a relatively new professional to broader or more significant responsibilities expected of more experienced research faculty personnel. Research associates generally conduct research under supervision. They may provide input into the preparation of proposals or supervise staff or student personnel, but typically they have limited responsibility and authority in these areas.
A master’s degree in a relevant field is the minimum qualification for appointment as a research associate. The Office of Research and Innovation must approve requests for exceptions for individuals with a bachelor’s degree and significant related experience before an offer is extended.
The rank of senior research associate requires greater qualifications than the research associate either in education, experience, or both. Senior research associates conduct research under limited supervision.
Typically, they have some significant supervisory responsibility for lower-level personnel and may contribute to the conceptualization and preparation of research proposals, reports, and resource acquisition.
The doctorate or a terminal degree in the field and some experience are required. The Office of Research and Innovation must approve an appointment or promotion to this rank for individuals with a lesser degree and substantial related experience before an offer is extended.
Research scientists fulfill a senior role in the university’s research program. They carry out independent research under limited supervision. By virtue of their expertise and experience, research scientists make significant contributions to the conceptualization and conduct of the research. They may be involved in the preparation of proposals, reports, and publications, presentation of research results, and development of patents. The rank of research scientist is parallel to that of research assistant or research associate professor. A doctorate or terminal degree in the field and significant experience are expected.
The senior research scientist is the highest rank in the research faculty series for those who do not also have involvement in a graduate program. As experienced research faculty members, senior research scientists are often responsible for the design and execution of a project and interpretation of research results. . Typically, they have significant responsibility for supervision of personnel, budget preparation and execution, and organization and management of the research project. Guidelines and information regarding Principal Investigators is located in Chapter Ten of this handbook and on the website of the Office for Sponsored Programs.
The rank of senior research scientist is parallel to that of research associate professor or research professor. A doctorate or terminal degree in the field and a considerable record of research are expected.
The research professor ranks are designed for research faculty members whose appointments are expected to last more than one year and whose credentials are comparable to those of the tenured and tenure-track faculty of similar rank. This track is parallel to research scientist and senior research scientist, not necessarily above it. Appointment to research professor ranks is not appropriate for those with short-term or limited appointments since this would disadvantage the graduate or professional students with whom they might work. Research faculty members with appropriate credentials and approvals whose primary appointment is in a research unit not affiliated with a degree-granting academic department may also be appointed to these ranks with appropriate credentials and approvals. Tenure cannot be earned in any of the research faculty ranks and service is not applicable toward the probationary period if the employee is subsequently appointed to a tenure-track position.
With approval by the degree-granting program, those appointed to any research professor rank may direct graduate theses and dissertations and serve on graduate committees consistent with program and graduate school policy.
At the discretion of the academic department, departmental faculty membership with or without voting privileges may be extended to an assistant, associate, or research professor. However, a person appointed to a research professor rank is not eligible to vote on matters relating to faculty appointment, retention, promotion, or tenure.
Faculty members in this series may teach occasionally in their areas of expertise in accordance with guidelines below and by providing the appropriate credentials required of instructional faculty. (See chapter two, “Qualification and Teaching Credentials for Instructors of Record,” or the provost’s website.) Faculty in the research professor series may teach one course per year or two courses in a two-year period. They may teach more if funding is appropriately charged to the instructional budget and approved by the principal investigator/supervisor, department head or chair, and dean.
Promotion to a higher rank may be granted to research professorial faculty who have sources of continued funding and demonstrate outstanding accomplishments in appropriate activities. The curriculum vitae together with annual faculty activity reports, reprints of publications, reference letters, and other similar documents comprise a dossier, which furnishes the principal basis for promotion decisions. Besides consideration of specific professional criteria, evaluation for promotion should consider the candidate’s integrity, professional conduct, and ethics. To the extent that such considerations are significant factors in reaching a negative recommendation, they should be documented as part of the formal review process.
Research professor faculty members being considered for promotion have their dossiers reviewed at as many as three levels: (1) by a departmental committee and the head or chair; (2) by a college committee and the dean/senior management; and (3) by the office of the provost. Faculty members are not permitted to serve on department or college committees that will be reviewing a family member (spouse or dependent immediate family member) or an individual with whom they have a close personal relationship such as partner or extended family member.
Persons appointed as research assistant professors are required to have a doctoral degree or terminal degree appropriate to the field and credentials consistent with those for appointment to the rank of assistant professor. Research assistant professors are equivalent to research scientists in terms of their credentials; however, appointment to this rank indicates actual or anticipated involvement with the academic program.
Research assistant professors are expected to contribute significantly to the design and execution of research projects. They carry out independent research in their field of specialization under general supervision. They may have supervisory responsibility for project personnel and contribute to project management.
The approval of the department head or chair, dean (or next level administrator), and the Office of Research and Innovation is required before an offer is extended for an original appointment or reappointment, including approval of the proposed rank, salary, and other conditions.
Persons appointed to this rank are required to have a doctoral degree or terminal degree appropriate to the field and credentials consistent with those for appointment to the rank of associate professor. Research associate professors are typically responsible for design and execution of research projects and interpretation of research results. They may have significant supervisory responsibility for project personnel and contribute to project management.
