and should look—to their universities to solve pressing problems.
Last year two academics at one of my alma maters, the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), Holden Thorp (now also UNC-CH
President) and Buck Goldstein, published a book challenging universities to be
more entrepreneurial. In this book, Engines of Innovation, the authors note that
innovation begins with a problem and that entrepreneurs, broadly speaking, are
people who identify new problems and crystallize the benefits of solving them.
Entrepreneurs in the arts and in business see problems as concrete opportunities,
and so do entrepreneurs across our universities.
Entrepreneurship in this context includes the transfer and application of the
knowledge and technology that flow from university research. But it does not
stop there. It means bringing the energy and expertise of universities to bear
on problems that matter to people—whether that means creating and evaluating
a more effective biomedical device, or sharing advice with policymakers in
societies transitioning to democracy, or helping communities devise sustainable
solutions to nutrition problems.
Those of you from land-grant universities will be familiar with this idea as
“extension”—the expectation that knowledge flows freely into and out of the
university in an ongoing dialogue with “the people of the state.” Universities are
now being called upon to demonstrate our value to the various constituencies that
we serve. And, there is danger in defining this value too narrowly—in dollars and
cents, in only those things that can be measured concretely, in real time.
Some of the greatest contributions made by universities have their roots in
abstract, curiosity-driven scholarship, research, and learning. We must preserve
our fundamental academic freedoms, and, at the same time, be entrepreneurial.
Universities are and should be embracing both abstract and solutions-based
approaches: in the research questions we ask, in the outreach projects we
undertake, and in the ways in which we educate and prepare our students—
and one another—in order to engage with the future.
The second evolving characteristic of research universities—connectedness—
is closely linked with the first. If an entrepreneurial approach is one goal, then
building connection, partnerships and coalitions, both within and beyond our
campuses is a major means of reaching that goal.
To solve problems, you need to know what those problems are, and to do
that, you need to be connected with the people and organizations who “live”
them. Both around the world, and in our own communities, the problems we
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Ahead of the Storm: Research Libraries and the Future of the Research University
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SEPTEMBER 2011 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A QUARTERLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC
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