Research Policy Handbook


Establishing and Managing Independent Laboratories, Institutes and Centers

Now in Policy Details

Discusses Independent Laboratories, Institutes and Centers at Stanford. Defines terms, presents considerations and procedures for establishing and managing them.

1. Introduction

Stanford's ability to promote interdisciplinary scholarship and research is enhanced by the existence of Independent Laboratories, Institutes, and Centers, which exist outside of organized schools and departments. These units facilitate faculty research into new areas while offering students and others a unique opportunity to explore interdisciplinary studies that extend beyond the boundaries of traditional programs, departments, and schools.

However, because these entities represent exceptions to the principle of organizing our research programs within regular academic channels, they may create unique challenges that must be addressed in order for them to succeed.

This policy sets forth considerations, guidelines, and procedures for establishing and managing Independent Laboratories, Institutes, and Centers at Stanford.

2. Definitions

The terms "Laboratory", "Institute", or "Center" may be used informally to designate research efforts or programs within single departments. Alternatively, they may be more formally structured between several departments within one school, or as separate organizational units reporting to a school dean. As used in this policy, the term "Independent Laboratory, Institute, and Center" designates those formally-organized research or scholarly programs which involve faculty members from more than one School, and which report to the Vice Provost and Dean of Research. These entities have the following characteristics:

  1. They must be directed by tenured faculty.
  2. They may not offer courses for student credit that are not cross-listed with regular academic departments.
  3. They do not admit students nor confer degrees.
  4. Typically, they do not have faculty billets which exist outside regular academic departments. (Faculty billets may be approved by the Provost in limited circumstances. Designated policy centers or institutes may also be authorized to appoint Senior Fellows and Center Fellows. For additional information see Faculty Handbook 2.3.

The term interdisciplinary research describes research collaboration across at least two disciplines of study. The purpose of interdisciplinary research is to break down the barriers between traditional areas of study in order to solve complex problems at the intersection of various disciplines. Such interdisciplinary collaborations are essential in the search for solutions to significant global and societal problems.

3. Rationale and Impact

Independent Laboratories, Institutes, and Centers extend the University's research to areas that go beyond the boundaries of traditional departments and require mutual effort by faculty from various disciplines. They create a programmatic focus to multidisciplinary research that helps to attract new faculty and external funding. They also create demands for incremental University resources in the form of funding, space, and/or administration. These entities directly and indirectly influence the interactions, program directions, and priorities of faculty and graduate students and their relationships to their academic departments. Therefore, the impact of proposed Independent Laboratories, Institutes, or Centers must be carefully assessed before they are approved. The following key questions must be addressed when considering the need for a new independent unit:

  1. What advantages are realized if the program(s) are conducted and managed outside of existing organizational units?
  2. What is the likelihood of long-term and active participation by faculty and graduate students?
  3. What impact (positive or negative) will the Laboratory, Institute or Center have on the participating faculties' home academic department?
  4. What resources will be required to support the unit, and how will those resources be obtained and managed?
  5. To what extent will establishment of the new entity help to attract external support?
  6. Does Stanford have the expertise and resources for the new program to become one of the top centers in the country in its field?

4. Procedures

Faculty interested in establishing a new Independent Laboratory, Institute, or Center should first informally discuss their proposal with their department chairs, school deans, and the Vice Provost and Dean of Research. If the cognizant chairs and deans endorse the concept, a written proposal should be submitted to the Vice Provost and Dean of Research.

A. Written Proposal

In addition to the considerations outlined above, the written proposal must also contain the following:

  • description of proposed activity
  • faculty participation
  • draft charter
  • plan of governance
  • anticipated funding sources
  • other resource requirements

Proposals should address specifically the impact of the creation of the new unit on university general funds. In addition, because proposals to external entities are not always successful, a clear set of alternatives should be laid out in the event proposed external funds, either gift or sponsored, are not raised.

As a Stanford research unit, all regulatory requirements related to the conduct of research, including those dealing with environmental health and safety, protection of human or animal subjects, and fiscal management are applicable to Independent Laboratories, Institutes and Centers. Inasmuch as these units do not report to any particular school, the organizations responsible for providing guidance and monitoring in areas concerning research compliance should be clearly defined.