Original appointments follow standard departmental procedures for tenured and tenure-track faculty appointments. Typically, this involves approval by the appropriate departmental/unit committee, followed by approval of the department/unit head or chair, dean (or next level administrator), and the office of the provost. Promotion to this rank requires evidence of continuous professional development, documentation of excellence in their disciplinary field, contribution to research or creative activity supported through grants and contracts, and at least regional recognition. See chapter three, “Evaluation Procedures for Promotion and Tenure.” The promotion review and approval process is described in chapter six, “Research Faculty Promotions: Professorial Ranks.”
Persons appointed to this rank are required to have a doctoral degree or terminal degree appropriate to the field and credentials consistent with those for appointment to the rank of professor. Research professors are typically responsible for design and execution of research projects and interpretation of research results. They may have significant supervisory responsibility for project personnel and contribute to project management.
Original appointments follow standard departmental procedures for tenured and tenure-track faculty appointments. Typically, this involves approval by the appropriate departmental/unit committee, followed by approval of the department/unit head or chair, dean (or next level administrator), and the Office of Research and Innovation. Promotion to this rank requires evidence of continuous professional development, documentation of excellence in their disciplinary field, outstanding research or creative activity supported by grants and contracts, and national and/or international recognition. (See chapter three, “Evaluation Procedures for Promotion and Tenure.”) The promotion review and approval process is in chapter six “Research Faculty Promotions: Professorial Ranks.”
Research faculty members may be assigned a functional title in addition to their official faculty rank in order to facilitate their work or clarify their role to internal or external constituencies. (A functional title may not be an official faculty rank other than that held by the research faculty member.) In some cases, increased responsibilities lead to a change in functional title and possibly a salary adjustment rather than a promotion in faculty rank.
Appointments to research faculty ranks, except the rank of postdoctoral associate, are indefinitely renewable. However, tenure cannot be earned in any of the research faculty ranks and service is not applicable toward the pre-tenure probationary period if the employee is subsequently appointed to a tenure-track position.
The source of funds is not the determining factor as to whether a position carries a research faculty rank, but rather the nature and purpose of the assignment. Thus, a research faculty member may be funded by sponsored projects, facilities and administrative funds, state dollars, or other sources. Policies related to research faculty apply, regardless of the source of funding.
Research faculty may participate in activities outside of their direct source of funding, such as providing significant contributions to the conceptualization or writing of new proposals, or teaching (see section 6.2.1); however, support for any time or effort spent on activities outside of their sponsored research must come from non-sponsored research funds. Special attention should be given in the development of position descriptions where funding is limited to only sponsored funding. (See chapter six, “Effort Certification Compliance Issues for Research Faculty,” and chapter ten, “Effort Certification and Salary Charges to Sponsored Grants and Contracts.”)
Original appointments and reappointments, including rank, salary, and other conditions, require the approval of the department head or chair, dean (or next level administrator), and the Office of Research and Innovation before an offer is extended.
The primary responsibility of a research faculty appointment is to conduct research and contribute to the university’s research mission through the acquisition of and successful implementation of sponsored grants and contracts. Federal guidelines require truthful and auditable documentation of the faculty member’s efforts on a semester basis. If the faculty member’s salary is paid for by sponsored grants and contracts then there is a concomitant expectation that the faculty member’s time is allocated to those projects.
While keeping the primacy of the research role in mind, there are circumstances in which the university and its instructional programs benefit from the occasional participation of research faculty members who have the appropriate credentials, expertise, and interest. The usual limitation on teaching by research faculty members is one (three-credit) course per academic year, or no more than two courses in a two- year period. The principal investigator/supervisor, department head/chair, and dean must approve exceptions. The academic department provides instructional funding for the teaching appointment and research duties are adjusted accordingly. A three-credit course equates to 0.25 FTE during an academic semester; this is the usual basis for salary charges to the instructional budget.
Research faculty members may receive additional compensation to teach a class that is in excess of their normal research assignment. To qualify for additional compensation, the research faculty member may not be 100 percent supported from sponsored funds, must be the instructor of record, and must usually be assigned to teach for the entire semester. For courses with block teaching, the research faculty member must have a formal teaching assignment for a specified portion of the course. The academic department responsible for the course must fund the payment from non-sponsored funds and initiate the payment as a temporary pay action. The payment must be approved jointly by the academic and home departments and colleges, and by Office of Research and Innovation.
It is the responsibility of the hiring department to obtain and verify documentation of credentials of all faculty prior to employment. Information regarding appropriate credentials for instructional faculty is found in chapter two, “Qualifications and Teaching Credentialing for Instructors of Record,” and on the provost’s website.
Research faculty members with appropriate credentials and experience may serve on graduate student committees in accordance with policies of the graduate school and the department. Those with appointment to the research professor ranks may chair a committee, if approved by the degree-granting department. Involvement in supervision of graduate student research may be directly related to fulfillment of sponsored grants and contracts and thus may have a synergistic effect.
Contributions to the instructional program are monitored and evaluated by the academic department and by the supervisor.
While there is logic to the progression between and among ranks, employees may change ranks as appropriate or necessary to reflect a change in role or project that align best with the essential responsibilities of the position. Promotions from one rank to another in order to recognize a faculty member’s increased responsibilities, credentials, and/or contributions to the program over time may be recommended by the supervisor.
Recommendations for promotions within the non-professorial ranks (such as research associates and research scientists) may be requested at any time during the year in recognition of significant increases in responsibilities, credentials, or contributions. The promotions require approval by the department head, dean, and Office of Research and Innovation. A faculty member may not serve on any committee that is evaluating a spouse, family member, or other individual with whom the faculty member has a close personal relationship. Following approval of the promotion request, a promotion letter signed by the department head should be presented to the employee.
