Monday, October 21, 2013


✜ Stephen Ransom (@ransomtech)
10/20/13 7:46 PM
▶ Interesting motion infographic - "Going Private in Public"

Doug Belshaw (@dajbelshaw)
10/21/13 6:59 AM
Getting out of the ivory

a long time, I've been the uncomfortable owner of a coveted faculty position that I didn't want

in the current economic environment, faculty raises are tiny or non-existent anyway. So the effect is small for any given academic year. However, the cumulative effect over the course of an entire career is anything but small. People who have relatively narrow interests do much better financially than those with broader interests. Furthermore, even if the salary differences were negligible, it's highly demoralizing to know that your institution places low value on your work. And this is true even if it only accidentally does.

example, I once wrote a grant proposal with the help of a colleague that was designed to start a truly collaborate effort between the departments of philosophy, economics and psychology. Generous funding was available, and we quickly got a lot of support from these other departments. What happened was very instructive for me. It was approved for a preliminary round of funding that was spent on a small conference which was quite good. But unfortunately, the terms of the grant required it to be submitted through the Chair of the department, and all communication was between the chair and the administration. My chair, predictably, had no real interest in interdisciplinary work, so there was no follow-through for subsequent (and much larger) funding rounds -- and I was too far removed from the process to take action. The conference, which had been a great success, wasn't followed by any other plans whatsoever. I think the failure to come up with a plan -- or to follow the plan in the proposal we had written -- was merely a symptom of the fact that the entire project seemed to be of rather dubious value to my department chair, and he had no experience with this kind of research

Although it's unusual for a grant proposal to go so badly wrong (to the point where I wasn't even informed that it had been submitted, nor that it had been approved), I think it does illustrate a clear fact, namely, that you can't implement a novel initiative without a lot of buy-in from your colleagues. 

There's a great deal of inertia in academia, and it takes a concerted effort, a lot of resources, and the support of a lot of people in order to make these projects succeed. Without constantly pressing the issue, the department, college, or university will quickly swing back to the status quo

The assumption behind many interdisciplinary initiatives seems be that if we put smart people in contact with each other and give them some money, good work will happen. Unfortunately, this isn't true at all. 
The gigantic edifice of the university is at odds with any potentially disruptive effort. It's possible to overcome that inertia, but it's a Herculean task, requiring a lot of patience and a great deal of time

In such an environment, our efforts are channeled into narrow sub-specialties, and we consign our work to a tiny audience. Despite the common talk about the importance of "disruptive research" in the university, there's no real understanding of what makes s's omething "disruptive". To disrupt anything requires going outside the normal methods for one's work, redefining what's important or interesting, and usually drawing on a wide range of data and methodologies. It almost always requires collaboration, and almost always requires going outside one's own comfort zone. But in an environment where the senior faculty and administrators have been rewarded throughout their careers for toeing their disciplinary lines, there's a lot of resistance to change. Some of that resistance is due to outright hostility, but most of it is just the result of a lack of experience and imagination.

By all accounts, his business experience is nowhere near the disaster of Forsee's, but Wolfe has no advanced degree, and no first-hand experience in higher education. I don't know if Wolfe will be good for the university or not -- I've actually heard excellent things about his character and intellect, so there's hope

same person?

worst of all, we shouldn't expect someone whose experience is in leading gigantic, dominant corporations to create an environment that rewards original, interdisciplinary, potentially disruptive research

What makes me pessimistic about my own university and public universities in the United States in general is that their inability to adapt isn't due simply to bad leadership or an unfavorable economy. It's based on structural features that are self-reinforcing