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Oregon State University

Oregon State University leads push to include innovation, entrepreneurship in faculty promotion, tenure criteria

By Steve Lundeberg

Corvallis, Ore. — Culminating a project led by Oregon State University, leaders from 67 universities and 13 national organizations have unanimously voted to approve a set of recommendations for recognizing innovation and entrepreneurial achievements among the criteria for higher education faculty promotion and tenure.

The vote from the Promotion and Tenure, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (PTIE) Coalition comes one year after Oregon State University received a $438,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study incorporating innovation and entrepreneurship into the promotion and tenure framework.

The economic stakes are potentially very high – in 2019, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges pointed out that technology transfer from universities is a major driver for the U.S. economy, contributing $591 billion to the gross domestic product over the past two decades and supporting more than 4 million jobs.

The NSF-funded study, led by principal investigator Rich Carter, professor of chemistry, funded a nationwide program to develop the recommendations and culminated in a three-day summit this month at which the vote was taken.

Prior to the start of the program, the grant also funded a nationwide survey of nearly 100 institutions by co-principal investigator Jana Bouwma-Gearhart, associate professor of science and mathematics education and associate dean of research for the College of Education at OSU.

The recommendations call for innovation and entrepreneurial outputs to be included in the traditional triumvirate of academic activities – research, teaching/advising and service – across all areas of a university. The coalition notes that these activities align with most universities’ missions, enhance academic freedom and lead to more career-resilient students.

Historically, faculty have often been guided to pursue more fundamental research during their early career and shift toward more societal-focused research after receiving tenure, but that is a sub-optimal approach, Carter said.

“It forces people to pivot their research when they have already got all of their momentum pointed in another direction,” he said. “I was always surprised when people would say faculty should wait until they have tenure to think about research that has societal impact.”

In awarding the grant to OSU, the National Science Foundation effectively funded OSU’s leadership of a national conversation on building innovation and entrepreneurial results into tenure and promotion guidelines, said co-principal investigator Karl Mundorff.

“Those efforts lead to technology being licensed by industry partners or into university-based spinout companies, but it had not been recognized in most promotion and tenure guidelines. And where it had been incorporated, there did not seem to be much consistency,” said Mundorff, executive director for innovation and entrepreneurship and co-director at the OSU Advantage Accelerator, which assists entrepreneurs seeking to start companies.

“These recommendations will have a wide-reaching, positive impact on both the faculty and students at universities across our nation,” said Carter, who serves as the faculty lead for innovation excellence in the OSU Research Office. “Universities will be able to increase their impact on society and demonstrate their continued commitment to the public.”

Carter added that a key to the success of the project was its highly collaborative approach organized by Carter, Mundorff and Julie Risien, director of OSU’s STEM Research Center and leader of the Oregon State arm of Advancing Research Impacts in Society.

“Coalition members and stakeholders met regularly over a period of nearly three months to discuss specific aspects of this effort,” Risien said. “This strategy allowed all participants to contribute and guided the development of best practices and consensus recommendations.”

The recommendations do not bind universities to action, but coalition members have committed to taking them back to their institutions for discussion and possible implementation. The coalition and stakeholders will continue to work collaboratively going forward to implement these recommendations on university campuses.

Universities represented in the coalition include nine Pac-12 schools (all but Utah, Southern California and Stanford). Also among the coalition schools are Brown, Clemson, Colorado State, Jackson State, Michigan State, Mississippi State, New York University, North Carolina State, Oregon Health & Science University, Oregon Institute of Technology, Portland State, Tuskegee University, the University of Arkansas, the University of Kansas, the University of Kentucky, the University of Nebraska, the University of Oklahoma and Willamette University.

Culminating a project led by Oregon State University, leaders from 67 universities and 13 national organizations have unanimously voted to approve a set of recommendations for recognizing innovation and entrepreneurial achievements among the criteria for higher education faculty promotion and tenure.

The vote from the Promotion and Tenure, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (PTIE) Coalition comes one year after Oregon State University received a $438,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study incorporating innovation and entrepreneurship into the promotion and tenure framework.

The economic stakes are potentially very high – in 2019, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges pointed out that technology transfer from universities is a major driver for the U.S. economy, contributing $591 billion to the gross domestic product over the past two decades and supporting more than 4 million jobs.

The NSF-funded study, led by principal investigator Rich Carter, funded a nationwide program to develop the recommendations and culminated in a three-day summit this month at which the vote was taken.

Prior to the start of the program, the grant also funded a nationwide survey of nearly 100 institutions by co-principal investigator Jana Bouwma-Gearhart, associate professor of science and mathematics education and associate dean of research for the College of Education at OSU.

The recommendations call for innovation and entrepreneurial outputs to be included in the traditional triumvirate of academic activities – research, teaching/advising and service – across all areas of a university. The coalition notes that these activities align with most universities’ missions, enhance academic freedom and lead to more career-resilient students.

Historically, faculty have often been guided to pursue more fundamental research during their early career and shift toward more societal-focused research after receiving tenure, but that is a sub-optimal approach, Carter said.

“It forces people to pivot their research when they have already got all of their momentum pointed in another direction,” he said. “I was always surprised when people would say faculty should wait until they have tenure to think about research that has societal impact.”

In awarding the grant to OSU, the National Science Foundation effectively funded OSU’s leadership of a national conversation on building innovation and entrepreneurial results into tenure and promotion guidelines, said co-principal investigator Karl Mundorff.

“Those efforts lead to technology being licensed by industry partners or into university-based spinout companies, but it had not been recognized in most promotion and tenure guidelines. And where it had been incorporated, there did not seem to be much consistency,” said Mundorff, executive director for innovation and entrepreneurship and co-director at the OSU Advantage Accelerator, which assists entrepreneurs seeking to start companies.

“These recommendations will have a wide-reaching, positive impact on both the faculty and students at universities across our nation,” said Carter, a chemistry professor who serves as the faculty lead for innovation excellence in the OSU Research Office. “Universities will be able to increase their impact on society and demonstrate their continued commitment to the public.”

Carter added that a key to the success of the project was its highly collaborative approach organized by Carter, Mundorff and Julie Risien, director of OSU’s STEM Research Center and leader of the Oregon State arm of Advancing Research Impacts in Society.

“Coalition members and stakeholders met regularly over a period of nearly three months to discuss specific aspects of this effort,” Risien said. “This strategy allowed all participants to contribute and guided the development of best practices and consensus recommendations.”

The recommendations do not bind universities to action, but coalition members have committed to taking them back to their institutions for discussion and possible implementation. The coalition and stakeholders will continue to work collaboratively going forward to implement these recommendations on university campuses.

Universities represented in the coalition include nine Pac-12 schools (all but Utah, Southern California and Stanford). Also among the coalition schools are Brown, Clemson, Colorado State, Jackson State, Michigan State, Mississippi State, New York University, North Carolina State, Oregon Health & Science University, Oregon Institute of Technology, Portland State, Tuskegee University, the University of Arkansas, the University of Kansas, the University of Kentucky, the University of Nebraska, the University of Oklahoma and Willamette University.