Promotion recommendations into and within the research professorial faculty ranks (research assistant professor, research associate professor, and research professor) should align with the annual timeline published by the university. Faculty members being considered for promotion have their dossiers reviewed by: (1) a departmental committee and the head or chair; (2) a college committee and the dean/senior management level; and (3) the Office of Research and Innovation. Following approval of the promotion request, a promotion letter signed by the vice president for research and innovation should be presented to the employee.
Occasionally, individuals outside of university employment are identified to team with university faculty to enhance research opportunities through departments. To support these associations, the university has developed the affiliated research faculty program. Affiliated research appointments may be made for individuals connected to specific academic departments or may be made through research institutes or centers. Affiliated research appointments may also be established to facilitate research partnerships. This program may address occasions where a university faculty member has a spouse or partner who also has professional academic credentials, but who has not found appropriate employment opportunities.
Appointments in departments, colleges, or the provost, are approved at the department level and reviewed by Human Resources. Applicants must have academic credentials equivalent to those of university faculty, including the terminal degree usually required of faculty in the discipline. Applications for appointment to affiliated research faculty status must have the endorsement of the head or chair of the Virginia Tech department relevant to the applicant’s discipline.
Typically, an affiliated research faculty member has unpaid adjunct status in the academic department for that discipline. The appointment is initiated by the host department submitting to the office of the provost a letter of support, the applicant’s curriculum vitae, and the request for unpaid faculty affiliation with a Virginia Tech academic department, approved by the department head or chair and dean or director. The appointments are renewable. The rank is the research faculty designation commensurate with the credentials of the candidate.
Virginia Tech is committed to announcing the availability of positions so that a diverse pool of qualified candidates is developed for faculty positions of all types. In the case of research faculty, many of whom are hired on short-term grants and contracts sometimes requiring specialized skills and abilities, there is a need to balance the demands of the sponsored grant or contract with the institution’s commitment to open and aggressive recruitment practices to attract a diverse workforce. For more information on the faculty search process, see chapter two.
Competitive searches are required for salaried appointments to the research faculty, except in a limited number of cases warranting an exemption. Appointments of less than one year do not require a search. Searches are not required to fill a postdoctoral associate position or in the case where the person to be appointed is the author of the grant or is listed as the principal investigator or co-principal investigator, or appointment of a dual career hire. Occasionally the identified candidate may have previously worked on the project in a significant role and continuation of personnel is critical to the success of the project and a search may not be required. Consult the Office of Research and Innovation for limited exceptions.
Employment is contingent upon presentation of satisfactory documentation of credentials prior to employment. In accordance with federal law, on the first day of their employment, new employees must provide documentation of U.S. citizenship or lawful authorization to work in the United States.
All new appointments and reappointments are documented in the terms of faculty offer (TOFO) prepared by the department head or chair. The terms of faculty offer includes salary, effective date, rank, and other critical information concerning the faculty appointment. The contract specifies whether the appointment is restricted (usual appointment type for research faculty) or regular. See below for conditions under which research faculty appointments may be “regular.” All letters of appointment make reference to further terms and conditions of employment contained in the Faculty Handbook.
The terms of faculty offer for a restricted appointment clearly defines the length of the appointment. In cases where there is no expected opportunity for continuation, the document also serves as a notice of termination. The terms of faculty offer also makes clear that continuation of appointment, even during the initial year, is subject to the availability of funds, the need for services, and satisfactory performance. Related letters of offer or appointment should not contain promises that the hiring unit may not be able to keep; the university looks to the department to make good on defaults. Approval of the department head, dean, and the Office of Research and Innovation are required before an offer is extended.
It is the responsibility of the hiring department to obtain and verify documentation of credentials on all faculty prior to employment. See chapter two.
Salary support for research faculty typically comes from one or more sponsored projects. While some research faculty may be employed for years on successive grants, particularly in large, ongoing research programs, many are employed only for the duration of a specific funded project—in some cases six months and in other cases perhaps several years. Sponsored funding is seldom certain and never permanent. As a result, research faculty are usually appointed as “restricted” faculty members whose employment depends on availability of funding, the need for services, and satisfactory performance.
A research faculty member’s initial appointment or reappointment may be for up to three years provided that documented funding for the salary and fringe benefits is available from a multi-year grant, multiple grants, or other appropriate source(s), and provided a search has been conducted or an approved exemption obtained. In such cases the terms of faculty offer specifies the length of the restricted appointment.
If a person on restricted appointment is to be continued, a reappointment is required. (See chapter six, “Reappointment.”) The reappointment contract again defines the conditions of the appointment. Any changes should be made explicit. If a salary increase is approved, it should be a part of their appointment contract. Prior to the current contract end date, the department is expected to execute a reappointment contract. Annual evaluation and merit adjustments occur on the same cycle as for all other faculty members. A performance review must be done annually, shared with the appointee, and documented in writing.
Procedures for terminating employees are addressed in chapter six, “Termination Procedures for Research Faculty.”
As defined in Policy 3020, “Centers and University Institutes: Financial and Administrative Policy and Procedures,” and Policy 13005, “Centers and University Institutes: Establishment, Governance, and Programmatic Oversight” departments intending to support specific research faculty members on applicable state funds, whether or not those individuals participate in a “program” or “center” may also seek approval to appoint a research faculty member to a regular position using the same process.
