Join the discussion
the focus shifts to the bottom line, basic research always takes
Bagley, Assistant Professor of Law
transfer is just a subset of knowledge transfer.
Liotta, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Chemistry
New: "If technology transfer
offers a solution to the funding crisis in higher education,
it does so only in a very limited way."
interview with Lanny Liebeskind, Professor of Chemistry
me the money . . .
licensing income and patents from Emory and other institutions
is applied research?
does funding work in the sciences?
from Stanley Chodorow, CEO of the California Virtual University
and former provost of the University of Pennsylvania
Academic Exchange December
1999/January 2000 Contents Page
HIGH COST OF ENTREPRENEURIALISM
What do we mean at Emory when
we say we want to be the absolutely uncontested, premier educational
institution in the South? Do we want the most commercial research
contracts? Do we want the fastest growth of patented technology
transfer? Do we want to attract the best scholars regardless
of discipline and support them in a way that maximizes their
intellectual productivity? Will we continue to put university
resources into teaching excellence even in areas that don't have
an immediate commercial value?
All these questions go into defining Emory's culture and vision
of excellence, and they must be debated by all segments of this
community as we define our institution's future. Let us begin,
then, with the question of university resources.
The criteria for University Research Committee funding often
favors younger, newly-hired scholars who need seed money to get
started on a project, and this is as it should be. The start-up
package is probably the first and last time that a university
will commit significant funding to an individual. Beginning faculty
need such support to get started, and besides, these are the
people who are at the cutting edge of research and usually have
the latest techniques at their disposal but who have little or
no experience in obtaining grants or contracts.
My experience leads me to believe that younger and mid-career
faculty often have a better shot at getting extramural funding
than those who have been around a long time. I think this is
the case at the National Institutes of Health, the National Science
Foundation, and most of the grant-making entities in the arts
and humanities as well. Consequently, many universities pressure
established faculty members to be very entrepreneurial, making
salaries and infrastructure (equipment, administrative support)
dependent upon the faculty member's ability to get government
or private-industry grants.
Universities choosing this
route sometimes even get caught up in a "star" system
where, as with top athletes and business executives, top researchers
who get big grants can "write their own ticket" for
positions and support. They are always in demand because they
can bring in substantial indirect cost returns to their deans.
Often these stars do little or no teaching, are hardly ever around
campus, and contribute little to the campus community other than
their fame and stature.
As a result, a university can seriously drain its resources luring
superstars at the expense of other productive faculty who may
not be as well known. It is often these other faculty who provide
the infrastructure, the parametric knowledge that the stars need
to remain stars. This problem can be easily overlooked in the
university system, but it's like hiring a phenomenal quarterback
while letting the offensive and defensive lines get weak. The
team is still not going anywhere, despite the expensive superstar.
And when he or she moves to another team, what then?
It is true there is tremendous pressure these days for academicians,
especially in the health sciences and computer sciences, to be
as entrepreneurial as possible and to get as heavily involved
with the business community as possible to win contracts or grants.
I think for Emory to go overboard on this model would be a mistake.
There is a very high cost associated with this approach: the
classic, traditional university mission of seeking knowledge
for knowledge's sake--and disseminating that knowledge as widely
as possible--can be severely compromised.
Why? Let me offer a few examples. If you're working with a corporation
to develop a new drug or a new computer chip, or maybe to clone
and use a gene, the information you're dealing with is highly
proprietary. Consequently, you are restricted from disseminating
the knowledge. Talking about it to colleagues across the hall
could jeopardize the intellectual property. It would be entirely
to put students on such projects, because how would they be able
to communicate with each other? What kind of open defense of
their work could they have? How would graduate students be able
to write and publish their dissertations?"
At a university, proprietary arrangements change the very nature
of the mission of the research. Are you there to develop products
for industry? Is the focus of your research product-oriented,
or is it knowledge-oriented? These are very different questions.
Further, who will be given the credit for the discoveries? The
student, the faculty member, or the corporation?
In such a setting, the whole issue of inventorship, authorship,
and intellectual freedom can become highly contested. With my
background, I could have gone into the pharmaceutical industry
as a young man. But I was attracted to the university life because
of the opportunities for intellectual freedom and exchange of
ideas among people across national and international boundaries.
I wanted to be in an environment where that kind of intellectual,
personal, and professional autonomy existed. I think most of
us were drawn to the academy for similar reasons.
Given the current funding
situation in most major research universities, however, I think
these core academic values have been, and continue to be, severely
eroded. As long as universities across America insist that their
faculty focus primarily on becoming entrepreneurs rather than
scholars, the distinction between the academy and the business
community will become increasingly blurred. Those of us in academia
would do well to remember that business is not in the business
of doing good; business is in business to make money. Corporate
funders demand certain directions or certain foci for the money
I'm not at all sure that it's in the best interests of any of
us--business, government, or society as a whole--to perceive
and treat our national university system as just another business
sector. I don't support the view that education is simply another
"product" of our society and that students should be
seen merely as customers. I strongly believe (and my friends
in the business community support this notion) that enlightened
business leaders with an understanding of the true value of a
liberal arts education understand the need to maintain the university
as a place where ideas can be developed and discussed, where
existing paradigms can be challenged, where experimentation--and
yes, even failures--can happen without always worrying about
"the bottom line."
It's not that we shouldn't encourage entrepreneurship at all;
it's simply a question of balance--that is what needs debating.
What is the main mission of the university? How much can or will
the university support projects and areas of inquiry that have
no short or long-term financial payoff, but simply are good or
interesting or exciting things to do, as esoteric as they may
The answer depends on what
kind of university we want to be. Each university defines its
own institutional "culture" and we--the faculty, the
administrators, the trustees, this whole, big, sprawling entity
we call Emory--are the ones charged with making these distinctions.
If we decide to be a liberal arts institution in the broadest
sense of that term, shouldn't part of our development efforts
be focused upon providing the resources necessary to be that,
regardless of the potential (or lack of potential) for immediate
As I depart this office, I worry. Clearly, we are doing a lot
of things right, but the potential for distraction and lack of
focus is real and always at our door. Given the hyper-development
of this whole region, we sometimes get caught up in a competitive
mania to the extent that we don't always focus as much as we
should on academic values.
Don Stein will return
to the faculty at the end of this year after having served as
dean of the graduate school since 1995.