Friday, July 13, 2012

Why iGEM is Good for Football?


by the way, thanks for all those great comments on my latest Top Ten list (Policy Recommendations for growing a more entrepreneurial economy. Wow - you guys are GOOD!)

Why iGEM is Good for Football?

Last winter, I almost posted this as a fun way to sell iGEM's basic premise - what better way to sell the value of bringing true superstar scientists/engineers than... Football!!

LOL but... it's actually true. You want to be in a power conference? You damned well better be a research powerhouse. 

Want proof?

What Schools Moved to a Power Conference?
Colorado                    Big12 -> Pac12
Texas A&M              Big12 -> SEC
Missouri                    Big12 -> SEC
Pittsburgh                  BiglEast -> ACC

Utah                            MWC -> P12
Nebraska                     B12 -> B1G
Syracuse                      BE -> ACC
Virginia Tech              BE -> ACC

 ‘Courted’ to Move (especially 1st 3)
Texas (B12)
Rutgers (BE) 
Maryland (ACC)

Kansas (B12)
Iowa State (B12)
Georgia Tech (ACC)
   
    (exceptions - Notre Dame & Oklahoma, neither are remotely big-time research schools)

What Do All These Schools Have in Common?

Schools in bold: Members of the American Association of Universities (AAU)
In italics: On ‘doorstep’ of AAU (past members/applicants)

See the pattern? J

What is AAU? [www.aau.edu]
The AAU is an organization that includes the top academic universities in North America (currently the 59 best academic schools). To belong, you have to be among the VERY best in research, both quantity and quality. The criteria are ridiculously steep, so this is indeed an elite club. [http://www.aau.edu/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=10972]

But why should we care? And why did we see that AAU-level schools were the most sought after for.,. football??

Follow the Benjamins
The NCAA is signing off on a new football playoff system that is the logical consequence of the sea changes in the college football landscape. The big bucks are going to those who can deliver the best content – the power conferences have a huge edge that NO playoff structure will dissipate. You want to be in one of those Big 4 (maybe 5 if you count ACC).

If I’m the Pac12, I am only going to add schools that make all of us more money. If we add a team but it dilutes the payouts, what’s the point? There are three ways that happens.
1): Your school brings new TV ‘eyeballs’ to the equation, expanding the TV ‘pie’
                 (1a: Less likely, but possible: It raises the public profile of the entire conference)
2): Huge, affluent alumni base that will spend heavily on bowl travel, cable, etc.
3): Make other schools money in other ways like, believe it or not, academics.

AAU level of academic stardom tells outsiders that (a) this school is really, really good at research and in getting money to pay for it and (b) they would be great research partners. (If you can’t hire a potential Nobel Laureate for your school, next best is to have one join a partner school!)

Superstar researchers are worth every penny; they bring in more dollars & more prestige and attract better faculty, grad students and even undergrads. A ‘star’ might do that; a superstar WILL. Member schools of AAU are crawling with superstars. Why not here?

Some of the biggest pots of money these days go to collaborations. Across campus, yes, but the bigger bucks are going to projects that span across institutions. Some conferences already have powerful mechanisms to promote collaboration. The B1G began[1] as an academic alliance. Whatever conferences that Idaho schools land in, I hope that we are proactive in building academic linkages.[2]

One particular beneficiary of having superstars on board (or on tap) is industry-sponsored research. We think of grants but the BIG bucks are from industry and the best way to do that is to the level of an AAU school.  I would link you to the basic requirements for AAU to accept a school but it is scary; we are light years away.

Or are we?

At the risk of sounding like we need to amp research efforts at Idaho universities in order to get Boise State or Idaho into a ‘good’ conference… I am! And... well, why the hell not?