The document, titled Proposal for New Independent Lab Center or Institute - Attachment A, contains a template for the proposal with additional detail. (See Related Items below.) Faculty members preparing such proposals are advised to consult in advance with the staff of the Dean of Research office.

B. Ongoing Evaluation

Research programs, including interdisciplinary efforts, evolve over time. They should not be assumed to be permanent entities, but rather should be established with a clear understanding of their goals and potential life cycle. These enterprises depend upon continued oversight by and participation of tenured faculty to provide the intellectual leadership, including assuming responsibility for directorship of the Laboratory, Institute, or Center.

C. Reviews

Each Laboratory, Institute, or Center should be reviewed periodically to determine whether the circumstances that led to its creation still exist and whether the entity continues to meet its goals. Such reviews need to evaluate the continued intellectual vitality of the unit, the commitment of the tenured faculty to its program, the involvement of students and visiting scholars, and the availability of funding and other resources.

D. Outcomes and Sunset Provisions

In order for the Independent Laboratory, Institute, or Center to continue, the Vice Provost and Dean of Research must affirm the continuation of the research program. Other possible outcomes of such reviews include discontinuation of the unit; revision of the charter to reflect changes in program direction, priorities and/or participants; restructuring of the unit into a new academic department within a school; or renewal of the unit without change. If assimilation into a school or department is deemed desirable, the decision should require transfer of budget responsibility to a school dean unless there is an explicit reason for exception. In any of these cases, it is crucial to articulate the financial basis on which the Independent Laboratory, Institute, or Center would be continued or would be phased down.

5. Proposal for New Independent Lab, Institute and Center Attachment A: Establishing and Managing Independent Laboratories, Institutes And Centers At Stanford University

Attachment A:  Establishing And Managing Independent Laboratories, Institutes And Centers At Stanford University.

A printable pdf version of Attachment A can be found in resources below.


The following provides a template for proposals. While the format does not need to be followed exactly, the contents of the proposal should address all of the items below, at a minimum.


Strategic Plan



Description of Proposed Activity

Describe the proposed research activity and objective(s)

Explain how this activity supports the University’s current initiatives and long term strategies.

Describe why this activity should be treated independently and cannot be housed and managed within an existing school or department.

Describe how the unit impacts (positively or negatively) the participating faculties’ home academic departments with respect to the coherence and integrity of the departments, impact on teaching programs, ability to attract new faculty, etc.

Explain whether Stanford has the expertise and resources to become one of the top centers in the country in this field.

Describe role of researchers or organizations from outside of Stanford University.

Faculty Participation

What is the likelihood of long-term and active participation in the Lab among tenured faculty and graduate students?

Are there enough faculty involved to provide a critical mass and enough tenured faculty to assume current and future leadership roles?

Provide a list of participating faculty.

To the extent that a degree program may be associated with the proposed Lab, relationships or agreements between the Lab or academic department which has formal responsibility for the teaching program need to be established – especially important if the Lab’s participating faculty are involved in commitments for teaching.

Charter and Plan of Governance

Provide justification for why Stanford should be conducting this activity.

Explain the goals for evaluation of the unit at the end of its initial term, considering the likely evolution and "life cycle" of the proposed programs

Describe reporting relationships that may be used to provide ongoing evaluation of the Lab and its programs including but not limited to a steering committee, science policy board, or visiting, external or internal review body.

Specify criteria for selection of participating faculty, students and visiting scholars.

Indicate tenured faculty who would be candidates for Director, initially and in future years.

Required Resources




Provide detailed schedule of anticipated sources, amounts and timing of funding. Include General Funds and the nature, size, and targets of any request for externally funded sponsored projects or gifts.

Describe contingency plans for external sources such as gifts or grants. Explain alternative sources in the event that proposed external funds are not available.

Provide schedule of anticipated revenues and expenditures over a 3-5 year period.


Include a proposed organization structure, noting key responsibilities and roles; consider both initial and longer term needs:

Administrative Management


Human Resources

Administrative Support

Space and Other Resources

Space Requirements:

Explain the short-term and longer-term needs of this activity, detailing any special requirements (labs, etc.)

Indicate whether there is any space proposed for this activity.

Describe any special equipment needs.

Explain other resources required.