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UROP Introduces New Funding Rules

By Ramy A. Arnaout
Associate News Editor

In a departure from the old Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program application process, summer proposals will be accepted over a three-week period from April 1-22, according to the summer UROP guidelines.

With this change, "there is no advantage to being first -- that's what we're trying to eliminate," said UROP Director Norma McGavern. Instead, the UROP approval committee will focus on variety, she said. "We want proposals from a wide range of areas," she said.

As of July 1, the Institute will no longer be able to waive overhead and employee benefit costs on UROP student wages. The new policy, a result of new federal guidelines, will effectively make UROP students twice as expensive to hire as before, according to McGavern.

Wages earned through the end of June will not incur these costs, so students should save their vacation time for the end of the summer, according to UROP guidelines. The UROP office will also give preference to students who work full-time rather than part-time.

However, beginning July 1, wages paid out of sponsored research funds will be subject to employee benefit costs of about 40 percent. This sum will then be subjected to overhead expenses of over 50 percent, thereby doubling UROP costs, McGavern said.

These costs were waived last year for about 2,500 UROP students who earned nearly $5 million last year, according to McGavern. Overhead costs include physical plant and administrative services, and employee benefit costs, include health plans and vacation time.

Though employers usually earmark a portion of their employees' salaries for employee benefits, the situation is different for UROP students. Students will "contribute to employee benefits, but they don't get employee benefits," McGavern said.

Students, faculty dismayed

Both students and faculty agree that the new policy will have serious negative effects.

"It will kill the UROP program," said Sami M. Shalabi '97, who holds a UROP at the Media Laboratory. "In a meeting last week at the Media Lab, they mentioned that UROPers will get too expensive to employ, and it will be cheaper for the Media Lab to employ only postdocs," he said.

"The latest decision to burden UROP salaries with overhead and benefit costs will have far-reaching and very unpleasant consequences for both students and faculty alike," said Professor Walter H. Lewin, in a letter to the Faculty Newsletter.

He said overhead and employee benefit costs will cause the cost of each of his UROP students to jump from about $6,000 to about $14,000. "I can no longer justify in my grants the hiring of an undergraduate student," he said.

"Two such UROP students would be equivalent (financially) to about one graduate student, yet one graduate student in general produces much more science," Lewin said. "The result, therefore, will be that I will no longer employ UROP students nor will I have senior thesis students." In the past, Lewin has employed three UROP students each term.

"Our own UROP funds will be affected," McGavern said. She fears that under the new measures, the UROP office will not be able to maintain current UROP funding levels. The ability of the UROP office to help fund students will be affected by how supervising faculty react to the new rules, McGavern said.

"What are the faculty going to do? Are they going to encourage their students to work more during June" while costs are still low, or "are they going to ask [the] UROP [office] to cover the cost?" asked McGavern. "Are the faculty going to give up [hiring undergraduates]? We don't know," she said. "How much of all this we can cover with our funds is hard to say."

The UROP office will still favor students continuing a spring UROP and students with a responsible UROP track record. Faculty enthusiasm and willingness to help fund students, support from the department UROP coordinator, and clear, convincing proposals will also be considered, according to the UROP office guidelines.