The criteria and expectations for such approval are as follows:
The unit must have a documented record of substantial past funding, usually from diversified sources, generally over more than five years. In the case of a new center with multi-year funding, documentation of the new funding supported by the history of funding for the principal researchers may be considered. Research programs supported in full or in part by state funds are eligible for consideration for regular positions.
The unit must have documented prospects for continued funding at a level equal to or greater than its current funding.
The unit must be able to guarantee payment of salary and fringe benefits from sponsored grants or contracts (or other appropriate sources) for a minimum of three years in order to advertise a research faculty position as a regular appointment.
The unit must be able to guarantee funding of annual leave, sick leave, and salary following non- reappointment in the case of insufficient grant funds. The source of such payouts or salary support must be non-sponsored funds, such as indirect or state funds.
The unit will advertise and conduct a national search for regular positions. Search exemptions may be approved only under certain very limited conditions, such as unique qualifications or unit restructuring. However, a search must be conducted if there is an intention of supporting an international candidate for permanent residency. In such a case, the hiring unit should work closely with the International Support Services Office to ensure compliance with current Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) regulations.
Appropriate documentation of the search process and selection is a critical element in supporting an application for permanent residency.
In supporting the request for a regular faculty appointment, the unit and/or department (or approving unit) is thereby committing itself to covering shortfalls in funding between grants, or whenever there is insufficient funding for the salary, from other sources. Should this occur, duties may be reassigned in order to match the available source of funds.
The Office of Research and Innovation may grant approval to the unit to conduct searches for regular positions for a period of three to five years at which time the financial capabilities and commitments of the unit are reviewed and authorization is granted for another three-to five-year period, if appropriate.
Approval for the unit to advertise and fill some research faculty positions as regular appointments does not in any way suggest that all positions in the unit should be so designated. Indeed, careful thought should go into the shaping of such positions, the identification of talents and skills needed in the research group, and the availability of qualified individuals that may necessitate this more generous commitment of resources.
Postdoctoral associates are considered temporary or short-term appointments by definition and are not appropriate for regular appointments.
Research faculty members on regular appointments are entitled to notice of non-reappointment, as specified in chapter two, “Retirement, Resignation, and Non-Reappointment.”
The nature of the research enterprise generally dictates that research faculty are appointed to a calendar year (12-month) position. However, there may be circumstances in which an academic year (nine-month) appointment is justified and appropriate. The justification for an academic year appointment should accompany the faculty search authorization or search exemption request.
Academic year research appointments do not earn or accrue annual leave. Faculty members on academic year restricted appointments earn and accrue sick leave at the rate of five hours per pay period during the academic year; those on regular appointments are entitled to 1040 hours of paid sick leave upon employment. Sick leave is addressed in more detail in chapter two, “Sick Leave.”
Research faculty members on academic year appointments may accept summer research wage (P14) or summer or winter session teaching employment in the same department or program, or elsewhere in the university. Research faculty on H1-B visas qualify for summer wage employment only in very limited cases. Contact the International Support Services to verify eligibility. Those who have documentation of additional months of funding from sponsored grants or contracts may be eligible for consideration of a calendar year research conversion under the terms of Policy 6200, “Policy on Research Extended Appointments.” (See chapter two, “Research Extended Appointments for Faculty on Academic Year Appointments,” chapter six, “Effort Certification Compliance Issues for Research Faculty,” and chapter ten, “Effort Certification and Salary Charges to Sponsored Grants and Contracts.”)
Every research faculty member must have an up-to-date position description that forms the basis for initial hiring and assignment of duties and, through subsequent updates, for annual evaluation. Position descriptions should include a relatively detailed list or narrative description of assigned responsibilities and expectations for performance. A position description should be created and entered into the university’s online position description system.
Supervisors, usually principal investigators, are responsible for conducting an annual evaluation for any and all research faculty. The annual performance review must be shared with the appointee and documented in writing. This documentation supports the request for annual merit and/or special adjustments. Giving regular and constructive feedback is essential to the development of employees, and it is the responsibility of the department head to be certain that research faculty are appropriately and consistently evaluated. The cycle for evaluation is the same as that for all other faculty members in their college or institute. Annual evaluation and merit adjustments occur on the same cycle as for all other faculty members.
Research faculty members, both regular and restricted, are eligible for annual merit adjustments (and special adjustments when necessary and appropriate) on the same cycle as all other faculty members when available and authorized by the university. The result is then communicated to the research faculty member. A promotion requires a new Terms of Faculty Offer (TOFO). Following the annual evaluation, supervisors make recommendations to department heads who, in turn, make their recommendations to college and university officials. Final approval of the recommendations for merit and special adjustments rests with the Board of Visitors. The result is then communicated to the research faculty member. Merit recommendations for research faculty members are generally expected to track the merit adjustments for teaching and research faculty members. In some cases, available funds may limit, delay, or even preclude a merit adjustment. However, performance evaluation and feedback to the employee are still required even if a merit adjustment is not possible.
Special adjustments, outside of the annual merit process, may be recommended in accordance with the guidelines for faculty salary adjustments available from the Office of Research and Innovation. Examples of such adjustments might be for promotion in rank, increased responsibility, retention, equity, or other reasons critical to the support of research faculty members. Justification and appropriate approvals are required as outlined in the guidelines.
Research faculty members on restricted appointment whose employment is to be continued are issued a reappointment specifying the new ending date for their appointment. Reappointments typically occur on the anniversary of the hire date or in relation to the funding cycle of the grant or appointment.
