Research a Part of the Public Agenda
Second Panel of Researchers
MAKING RESEARCH PART OF THE PUBLIC AGENDA: AN ENGAGED UNIVERSITY
Brady Deaton, Provost, University of Missouri at Columbia
Building a public agenda for the university must begin with undergraduate students. This is true for research as well as teaching and outreach. To invigorate the general education of undergraduates, the University of Missouri has pioneered the integration of teaching and research. The Hesburg Award received by the University in 1997 called particular attention to this strength.
A great deal of the literature regarding student affairs and undergraduate education continues to express concern about the quality of undergraduate education offered at the major research universities. For example, a 1993 report of the Wingspread Group sponsored by the Johnson Foundation focused on the quality of undergraduate education, but its general warning is also applicable to the research role of public universities. The following warnings emanated from the conference:
In most of our states, our higher education coordinating bodies are promoting the concept of a "seamless web of public education." In doing so, the research role of our major public research universities becomes a singular responsibility of the institutions represented at this conference. In order to be successful, research must be made part of the public agenda. This can be achieved most effectively when we:
3. Create a sense of importance and urgency in individual researchers and research teams. It is more fun to be on the cutting edge, to share problems with sympathetic colleagues, and to produce quality results. We must celebrate the successes on our campuses and with each other. Scientists must be encouraged to search for the competitive edge, for that frontier of knowledge that is ultimately the greatest reward for researchers. This can be illustrated in so many ways. For example, our Dean of Arts and Sciences, at the major awards banquet for that college on our campus, cited the scientific accomplishments of Dr. Jerry Atwood, the Chair of our Chemistry Department, who has recently created the smallest molecule yet known. This organic molecule has an empty space within it with potential applications for medicine, organic wiring for information technology, and unlimited implications in a vivid imagination. Dean Schwartz called attention to this significant accomplishment, which had already been featured on the cover of Science Magazine; and pointed out its implications for targeted medical treatments, biological information systems, etc. He then unveiled a rendition of this molecule painted by a local artist. This was displayed before a crowd of over 500 people and illustrated a true celebration of knowledge.
As we seek to make research part of the public agenda, it may be useful to recognize that we are now into a third generation approach for building research systems on most of our campuses. Within this context, the first generation consisted of hiring good scientists, the best scholars, and providing them with the best support and facilities possible, including a "creative" work setting, leaving them alone, and watching them prosper. We found that, indeed, this formula led to the prospering of many scientists, but with less benefit to society than expected.
A second generation approach incorporated a more systematic quantification of the relative costs of individual projects, monitoring progress against specified objectives, particularly in the private sector. We found that each project may have great merit under this scenario but the collective effort wasn't always that attractive. Perhaps the most important shortcoming of this kind of research was in the field of agriculture and natural resources wherein production-oriented research failed to capture the social and environmental externalities associated with agricultural practices. This has become particularly important today with our national and global concern about water quality and other environmental challenges.
A third generation approach characterizes much of what we are doing, or seeking to promote, at the University of Missouri and, I suspect, in many other universities. A major goal is to design a purposeful and strategic web of interlocking research activities, focusing on interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches to key scientific issues. Our challenge is to design a process, which itself is exciting, and leads to innovative and invigorating research findings.
This third generation research model challenges traditional approaches and requires constant monitoring and adjustments to achieve scientific breakthroughs. The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said, "You cannot step twice into the same river; for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you." Higher education and research incorporates processes of continual change. Our processes for faculty development must keep up with these changes and promote intellectual growth and creativity as well as instill new technical skills in our researchers.
Burton Clark identified five critical characteristics of an innovative university poised to address the challenges of the 21st century. These characteristics include the following:
As universities become more innovative, a number of assumptions and "sacred precepts" of the academy will be called into question. Among these are the following:
As research becomes increasingly important on the public agenda, the University's responsibilities will grow to ensure that the needs of the public are met. University administrators and researchers will also face public scrutiny to ensure that our responsibilities to society are effectively carried out. We all should welcome that challenge, and grow stronger as we respond.
Clark, Burton R. (1996). Case Studies of Innovative Universities: A Progress Report. Tertiary Education and Management, 2, 52-61.
Gappa, Judith M. (1996). Off the Tenure Track: Six Models for Full-Time Nontenurable Appointments. Inquiry #10 Working Paper Series, Forum on Faculty Roles & Rewards. American Association for Higher Education. Washington, D.C.
Wingspread Group on Higher Education (1993). An American Imperative: Higher Expectations for Higher Education. The Johnson Foundation, Inc.
This page was modified 6/1/02