Responsible, Ethical and Compliant
New Office of Research Assurances director seeks to keep U of I at the top of its research game
Life at Idaho’s premier research university has its benefits. Students, faculty and staff can work with all kinds of high-tech machinery and materials — not to mention chemicals, pathogens, plants and animals.
But working in this research-intensive playground has its risks, and it’s Glen Downing’s job to make sure that researchers follow institutional, state and federal regulations to keep those risks at a minimum.
Downing is the new director in the University of Idaho’s Office of Research Assurances (ORA), the university’s central resource for research-related compliance requirements and concerns. ORA staff understand compliance in specialized areas of research, including animals, biological materials, human subjects, unmanned aerial vehicles, export control and technology.
“We want to make sure everyone at our university remains responsible, ethical and compliant while conducting their research in order to keep the U of I ranked among the safest universities in the nation,” Downing said.
He wants everyone to see ORA as an extension of their research team.
“By working with us to ensure research is done in a responsible manner, we enhance the reputation of the researcher, the university and its partners,” Downing said. “Our teamwork also upholds the confidence of our research sponsors and lends to an outstanding educational experience.”
Downing spent 28 years in the U.S. Air Force, where he served in a number of high-level positions in education and facility management, retiring with the rank of colonel.
Most recently, Downing served as professor and department chair of aerospace studies in the ROTC program at Washington State University, which jointly operates with U of I. The experience gave him a solid understanding of U of I’s mission, strategic vision and leadership.
He also served as vice commander of the 81st Training Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, a military vocational-technical college in Biloxi, Mississippi. There he was responsible for the training of officers and personnel in information technology, networking, air traffic control and nearly three dozen other specialties. He also oversaw community support facilities, including hospitals, utilities and other structures. Processes and compliance were integral components of his job.
“You get a healthy understanding of how things work,” Downing said. “You can’t be an expert at it all, but you need that strategic overview to know what’s right and what they need to be successful.”
Downing fueled his teams’ successes through ongoing assessment and improvement, one of the key skills he plans to use in his new role.
“Our office was about much more than making sure everyone ran their checklists,” said Downing. “If we weren’t in compliance, we did the root-cause analysis to bring us back to standards. But even if we were in compliance, we asked, ‘How do we make it better? How do we improve the process?’"
Downing’s focus on compliance and process improvement helped Keesler Air Force Base to win the 2013 Commander in Chief Installation Excellence Award in the category of Best Air Force Base in the World.
“Glen brings nearly 30 years of leadership and experience to this demanding role,” said Janet E. Nelson, U of I's vice president for Research and Economic Development. “He is an excellent communicator and can methodically solve all manner of issues as they arise. He will be an immense asset to our team.”
After retiring from the military and taking on this new role, Downing says he has come full circle.
“Long before I came here, all those personality and skill inventories I took in the military pointed to the education arena,” Downing said. “After my retirement from the military, I wanted to apply my skill set to help a university achieve its mission and goals. This job is a great opportunity to do so.”