Reappointments may be for less than one year in situations where additional funding is anticipated but not confirmed. Multiple reappointments may occur during the span of the research faculty member’s employment. The reappointment date may be adjusted based on other significant actions (e.g., promotion), or by issuing appointments that move the employee to the same effective date as their merit adjustment. Multi-year reappointments are possible in cases where funding is available for the proposed reappointment period.
Research faculty members on regular appointment do not have fixed ending dates to their contracts. Should it become necessary to end the appointment, they receive written notice of non-reappointment as described in chapter two, “Retirement, Resignation, and Non-Reappointment.”
Members of the research faculty may be removed from their position by one of the following three procedures: (1) removal for just cause, (2) non-reappointment, or (3) termination of position because of insufficient funds or no further need for services. The period of notice for non-reappointment of research faculty members on regular appointments is addressed in chapter two, “Retirement, Resignation, and Non-Reappointment.”
Research faculty members may be dismissed for just cause. Stated causes for dismissal shall include, but are not limited to: professional incompetence; unacceptable or unsatisfactory performance after due notice; unethical conduct or misconduct that interferes with the capacity of the employee to perform effectively the requirements of the position; violation of university policy; falsification of credentials, experience, leave reports, or other official employment documents. Filing a grievance does not constitute just cause for termination.
When it becomes necessary to terminate a member of the research faculty for unsatisfactory performance prior to the end of the appointment period, the following procedures apply:
When the faculty supervisor determines that performance is unsatisfactory, the supervisor writes a letter to the individual detailing the areas of performance that are deficient. This letter should indicate specific expectations of improvement by the employee during a specified time period of not less than 30 calendar days. The department head and college dean receive copies. In cases where there is some likelihood of threat to health or safety, the 30-day period may be waived.
At the end of the above period, the faculty supervisor must again write the research faculty member with a performance evaluation during the interim since the first letter, with copies to the department head and college dean or equivalent senior-level manager. If performance continues to be unsatisfactory, this second letter may contain a termination notice. The termination notice has an effective date 45 calendar days from the date of the second letter. In cases where there is a threat to health or safety, the 45-day period may be waived.
In the event of termination, the research faculty member may appeal to the department head. Should the appeal process be initiated, the termination is held in abeyance until the appeal process is complete.
The appeal must be made in writing within five working days of receipt of the letter. (If the department head has a conflict of interest, the head refers the matter to the college dean.)
The department head (or dean) must respond in writing within 10 working days. If the recommendations of the department head (or dean) are unsatisfactory to either party, an appeal may be made to the office of the provost in writing within five working days.
The Office of Research and Innovation appoints a committee of three members of the general faculty who make recommendations to the provost within 10 working days.
The decision of the provost is final and is rendered within 10 working days of receiving the report.
The above time limits of the appeal process may be altered by extenuating circumstances and the agreement of both parties.
If the research faculty member is a member of an interdisciplinary research center, the center director as well as the department head and college dean of the faculty supervisor are copied on all correspondence.
The terms of faculty offer for a restricted appointment clearly defines the length of the appointment and also serves as a notice of termination. The terms of faculty offer also makes clear that continuation of appointment, even during the initial year, is subject to the availability of funds, the need for services, and satisfactory performance. (See “Terms of Faculty Offer and Documentation of Credentials.”)
Research faculty members with regular appointment receive written notice of non-reappointment as described in chapter two, “Retirement, Resignation, and Non-Reappointment,” should it become necessary to end the appointment.
Occasionally a sponsor terminates funding before the end of a contract, or directs a change in the research program resulting in the need to terminate the services of an employee. While principal investigators and research centers are encouraged to make every effort to assure continuity of employment to individuals performing satisfactorily, there are circumstances in which this may not be not possible or in the best interest of the research program or university. Research faculty appointments may be terminated in the case where there are insufficient funds or no further need for services. The date of termination for a restricted faculty member is at least 30 calendar days from the date of notification. A faculty member on a regular appointment is entitled to notice of non-reappointment, as stated in chapter two, “Retirement, Resignation, and Non-Reappointment.” A proposed notice of termination because of insufficient funds or lack of need for services requires the approval of the department head, and dean (or appropriate administrator), and the Office of Research and Innovation.
As described in chapter ten, “Effort Certification and Salary Charges to Sponsored Grants and Contracts,” a research faculty member with regular, well-defined responsibilities for new proposal preparation, teaching, or administrative duties is prohibited from charging 100 percent of salary to sponsored projects during an effort reporting period in which such activity occurred, unless those activities are specifically allowed on the sponsored project.
Research faculty members are typically on 12-month appointments, which earn and accrue annual leave by university policy. Use of annual leave is recognized as an acceptable charge to a sponsored project when such leave is part of the university appointment.
The following procedure is provided as the means for resolution of grievances against a supervisor or member(s) of the university administration brought by members of the research faculty.
Informal Dialogue: It should be possible to resolve most faculty concerns or complaints through informal communication among colleagues working together in the academic enterprise. Accordingly, a faculty member who feels there is a grievance is encouraged to take it to the immediate supervisor in the collegial spirit of problem solving rather than as a confrontation between adversaries.
University Ombuds: Any member of the university community may visit the university Ombuds Office. The Ombuds listens and explores options for addressing and resolving concerns or complaints. The Ombuds Office does not have the authority to make decisions or to reverse any decision made or actions taken by university authorities. The Ombuds Office supplements, but does not replace, the university's existing resources for conflict resolution and its systems of review and adjudication.
