Tuesday 5 February 2013

Basic Research – Soon to be a Thing of the Past?

One concern since the Bayh-Dole Act was passed in the United States has been the effect of the Act on the direction of research.  Would the Bayh-Dole Act—allowing grant recipients such as universities to take title to government funded invention—make researchers move their agendas away from basic research to applied research?  To many, this would be a negative impact of the Act; although some would disagree.  And, to some, the movement to applied research is not happening fast enough.  I have heard rumors over the years that some universities have already changed tenure standards for professors in the “hard” sciences to include things such as, number of company spin-outs or patents.  The other day I received an email from Technology Transfer Tactics which mentions a possible “policy change” in tenure standards at Oklahoma State University and a change in standards at the University of Texas.  Apparently, the changes include adding commercialization factors.  Here is the text of some of the email:

Live Webinar ~ March 19, 2013 ~ 1:00pm - 2:30pm ET
(also available on DVD, On-Demand Video and Print Transcript)

The push for commercialization of university research has become more like a giant shove. Federal and state governments are pinning their hopes on it, economic development agencies work hard to enable it, and university presidents demand it. Pitch competitions, accelerators, funding schemes, outreach efforts, partnerships, incubators, and mentoring programs abound, all trying to encourage it. But there is one glaring, gigantic disconnect in the innovation ecosystem: tenure policy.

While the drumbeat sounds for new models of entrepreneurship and commercialization support, a very old model -- steeped in the academic traditions of yesteryear -- presents a major barrier to realizing the full potential of university innovations. Tenure policies, which reward publishing and teaching but do nothing to incentivize commercialization, arguably represent the single biggest missing link in the innovation ecosystem that so many now agree is critical to economic growth, jobs, and global competitiveness.

These policies -- if they are adjusted to take commercial-focused research into account -- also represent a tremendous untapped opportunity for universities to unleash a deluge of research with market potential, by simply rewarding the behavior that forms the essential foundation for the dynamic innovation activity the world is clamoring for. But changing the entrenched system is anything but simple.

While most university systems continue to resist formal recognition of commercialization activities when evaluating faculty for tenure, a select few have emerged on the leading edge of this issue. Oklahoma State University and the University of Texas System have both gone down the road of including commercialization within their tenure policies. In fact, OSU is currently in the throes of policy change.  * * *

Live Webinar ~ March 19, 2013 ~ 1:00pm - 2:30pm ET
(also available on DVD, On-Demand Video and Print Transcript)

Please join Bryan T. Allinson, Executive Director of Technology Commercialization for the University of Texas System - Austin, and Dr. Stephen W. S. McKeever, Vice President for Research and Technology Transfer with Oklahoma State University, for this cutting-edge program. These forward-thinking leaders will present case studies illustrating the key strategies used to gain administration and faculty support, as well as the specifics of their tenure policy changes. Here’s a quick look at the agenda:
  • Laying the foundation for culture change with:

o    Tools for creating an open dialogue with faculty

o    Outlining business terms

o    Evidence to back up commercialization vs societal impact: they can coexist!
  • Strategies for getting buy-in from university policy-makers
  • The benefits of including commercialization as a requirement for tenure consideration
  • Details of policy changes
  • Handling push-back from faculty and/or administration
  • Tactics for obtaining early support from key leadership

Wow!  Will basic research be a thing of the past?  Changing tenure standards is extreme and a huge threat to academic freedom that I suspect will be ultimately very harmful to the production of break through research that benefits the public.  Does anyone have any information about what is happening at OSU?  Also, has anyone’s university changed its tenure policies to include commercialization-related factors?  If so, I am very interested to see your policy. 


  1. I know someone with a lectureship at a well known UK university. During his reviews it was made clear that he was expected to bring in money from industry to support his work. That did not happen and a little while later his lectureship has been terminated. I'm not saying that the university is throwing him out because of not bringing money in, but I think it's a factor. So I think commercialisation pressure on academics is already there, especially at the more junior levels, but no one has really studied how powerful or prevalent it is.

  2. Thank you very much for the information. That is very helpful and what happend to your acquaintance is very unfortunate. This issue deserves study. Thank you again. Best, Mike