Archive for September 6, 2010
I just found Rich DeMillo’s fascinating response to my query of several weeks ago, “Why do Universities do research?” Rich’s bottomline is “It doesn’t make economic sense.” A massive intellectual property win is a pipedream. Research isn’t necessary to be really great — Rich just did another fascinating blog post on that topic, including a list of top PhD producing undergraduate institutions (most of whom are liberal arts institutions without a research program). A research program costs far more than it brings in. So what’s the point? One suggestion: Institutional envy.
Viewed through this lens, Guzdial’s questions are even more interesting. It frequently makes little economic sense for a university to conduct research. It may be part of the mission of a multiversity, but it is not the only mission — and there are plenty of examples to guide other choices. If the dream of IP commercialization success drives institutions to build their research programs, what about the data that predicts little chance of success? And if a university is concerned about reputational hierarchies, does building a research portfolio actually help? Among the many components of a modern multiversity, few could survive without the instructional programs. Academic programs, on the other hand, might do quite well without hospitals, theaters, or fancy football arenas. So, why should a university do research?