Communications with the Ombuds Office are considered confidential. The Ombuds Office will not accept legal notice on behalf of the university, and information provided to the Ombuds Office will not constitute such notice to the university. Should someone wish to make the university formally aware of a particular problem, the Ombuds Office can provide information on how to do so. The only exception to this pledge of confidentiality is where the Ombuds Office determines that there is an imminent risk of serious harm, or if disclosure is required by law.
To preserve independence and neutrality, the Ombuds Office reports directly to the University President. The Ombuds Office does not keep permanent records of confidential communications.
Reconciliation: At the initiation of the grievance procedure, or at any earlier time, the grievant may request the assistance of the Faculty Senate Committee on Reconciliation in fashioning an equitable solution. Contacting the Faculty Senate Committee on Reconciliation is not required in filing a grievance, but it may be useful if the grievant feels that the issue may be amenable to, but will require time for, negotiation; or if the grievant is unsure whether the concern is a legitimate issue for a grievance; or if personal relations between the parties involved in the grievance have become strained.
For a potential grievance issue to qualify for consideration by the Faculty Senate Committee on Reconciliation, the grievant contacts the chair of the Faculty Senate Committee on Reconciliation within 30 calendar days of the time when the grievant knew or should have known of the event or action that is the basis for the potential grievance, just as if beginning the regular grievance process. If the grievant requests assistance from the Faculty Senate Committee on Reconciliation, that committee requests a postponement of the time limits involved in the grievance procedure while it deals with the case. The chair of the Faculty Senate Committee on Reconciliation submits the request in writing to the vice provost for faculty affairs. Also, the grievant reaches an understanding with the Faculty Senate Committee on Reconciliation of the time frame planned for that committee’s work on the case, such time not to exceed 60 calendar days.
Faculty members may also consult the Faculty Senate Committee on Reconciliation about serious disagreements with immediate supervisors or other university administrators concerning issues that may not be eligible for consideration within the grievance process. In such instances, the committee contacts the relevant administrator to determine if there is an interest and willingness to explore informal resolution of the dispute; it is not necessary to notify the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost. Information on the Faculty Senate Committee on Reconciliation is in chapter two of this handbook and on the Faculty Senate website.
Mediation: Mediation is a voluntary, confidential process through which trained neutral third persons (mediators) assist people to express their concerns and develop solutions to the dispute in a safe and structured environment. Assistance with mediation is available through Human Resources. Because mediation is voluntary, both parties must agree to participate in order for mediation to occur. Faculty members and supervisors are encouraged to consider using mediation to resolve disputes or to help address a conflict between a faculty member and another member of the Virginia Tech community.
Role of Mediators: Mediators do not make judgments, determine facts, or decide the outcome; instead they facilitate discussion between the participants, who identify the solutions best suited to their situation. No agreement is made unless and until it is acceptable to the participants.
Requesting Mediation: Mediation is available at any time, without the filing of a grievance. Additionally, mediation may be requested by any party during the grievance process prior to step four. If, after the initiation of a formal grievance, both parties agree to participate in mediation, the grievance is placed on administrative hold until the mediation process is complete. If the parties come to a resolution of the dispute through mediation, the parties are responsible to each other for ensuring that the provisions of the agreement are followed. In the event that the parties are not able to reach a mutual resolution to the dispute through mediation, the grievant may request that the grievance be reactivated and the process continues.
Mediation differs from faculty reconciliation in that mediators do not engage in fact-finding or in evaluation of decisions. Both mediation and reconciliation, however, are voluntary; no party is required to participate in either process.
If the assistance of the Faculty Senate Committee on Reconciliation is not desired or is not requested; or if that committee determines that it cannot provide assistance in the matter; or if the grievant finds that the length of time the Faculty Senate Committee on Reconciliation plans or takes with the case is excessive; or if the grievant is not satisfied with the recommendations of that committee, the grievant may pursue the issue as a formal grievance through the following procedure. Department heads or chairs, deans, directors, and other administrative faculty will cooperate with the grievant in the mechanics of processing the grievance, but the grievant alone is responsible for preparation of the case.
Step one: The grievant shall provide a written description of the event or action on the faculty grievance form and relevant supporting documentation of the grievance within 30 calendar days of the date when the event or action should have been known that is the basis of the grievance to the immediate supervisor. Research faculty grievance forms are available on provost website.
The supervisor meets with the grievant and provides a written response within five weekdays to the grievant citing reasons for action taken or not taken and the final decision. If the supervisor’s response is satisfactory to the grievant, that ends the matter.
If the response is not satisfactory to the grievant or the supervisor does not respond within five weekdays, the grievant will indicate “no resolution” on the faculty grievance form, return a copy of the form to the immediate supervisor and proceed to step two.
Step two: The grievant advances the written description of the event or action, relevant supporting documentation, research faculty grievance form and the written response of the immediate supervisor (or statement of non-response if the supervisor did not respond within five the weekdays at step one) to the next level administrator within five weekdays of receipt of the decision. The next level administrator is the department head. If the department head has a conflict of interest, he or she refers the matter is referred to the college dean. The administrator involved at this level is hereafter referred to as the second-level administrator.
