A reader wrote with an interesting question about asking department heads (and deans) for matching funds. How are decisions about matching funds made? In this case, the reader asked for a rather modest amount of matching funds for an NSF grant, and was turned down, although the same department head had given 20x as much money to someone else recently.
Even in departments and institutions that have tried to make other aspects of academic life more 'transparent' in terms of how decisions are made (e.g., hiring, tenure), the distribution of discretionary funds remains one of the more mysterious and seemingly-arbitrary processes. In many places, these decisions are made by department heads and deans, with no systematic evaluation of who gets how much money and for what purpose.
Perhaps some administrator-readers will chime in to explain the basis for their decisions on these matters, but the following are likely factors in a decision about matching fund requests:
- How much $ is requested?
- Is the requested amount realistic given budget constraints, including other recent requests for such funds by this person and others?
- Who is doing the requesting? (leading to additional factors regarding this person's productivity, other contributions to the department/institution, previous requests for matching funds)
These requests are typically rather episodic. They are tied to grant deadlines, but in a department in which faculty receive grants from many different funding agencies and programs, there may be many such deadlines, so these requests are typically made one or a few at a time throughout the year. There is no time when all the requests for a year or a term are considered against each other, such that decisions could be made using some prioritization or sharing scheme. This might contribute to the apparent arbitrariness of decisions about matching funds in some cases.
Administrators: How do you make decisions on these requests? What factors do you consider? Are you systematic or arbitrary? (according to you)
From my point of view as a requester of matching funds, I have never had a request turned down, so I can't speak from experience of what I would do in that case. Has anyone reading this ever successfully argued for a reversal of a negative decision on matching funds? If so, how did you approach it?
And has anyone who was turned down in a request for matching funds asked for (and received) an explanation that seemed reasonable?