November 5, 2006

 

1. †Rebeiz, C. A. (11/5/2006). Academic and Corporate Research Models: Analysis and Comments.

 

A new corporate research model is tunneling its way into the World Research Universities without much debate or discussion. The impact of this imposed model is likely to have grave consequences upon the academic quality of major universities.

 

The new policy essentially states that resources at research universities will be allocated mostly on the basis of overhead dollars generated by faculty members. Overhead is usually collected from federal research grants awarded to an institution.

 

Most academics acknowledge that research grants are extremely important for universities and faculty members. However, they do not constitute an absolute yardstick of academic and research quality. Although research grants are subject to peer reviews, the shortcomings of this process is becoming more pronounced, as extramural funding gets tighter and competition gets more fierce. This dilemma has been debated at length in academia, but an acceptable substitute for the peer review process has yet to be found.

 

Because of the imperfections of the peer review process, it is important to be careful about developing and accepting academic policies that put the future of academia at the mercy of the peer review system and extramural forces. To cite a few examples, Galileo's work led to his persecution, Pasteur's work led to his banishment from the court of Napoleon the third, Gregor Mendelís genetic work was ignored for forty tears, and Albert Einstein's work on relativity came under attack by his contemporaries, because his mathematics was considered sloppy. More recently the original paper that laid down the foundations of "String Theory" was rejected for publication in "Physical Reviews". In other words, cutting-edge research that pushes forward the frontiers of science and defines the future may not be immediately accepted or funded, and may be considered insignificant or high risk, low yield. Actually what appears to be favored nowadays, is incremental research that slowly builds on the popular paradigms of the present

 

By allocating research resources on the basis of generated overhead, by ignoring the shortcomings and imperfections of the peer review process, and the vagaries of extramural funding, research universities that adopt indiscriminately the corporate research model are putting the fate of its entire faculty, at the mercy of outside forces that are not necessarily the best judges of impact and academic quality. It may result in faculty entering and exiting research space every two to three years depending on their grantsmantship. That in turn may result in demoralized faculties that are deprived of the continuity needed for significant academic achievements. It will be wise therefore to wait and observe the impact of the research corporate model before imposing it on established and scholastically successful programs.

 

I have talked to many distinguished academics about this issue, and have yet to meet a single one, irrespective of the generated dollar amounts who considers this policy to be sound and well thought out. They all fear that if that policy is allowed to be imposed across the board, the ultimate consequences will be a mediocre academic environment, and a docile and complacent faculty which is hardly a formula for academic greatness.

 

This Essay Reflects the Personal Opinion of he Author

 

Feedbacks to crebeiz@uiuc.edu are welcome.