In James Collins's
book Built to Last, core values are described as the
fundamental building blocks of an enterprise. They are also described
as what's as opposed to how's.
For example, the core values of a rental car company might be to
Provide the highest value in personal transportation.
This is a what. The more narrow statement Providing
the highest value in rental cars, is how the what
is implemented. Just as we regularly assess the core values of businesses,
we should also assess whether the core values of universities are
insightful enough to be long lasting and adaptable to change. In
the most broad sense, the core values of research universities are
to Generate and disseminate knowledge to the benefit of society.
This is the what. The how is through the
missions of research, teaching, and service.
have served the university well for decades. The comprehensive engineering
research university can be traced to the Morrill Act of 1862 that
established land-grant institutions. The research university was
further refined by Vannevar Bush's report Science, the
Endless Frontier in 1945, which launched high-technology,
government-funded research in the decades following World War II.
The changes facing research universities today are every bit as
profound as they were then. That change began with the Bayh-Dole
Act of 1980 that allowed universities to license and thereby profit
from the results of federally funded research. Universities soon
began developing patent portfolios, trading in intellectual property
(IP), and adopting business models to generate and protect that
we do pursue the new business model, can research
universities survive with faculty who view their relationships
with the institution as being primarily business-based?
of new business models has allowed both universities and industry
to reap large benefits. There are many high-technology industries
that owe their existence to more business-like relationships with
universities. Recently, alliances have been added to the business
model, in which faculty agree to favorable IP rights for the company
in exchange for block funding. These relationships have existed
for years through consortia on a pre-competitive basis. Alliances
are now with single companies addressing competitive issues.
I ask is whether the new business model is a what or
a how? If it is a what, then we have accepted,
without much discussion, a fundamental change in the core values
of the university. If it is a how, then we are simply
carrying out the current core missions using a different method,
just as distance learning is a new method of the how
of education. To determine whether the new business model is a what
or a how, we need a metric. I recommend that this metric
be the criterion we use to tenure our faculty, the core asset of
a university. Since granting tenure is the ultimate metric we use
to evaluate the faculty, the criteria we use to tenure faculty are
measures of our core values.
is granted for accomplishments often summarized as inceptions
of new theories of fundamental processes, their publication in peer
reviewed journals, and recognition from peers of the outstanding
nature of that work. Would we also be willing to grant tenure
for accomplishments summarized as development and patenting
of innovative technologies, their licensing to industry, and the
generation of income for the university? If we do indeed accept
these accomplishments as the basis for tenure, I argue we have redefined
the what of the university's core values as opposed
to allowing for another how.
is the following: If we value and encourage activities centered
on the new business model, then we must reward those activities
on a par with teaching, research, and service. That reward is tenure.
However, by doing so, we will have changed the what
of the core mission. If we choose not to reward these activities
on a par with the traditional missions, and so delegate them to
a how, we cannot, in good faith, encourage faculty to
universities survive with faculty who view their relationships with
the institution as being primarily business based? Universities
heavily invest in their faculty with the return sometimes recouped
in decades, not quarters. The university invests in its faculty
with the expectation that they will repay that investment through
research, teaching, and service. Tenure is the career-long commitment
universities make to facilitate that investment. In return, universities
require loyal faculty who are devoted to the core mission. They
must also be willing to stay long enough to recoup that investment.
If research universities adopt the new business model as a what,
this relationship will fundamentally change and so will its core
Can the tenure
system survive this change? Should universities grant tenure to
faculty whose priorities are not research, teaching, and service?
Can nonprofit entities survive in a profit-motivated relationship?
The opportunity to improve the university by leveraging new business
practices is tremendous, but pursuing them will involve clear tradeoffs.
I cannot predict
whether this change will be a what or a how.
I do ask, however, for a deliberate debate so that we understand
all of the implications, and determine whether the new business
model is consistent with the core values of the university. The
outcome of that debate could be no less influential in determining
the character of the university than was Vannevar Bush's report
more than half a century ago.
J. Kushner is Founder Professor of Engineering at the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.