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October VPR Update

VPR Update

October 28, 2020

VPR Update is a monthly email produced by the Office of the Vice President for Research that aims to increase awareness around important research and scholarship items that affect our community. VPR Update is sent to all active investigators, including those engaged in human research, and research administrators across the three U-M campuses.


Rebecca Cunningham

Dear Colleagues,

As part of our ongoing efforts to catalyze, support and safeguard research and scholarship across the three U-M campuses, I am pleased to share with you the October installment of VPR Update. This monthly email, produced by the Office of the Vice President for Research, features important updates about research and scholarship so that our community can advance knowledge, solve challenging problems and enhance quality of life.

Use of institutional funds to support research and scholarship

  • In an effort to strengthen research and scholarship, recent guidance will allow for the expansion of institutional spending. This guidance allows faculty to utilize institutional funding for research and scholarship purposes, and also aids in addressing inequities induced or exacerbated by COVID-19 across the research enterprise by those most dependent on internal funding. Spending restrictions previously implemented by the university in response to the pandemic inhibited faculty from using institutional funds for research and scholarship, which was a necessary move at the time given the financial constraints posed by COVID-19. By relaxing research spending restrictions, faculty can now utilize institutional funds to advance their research and scholarship without seeking an individual exception for the following:

    • Faculty incentive accounts for research; Research discretionary funds; Internal grants; Startup funds for research.

    • Internal research funds may be used to hire research staff and to cover the costs of external vendors needed to conduct research.

  • Examples of research activities that faculty cannot yet fund using institutional support include:

    • Travel for conferences or professional development; Administrative supplements or bonus pay on grants to circumvent the salary freeze or otherwise; Hosting; In-person events; Marketing; Remodeling; Furniture; or Home Internet.

  • Please work with your research associate deans or unit leadership if you have any further questions regarding this matter.

Undergraduate research activity temporarily paused

  • In response to the recent Stay in Place order from the Washtenaw County Health Department, the university has temporarily rolled back its expansion of in-person undergraduate research and scholarship activity to what was allowed prior to October 12. Undergraduates enrolled at the Ann Arbor campus who regained access to research and scholarship after October 11 should pause in-person activity through November 3. If work can be done remotely, undergraduates are welcome and encouraged to continue their research and scholarship in that manner.

  • Undergraduates play a critical role in our research mission, but the health and safety of students and the entire community is our top priority. We will continue to assess virus transmission rates to determine whether all undergraduates enrolled at the Ann Arbor campus can safely resume in-person research and scholarship following the 14-day Stay in Place order. Please refer to our research re-engagement webpage for further updates.

COVID-19 research metrics

  • Researchers to date who have been working on campus and tested positive for COVID-19 (May 21 - October 26): 21 (20 Ann Arbor, 1 Dearborn)

    • Three researchers have tested positive for COVID-19 within the past seven days. Ten researchers have tested positive since October 1.

    • Environment, Health and Safety is managing contact tracing when needed to protect the health and safety of our research community, and over the past five months, there have been zero instances of virus transmission between laboratory or research coworkers (which includes testing of asymptomatic coworkers) when proper safety precautions were followed. There was one recent instance of virus transmission between two coworkers where six feet of separation in the laboratory was not maintained. We recognize after months working in this manner that it is difficult to have sustained vigilance in maintaining social distancing.

  • Researchers to date who have been working on campus, displayed symptoms (or were tested as part of contact tracing of asymptomatic individuals in the lab) and tested negative for COVID-19 (May 21 - October 26): 29

Human research reactivation

  • As we learn more about COVID-19 transmission, we have updated which human research studies may be safely activated. We encourage all studies, regardless of tier, that have not yet been reviewed to submit a Human Research Activation Checklist at this time for consideration.

  • The Human Research Activation Committee is dedicated to assisting study teams with identifying appropriate mitigation measures to ensure that human research can safely advance. If you are struggling with how to identify or implement changes to your human research study, please contact the Human Research Activation Committee at for further assistance.

  • For access to important resources that support remote-based human research activity, please refer to the updated OVPR Starter Toolkit.

Research recovery amid COVID-19

  • The Office of the Vice President for Research is assessing university financial metrics to measure how the research enterprise is recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused a temporary decline in spending and productivity.

    • Total research expenditures, which are an indication of overall research and scholarship activity, have not yet rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. Across the research enterprise, total research and development spending was down 11 percent in September relative to the same month last year.

    • Institutional research spending declined the most (21 percent) in September, followed by external, non-federally funded spending (7 percent) and federally funded spending (6 percent).

    • Federally funded spending on salaries stayed flat or slightly increased in most months during the pandemic, demonstrating a commitment to our research workforce.

    • Other direct cost charges on federal grants suggest that our federally funded research portfolio was operating at between 70-85 percent in August and September.

    • Recognizing the pandemic has not impacted all individuals or researchers equally, research leadership also is assessing university grant submission and spending metrics to identify inequities induced or exacerbated by COVID-19 across the research enterprise.

Changes to federally funded compensation costs related to COVID-19

  • As a result of new federal guidance related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects and Sponsored Programs have identified two important updates for U-M researchers supported by federal funds:

    • A new time tracking code to be used for reporting lack of work on timesheets

    • A new process and source of funding for certain employee compensation charges related to COVID-19 (federal funds only)

  • Please note these process changes are retroactive to June 17, 2020 in order to comply with previously announced changes in allowable costs, per the Office of Management and Budget memo M-20-26. Learn more about these two important updates.


Stay safe and healthy, and research onward.


Rebecca Cunningham, M.D.
Vice President for Research
William G. Barsan Collegiate Professor of Emergency Medicine