Within five weekdays of receipt of the research faculty grievance form, the second-level administrator meets with the grievant and may request the presence of the immediate supervisor. The grievant may similarly request that a chosen representative from among the university faculty be present. Unless the grievant is represented by a member of the faculty who is also a lawyer, the second-level administrator does not have legal counsel present.
The second-level administrator returns the research faculty grievance form and provides a written response and final decision to the grievant with copies to the immediate supervisor within five weekdays after the meeting. The decision of the second-level administrator takes precedence over the decision of the immediate supervisor. If the response is satisfactory to the grievant, that ends the matter. If the response is not satisfactory or if there is no response within five weekdays by the second level administrator, the grievant may so indicate on the grievance form and return a copy to the second-level administrator and proceed to step three.
Step three: The grievant may advance the written description of the event or action, relevant supporting documentation grievance form and written responses of the immediate supervisor and second-level administrator to the dean or equivalent senior-level manager within five weekdays of receipt of the decision in step two.
The dean will inform the immediate supervisor within five weekdays that the procedure has advanced to step three.
Within five weekdays of receipt of the grievance form, the dean meets with the grievant and may request the presence of the immediate supervisor. The grievant may similarly request that a chosen representative from among the university faculty may be present. Unless the grievant is represented by a member of the faculty who is also a lawyer, the dean does not have legal counsel present.
The dean shall return the grievance form and provide a written response and final decision to the grievant with copies to the immediate supervisor and second-level administrator within five weekdays after the meeting. The decision of the dean takes precedence over the decision of the second-level administrator. If the response is satisfactory to the grievant, the procedure is terminated. If the response is not satisfactory or if there is no response within five weekdays by the dean, the grievant may so indicate on the research faculty grievance form and return a copy to the dean and proceed to step four.
Step four: The grievant will advance the written description of the event or action, relevant supporting documentation, research faculty grievance form, and written responses of the immediate supervisor, second-level administrator, and dean to the executive vice president and provost within five weekdays of the decision of step four. The provost will make a decision and may wish to consult faculty members unfamiliar with the grievance for an opinion.
The decision of the provost is final and will be rendered to the grievant and immediate supervisor within five weekdays of receipt of the grievance.
The above time limits of the appeal process may be altered by extenuating circumstances and the agreement of both parties.
If the research faculty member is a member of an interdisciplinary research center, the center director as well as the department head and dean are copied on all correspondence.
A grievance must be brought forward in a timely manner. It is the responsibility of the grievant to initiate the grievance process within 30 calendar days of the time when the event or action should have been known that is the basis for the grievance. The university administration is not required to accept a grievance for processing if the grievant does not meet the 30-day deadline, except in cases of demonstrated good cause.
Scheduled commitments made prior to the time of filing or advancement of a grievance that preclude action by either of the parties to the grievance automatically extend time limits for their duration unless this would be demonstrably harmful to the fair processing of the grievance. In such cases, on written request by the grievant to the appropriate office for that step, the grievance is advanced to the next step in the grievance process.
If the grievant does not follow the time limits specified in the grievance procedure it is assumed that the last proposed resolution as satisfactory was accepted. If the grievant desires to advance the grievance after the appropriate specified time limits have lapsed, the administrator who receives the late submission notifies the chair of the Faculty Senate Review Committee in writing, and the chair of the Faculty Senate Review Committee determines if there was good cause for the delay. If so, the grievance proceeds. If not, the process ends with the most recently proposed resolution in force. The finding on the matter by the chair of the Faculty Senate Review Committee is communicated to both parties in writing.
If either party to a grievance charges the other with procedural violations other than time limit issues, a special committee of two research faculty appointed by the vice president for research and innovation and the chair of the Faculty Senate Review Committee is convened to rule on the question, as in disputes about the validity of issues qualifying for the grievance procedure. The special committee has the following options. It can either find no significant procedural violation occurred, in which case the grievance process continues unaffected, or that a significant procedural violation did occur. If the administrator committed a significant procedural violation, the grievance automatically qualifies for advancement to the next step in the grievance process. If the grievant committed a significant procedural violation, the grievance process ends at that point with the last proposed resolution established as the final disposition of the case.
The Faculty Senate Review Committee does not normally consider the subject of a grievance while it is simultaneously under review by another committee or panel of the university.
Information on the Faculty Senate Review Committee is in chapter two of this handbook and on the Faculty Senate website.
For this process, a grievance is defined as a complaint by a faculty member alleging a violation, misinterpretation, or incorrect application of a policy, procedure, or practice of the university that directly affects the grievant. Some examples of valid issues for filing a grievance are: improperly or unfairly determined personnel decisions that result in an unsatisfactory annual performance evaluation, unreasonable merit adjustment or salary level, or excessive teaching load/work assignments; substantive violations of promotion procedures (see chapter six, “Research Professor Ranks”); reprisals; substantive error in the application of policy; and matters relating to academic freedom.
Issues not open to grievance: While most faculty disputes with the university administration may be dealt with by this grievance policy, the following issues may not be made the subject of a grievance: determination of policy appropriately promulgated by the university administration or the university governance system; those items falling within the jurisdiction of other university policies and procedures (for example, complaints of unlawful discrimination or harassment, or an appeal related to the merits of a promotion decision); the contents of personnel policies, procedures, rules, regulations, ordinances, and statutes; the routine assignment of university resources (e.g., space, operating funds, parking, etc.); usual actions taken, or recommendations made, by administrators or committee members acting in an official capacity in the grievance process; termination of appointment by removal for just cause, non- reappointment, or abolition of position; or allegations of misconduct in scholarly activities.
