Monthly Archives: December 2010

Welcome to Clothing the Emperor

Welcome to Clothing the Emperor, a forum for the serious exchange of ideas on topics important to academia and to scholarship that we believe could benefit from open discussion, transparent analysis, and challenges to the common-sense assumptions that maintain the status quo.   As in the classic fable by Hans Christian Andersen, it is surprising how readily assertions can become accepted while our experiences tell us they cannot be true, or at least not the whole story.  Simply stating the obvious can be an effective way to change the conversation.

The inaugural discussion topic we are inviting you to comment on and propose needed scholarship concerns the interactions among University policies, the increased reliance on extramural (in the sciences primarily from government) funding sources, and academic norms.    We have become concerned that short-term decision making may not be considering what the appropriate roles for institutional and extramural support in shaping the conduct of scholarship and education should be.    We question whether the current incentive structure for research universities and scholar-scientists is truly conducive to innovative research , consistent with the norms of academic science, and sustainable over the long term. Although various parties have called for a new compact between universities and the federal government, what is the status of the current compact, what are its strengths and deficiencies, and what might be more viable alternatives?

We have been thinking about this from our own perspective at JSMF and the changes we have observed in research budgets on grant submissions over the last few decades.   Accepting that academic culture is not static and that external funding has influenced the structure of the modern American research university in various ways for more than a century, we wonder if the current decision making and responses to financial pressures are altering academic norms in a way neither consistent with its inherent purposes nor sustainable in the future.

Below we raise a few questions to help initiate discussion:

  • Is the Renaissance Studies scholar whose salary is often fully paid by the University valued as much as the Imaging Center director who raises his or her own salary in addition to other revenues from extramural grants?
  • Does having to raise your own salary from extramural grants overly influence one’s choice of research topics?
  • Is the faculty member serious about pursuing truly original research, providing service to the University community, providing careful training to students and being available to colleagues recognized and rewarded – or is the metric of value tied to grant dollars and indirect costs?
  • Is the continual building of new research space, the proliferation of new institutes and centers, and the creation of an ever increasing number of hybrid disciplines intended to enhance scholarship or fundraising?
  • What is the potential impact of asking research funding to bear more and more of the total costs of sustaining academia?
  • Can we really afford to continually grow the academic STEM workforce? Do we need to? Or should quality, rather than quantity, be the guiding principal?

We invite you to join the conversation and contribute to a deeper understanding of the issues in a way that will be informative to universities and funding agencies.