CORVALLIS, Ore. – University promotion and tenure criteria and processes should be broadened and made more inclusive to value innovation, entrepreneurship and other forms of scholarly impact, a collaboration led by Oregon State University asserts today in a paper published in Science.
Eighteen authors from 14 institutions across the United States, including four OSU researchers, teamed up on the article, which stems from the work of the Promotion and Tenure, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (PTIE) Coalition, a group of more than 100 leaders representing 65 universities and 13 national organizations.
In 2020 the coalition unanimously voted to approve a set of recommendations for recognizing innovation and entrepreneurial achievements among the criteria for promotion and tenure, which for decades have been based primarily on grants and publication in academic journals.
Led by principal investigator Rich G. Carter of the OSU College of Science, the coalition’s efforts were supported by a grant awarded to Oregon State from the National Science Foundation in 2019, with additional support from VentureWell and the Lemelson Foundation.
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 and faculty advancement for the College of Education at OSU. The survey found misalignment among innovation and entrepreneurship priorities and university reward systems, and results were described in detail in a recent article in Change, the Magazine of Higher Learning.
“Given the reality that the most important output of any institution is the people it produces, universities must continue to adapt and evolve to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world,” said Carter, the Science article’s lead author and a chemistry professor who also serves as the faculty lead for innovation excellence in the OSU Research Office. “These recommendations will directly help universities to meet that need while also addressing the potential for bias in the review process to make the academy more inclusive.”
PTIE recommendations embrace an inclusive definition of innovation and entrepreneurship, known as I&E, that includes traditional tech-driven licenses and startup creation as well as efforts from across the university, including areas not commonly associated with I&E such as liberal arts.
“Recognizing the persistence of bias – whether it be the candidate’s research topic or their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and/or other diverse backgrounds – in the current process is essential to improving fairness and validity in the future of review and advancement,” the authors write in Science.
The potential economic stakes are high. 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 Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges found in 2019.
“The goal of this effort is to help support a university that is more responsive to its students, faculty and society as a whole,” said co-author Karl Mundorff, executive director for innovation and entrepreneurship and co-director at the OSU Advantage Accelerator, which assists entrepreneurs seeking to start companies.
Current processes that only prioritize grants and publications fail to fully assess and value entrepreneurial, innovative endeavors that deliver the kinds of societal impacts universities are increasingly being called on to provide, Carter added.
Also, expanding what is valued as scholarship can also help add to the list of who is valued as scholars and thus support diversity among university faculties, said Bouwma-Gearhart, another co-author of the paper.
“Recognizing the impact of faculty innovation and entrepreneurship is among other things a strategy for taking note of the many, and changing, dimensions along which faculty create societal impacts,” she said.
The recommendations also create a “superstructure” to support faculty working in other areas of scholarship such as diversity, equity and inclusion, team science, open science and community engagement that may not always be fully valued under the current system, according to co-author Julie Risien, associate director of the Oregon State STEM Research Center.
The authors write that an inclusive PTIE approach will allow “the majority of faculty to see benefits to the recommended changes without undermining basic and/or curiosity-driven research and while supporting academic freedom.”
In addition to the four authors of the paper from Oregon State, co-authors included scholars from Iowa State; the University of California, San Diego; Jackson State; the University of Massachusetts Lowell; Michigan State; Purdue; Texas A&M; Oregon Health & Science University; the University of Kentucky; Washington State; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Arizona; and North Carolina State.
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Subject of Research
Innovation, entrepreneurship, promotion, and tenure
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