Adjudication of disputes on the validity of issues qualifying for consideration under the faculty grievance procedures: If a university administrator rules that an issue does not qualify for the grievance process, the grievant may write to the chair of the Faculty Senate Review Committee within five weekdays of receiving such notification and request a ruling from a special committee consisting of the president of the Faculty Senate, the chair of the Faculty Senate Committee on Reconciliation, and the chair of the Faculty Senate Review Committee. The special committee considers the matter (including consultations with both parties if deemed necessary) and rules by majority vote on the admissibility of the matter to the grievance process. This special committee is called together by the chair of the Faculty Senate Review Committee, who also sends a written report of the results of the deliberations of the committee to all parties concerned.
Time limits are subject to extension by written agreement of both parties. The grievant and the administrator involved at that particular step of the discussion are the makers of such an agreement. (An agreement form to extend the grievance response time is available on the provost’s website.)
Grievances that advance to step four during or close to the summer and/or teaching breaks during the academic year may require some extension of the stipulated time limits. The principals and the chair of the Faculty Senate Review Committee negotiate such an extension. Every effort is made, however, to stay within the stipulated time limits.
If a faculty member is away from the assigned work location at the time the event or action that is the basis for a grievance is discovered, the 30-day period during which the grievant must meet with the immediate supervisor to initiate the grievance process begins when the faculty member returns to the assigned work location. If the date of return causes a delay of such length that the grievance, or its resolution, is not timely, the grievant may submit the grievance in writing to the immediate supervisor (step two), omitting personal meetings until such time as the faculty member returns to the assigned work location.
“Weekdays,” as used in this procedure, include Monday through Friday only and only when those days are not national, state, or religious holidays relevant to the principals in the grievance.
To protect a grievant from undue pressure in the pursuit of a grievance, if a grievant becomes ill and takes sick leave the grievance process stops until such time as the grievant is able to resume duties. Exceptions to this provision are made at the request of the grievant, but only if the grievant obtains and produces medical certification that proceeding with the grievance will not be harmful to the health of the grievant, or exacerbate the ailment that required taking sick leave.
All costs of legal counsel employed by a grievant are borne by the grievant.
If a grievant is employed away from Blacksburg, and is required to travel away from their duty station in resolution of their grievance, the university pays all travel costs permitted under state regulations.
In the event that a faculty member discovers there is a grievance about actions by an administrator above the level of the immediate supervisor that directly involve the faculty member, or with actions by an administrator not in the department that directly involve the faculty member, the grievant initiates the grievance process by seeking the mediation of the immediate supervisor within 30 calendar days of the discovery of the event or action that is the basis for the grievance. If that effort does not resolve the grievance satisfactorily, the grievant, after consulting the immediate supervisor, may file the faculty grievance form at the appropriate level or with the appropriate administrative office to initiate response from the administrator perceived as the source of the action causing the grievance. The grievance process then proceeds from that level onward in usual fashion.
A grievance filed by a faculty member concerning an action of the provost is handled by the chair of the Faculty Senate Review Committee and a regular impartial hearing panel, but the findings and recommendations of the hearing panel are sent to the university president for ruling, rather than to the provost. A grievance filed by a faculty member concerning an action of the president of the university is dealt with by a special panel appointed by the provost in consultation with the president of the Faculty Senate.
Any final resolution of a grievance must be consonant with the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia and university policy.
Once a grievance is resolved, either to the satisfaction of the grievant, or if not to the satisfaction of the grievant, by the action of the provost in consonance with the hearing panel recommendations or by the ruling of the president, that specific grievance is closed and may not be made the subject of another grievance.
Below is an abbreviated overview of the grievance process and deadlines. Refer to chapter six, “The Formal Grievance Procedure,” for specific details and options available in each step of the grievance process.
Time limits are subject to extension by written agreement of both parties. The grievant and the administrator involved at that particular step of the discussion are the makers of such an agreement. (An agreement form to extend the grievance response time is available on the provost’s website.)
|Within 30 days of event||1a.||
Grievant submits written grievance to supervisor.
|Within 5 weekdays||
|Supervisor meets with grievant and provides written response.|
|1c.||If supervisor’s response is satisfactory to grievant, that ends the matter.|
|If supervisor’s response is not satisfactory to grievant, move to step two within 5 weekdays.|
|Within 5 weekdays||
Grievant advances grievance form to the next-level administrator referred to as the second-level administrator.
|Within 5 weekdays||2b.||Second-level administrator provides written response.|
|If second-level administrator’s written response is satisfactory to grievant, that ends the matter.|
|If second-level administrator’s written response is not satisfactory to grievant, move to step four within 5 weekdays.|
|Within 5 weekdays||
Grievant advances grievance form to the dean or equivalent senior-level manager.
|Within 5 weekdays||
|Dean or equivalent senior-level manager meets with grievant; dean or senior- level manager may request immediate supervisor to be present.|
Within 5 weekdays
|3c.||Dean or senior-level manager provides written response.|
|If the dean’s or senior-level manager’s written response is satisfactory to grievant, that ends the matter.|
|3e.||If the dean’s or senior-level manager’s written response is not satisfactory to grievant, move to step give within 5 weekdays.|
|Within 5 weekdays||
Grievant advances grievance form to the provost.
|Within 5 weekdays||
Provost may consult faculty members unfamiliar with the grievance for their opinion and provides a response in writing. The provost’s decision is final.