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UA to look for English’s successor

National hunt set for research, innovation vice chancellor by Ryan Anderson | November 29, 2022 at 4:51 a.m.
John English (left), the vice chancellor for research and innovation at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and Margaret Sova McCabe, senior adviser for strategic projects and a law professor, are shown in these photos taken in 2014 and 2019, respectively. McCabe will be the interim vice chancellor for research and innovation beginning Jan. 1, 2023, after English steps down from the role. (Left, NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe, NWA Democrat-Gazette/Carin Schoppmeyer)

FAYETTEVILLE -- The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville will embark on a national search for a new vice chancellor for research and innovation to replace John English, who will step down from the role Dec. 31.

"I'm an academic guy, but [former chancellor Joe Steinmetz, who resigned in 2021]asked me to kind of ride herd for a couple of years during the covid" pandemic, and "I said, 'OK,'" said English, who was appointed as vice chancellor for research and innovation in 2020 and will return to the Department of Industrial Engineering as a faculty member. "The bottom line is, I've had 23 years in pretty intense leadership positions, and I just want to go back to being a professor, surrounding myself with students, teaching and advising them.

"Our division needs someone who has come through the academic realm -- appreciation for academics is critical -- and who has been in a similar office at a major university," said English, who served as head of the Department of Industrial Engineering from 2000-2007 and as dean of the College of Engineering from 2013-2020, where he held the Irma F. and Raymond F. Giffels Endowed Chair in Engineering. "I just don't have that experience."

Still, the decision to step away was "hard for me, because I've grown so close to these people," he said. "It's a wonderful era of my life."


Under English's leadership, the Division of Research and Innovation was reorganized to add clear communications channels, as "We want everyone to know who to go to with various issues," he said. His successor is expected to continue that plan, as well as the "right-sizing of the Office of Sponsored Programs."

The Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP), which provides guidance to faculty and students in preparing proposals and expending awards in accordance with various regulations, is "understaffed, but we have a plan for that," English said. "We want to strategically add more staff there."

Along with the vice chancellor for economic development, English recruited and hired the inaugural director of the Institute for Integrative and Innovative Research (I3R) and hired "a new director of OSP and a new director of research compliance," he said. "Those are critical spots where you need to have the right people, and I'm proud of that."

English has made collaboration a priority throughout his career and that continued as vice chancellor for research and innovation -- the university's chief research officer -- establishing collaborations with other research institutions in the state, including the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), Arkansas Children's Research Institute, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Arkansas State University, he said. "I've made some great friends and colleagues, and we can do a lot together with research in this state."

Also during his tenure, the university again received the highest classification of research activity from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, earning the designation of "Research 1" -- Doctoral University: Very High Research Activity."

"The R1 is a really big deal, we're safely in that [designation], and we're well-positioned to stay there," English said. "Research expenditures are up by 26% from 2018-2021" compared with 2014-2016, and "research awards are up by 22% this year, [which is] phenomenal."

Also during his tenure, "We started doing a workshop for new STEM faculty and new Humanities faculty on scholarship, writing grant proposals, and understanding the function of this division on campus," he said. "We also hosted researchers from our university and UAMS for a workshop on metabolic diseases so they can collaborate more and co-hosted a workshop on grantsmanship with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture."


Margaret Sova McCabe, senior adviser for strategic projects and a law professor who is teaching and researching food law and policy, will be the interim vice chancellor for research and innovation beginning Jan. 1 in addition to her regular duties, according to the university.

McCabe will focus on implementing key operational enhancements designed in consultation with the Huron Group, preparing the division offices for new leadership, and supporting campus research enterprise.

English "has really moved this organization forward, and it's in a great place," McCabe said. "His commitment to the university for all these years is remarkable."

As senior adviser for strategic projects, McCabe is already involved with "improving how we support faculty with efficiency and structure for awards," which probably played a role in her selection as interim, but "I am a true interim," with no plans to pursue the vice chancellor for research and innovation position beyond her interim tenure, she said. "There's a great team of senior leaders" in the division, and she plans to continue the "ongoing work John started," particularly the division's reorganization.

It'll be important for the next vice chancellor for research and innovation to "be excited about where we are -- someone the current researchers see as a great partner -- and where we can go," she said. This position is ideal for "a people-person who loves intellectual enterprise and wants to mentor and inspire faculty to the next innovation, discovery, or creation."

The candidate should also be "super strategic," McCabe said. "Research plays a huge role in the advancement of society, [so this person] needs to think three years, five years -- or more -- into the future, because this work is never done."

Research and innovation are "our obligation as a land-grant university, because it's our mission to improve the state and nation," she said. "The university plays a big role in the innovative and inspirational things that happen in the state, because we serve the state."

"I could never predict a timeline" to conclude the search for the new vice chancellor of research and innovation, "but it is a definite priority -- permanent leadership is important, so I hope it doesn't take too long -- and I have confidence in the search," she said. "I'm ready to serve as long as it takes to find the perfect person to help take the university to a bright future."


The Division of Research and Innovation is in many ways the "backbone" of the university, because the department is responsible for "getting a lot of things done that -- before I started [this role] -- I didn't know how they got done," English said.

For example, the OSP is "like the control arm of the university for sponsored programs," while the Research Integrity and Compliance office is responsible for ensuring institutional compliance with federal and state regulatory requirements and university policies pertaining to sponsored and unsponsored research.

Under English's leadership, his department worked closely with the faculty senate to outline a new process for managing conflicts of interest, he said.

Export control, animal well-being -- "making sure safety standards are followed with research animals" -- and the University of Arkansas Press all fall under the department's purview, as well, said English, who served as dean and the LeRoy C. and Aileen H. Paslay Chair of the Kansas State College of Engineering prior to returning to Fayetteville in 2013.

English, a Fellow of the Institute of Industrial Engineers who holds his Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and Master of Science degree in operations research from UA-Fayetteville and his Ph.D. in industrial engineering and management from Oklahoma State University, said his decision to step down at the end of this year is unrelated to the recently concluded chancellor search at the university. The vice chancellor for research and innovation reports to the chancellor's office, and the UA System board of trustees voted unanimously to remove the interim tag from Charles Robinson -- and give him a three-year contract -- earlier this month.

"I have supported -- and absolutely will continue to support -- Charles Robinson, and I'm pleased that he was [chosen]," English said. "I completely support and align myself with his vision, and -- as an alum -- I look forward to seeing where he leads us in the future."

"I'd like to thank John for his leadership during this pivotal time in growing the university's research enterprise," Robinson said in a release from the university. "He has been a steadfast presence on this campus, which has benefited from his contributions to the mission of teaching, research and service. I'm grateful that he will continue to support students on our campus through continuing his teaching duties."

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