Commodification of Academic Research
I suspect that this is a bigger issue in computer science (and computing, broadly) than in other parts of academia, since our work is so easily commoditized. It’s certainly the case that in my School, creating companies is highly valued and faculty are often encouraged to be entrepreneurs (e.g., see the article our new Dean sent to the whole faculty Saturday.)
Q: Academic research has always cost money to produce, and led to products that made money for others. How is the “commodification” of research different today than in past periods?
A: Commodification means that all kinds of activities and their results are predominantly interpreted and assessed on the basis of economic criteria. In this sense, recent academic research is far more commodified than it was in the past. In general terms, one can say that the relation between “money” and specific academic activity has become much more direct. Consider the following examples: first, the amount of external funding acquired is often used as a measure of individual academic quality; second, specific assessments by individual scientists have a direct impact on departmental budgets; for instance, if I now pass this doctoral dissertation, my department receives a substantial sum of money; if not, it ends up with a budget deficit; third, the growing practice of patenting the results of academic research is explicitly aimed at acquiring commercial monopolies. Related to these financial issues are important and substantial changes of academic culture. Universities are increasingly being run as big corporations. They have a top-down command structure and an academic culture in which individual university scientists are forced to behave like mini-capitalists in order to survive, guided by an entrepreneurial ethos aimed at maximizing the capitalization of their knowledge.