It started with a question, “If Thomas Edison were a faculty member at a modern university, would he get tenure?”
Just by asking, it suggests that something may be out of balance in the way a university’s views its research enterprise.
It was the prime topic of conversation at a discussion at the University of South Florida more than a year ago — with incoming Virginia Tech President Timothy D. Sands among the invited panelists.
The result was a perspective column last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
So, should universities change their faculty tenure and promotion calculus based on research and publication to one that also includes faculty research activities that translate into patents, licensing and commercialization of products?
The answer was a resounding, “Yes.”
The authors — from USF, the California Institute of Technology, the University of Delaware, the University of Minnesota, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, Purdue University (Sands, then in his position as executive vice president for academic affairs and provost), and the University of Missouri St. Louis — say research activities that translate to product commercialization should not replace traditional scholarly pursuits such as teaching, mentoring students and publishing research, patent and commercialization activities should be considered equally in decisions related to faculty tenure and academic advancement.
With that fundamental change, universities will address a disconnect between technology transfer activities and incentives for faculty members in terms of merit raises, tenure and career advancement.
The authors cited a 2012 report from the National Research Council of the National Academies that suggests that since business and industry have “largely dismantled large corporate research laboratories that drove American industrial leadership,” research universities must “fill the gap.”
The American Association of University Professors similarly said industry and the academic collaboration presents “tremendous opportunities for advancing knowledge and applying it to real-world problems.”
Read the PNAS Paper for more.