What Will It Take?
We do NOT need more good research; we need GREAT research, best-in-class. Best-in-world.
And isn't that what iGEM is intended to do?
Depth of research talent: Recruit superstars that make sense for Idaho (build on our existing intellectual strengths, both university & industry; builds on the business community & especially the entrepreneurial community.) But they must be genuine superstars.
Breadth of research talent: In today’s scientific/technological world, great work doesn’t happen in narrow silos; complementary talents are necessary especially to maximize industry-sponsored research.
Supporting talent: Similarly, technical and other support mechanisms are critically necessary; we need the right human infrastructure. Forget the expensive research ‘toys’ for a moment and ask if we have the right people?
Cognitive infrastructure: Is there a widely, deeply held mindset that supports world-class research? Do the social and cultural norms support that mindset?
Teaching and learning: It is a myth that focusing on research superstars somehow devalues education. You want great undergrad education? You’d better deliver (and AAU does look at the education side quite closely.) And superstars help with student learning far more than most give them credit.
Community engagement: One thing that we see in AAU member schools is that these schools tend to not engage local communities (civic, business, and academic) rather they are deeply immersed. How deeply immersed are your researchers in the business community, local/national/global? In the entrepreneurial community? In the civic community? This may not be on AAU’s list but no school ever gets into that league without faculty and administrators who are immersed deeply. A bit ironic: To really succeed in the ivory tower, you need to get out of it.

OK, so can we do these things? And what the hell has iGEM got to do with it?
For any of Idaho’s universities to get even within striking distance of this level, it probably means adding 6-8 true superstars (#1 in their field) ideally across campus but complementary. It also means recruiting future superstars (which having existing superstars will help immensely) and building up the entire faculty. Few toptier schools are without their deadwood, but a school on the make can have little tolerance for that. (And if you think dumping 'deadwood' is hard, think about what it will take to replace faculty who are competent but not superstars.)

Isn’t that exactly the key premise of iGEM? To attract “GEM” faculty?
Yes! (Well, in theory, but I have high hopes.) The states that are being successful at this work very, very hard to make sure that the hirings aren’t politicized or, worse, bureaucratized. Building faculty fiefdoms is not the point. The point is to do the best research in the world on that topic.

We also need to see great connections to the broader ecosystem. Academically, a college dean must ask: “How many of my faculty can go to the #1 conference in their field and the top people all know them by first name?” And “how many of my faculty are known on a first name basis by the top people in industry and especially the entrepreneurial world?” You can’t be a little bit immersed in intellectual circles or in the business community – you are either immersed or you are not[3]. And guess what?

You hire superstars, you get this. 

You hire less-than-superstars, you don't. (Do you sense another pattern?)

So why NOT listen to iGEM?
Why don’t more schools try to do this? Some of it is economics; they don’t see the payoff and thus can’t justify hiring Big Names. Some of it is the desire to treat all departments & programs the same, regardless of performance. Some of it is inertia and fear of disruption.

But make no mistake: This IS disruptive and the only people who would benefit are the community, the students, the alumni and the faculty. J

And if it gets an Idaho school into a BCS conference… that’s ok too, eh? J




Appendix: AAU Membership by Conference

                        AAU   ‘Ob Doorstep’      
B1G                11                   1          (12 if you count U Chicago)
Ivy                    7                    1          (Dartmouth is just being contrary)
PAC                 8                    2         
ACC                6                     2         
B12                  3                    0
Big West[4]     2                     1
C-USA           2                      0
BE                  1                      0
MWC             0                      0
WAC              0                      0

Remaining AAU Schools not in Power Conference[5]
Rutgers (BE)
Rice (CUSA)
Tulane (CUSA)
(Rutgers is the only one anybody is courting so there is room for a newcomer…)


Rough guess as to the quantity of research to get to AAU level…

5X increase for grants-based research
10X increase for industry-sponsored research
also:
Visible removal of deadwood (difficult but possible)
NO 'weak link' colleges within a university (very difficult)

 Want to get to AAU level fast [“Nuclear option”]?
Merge the 3 schools! (ducking the hand grenades; I know this is a 'third-rail' issue here)
And NOT a chancellor system but actually MERGE the three – the best faculty & students in one place (or one legal entity?) Note: then with the right use of iGEM $$$, we could be approaching AAU level in as little as a year or two. [Yes, there's a reason my license plates say "OPTIMISM" J  ]


[1] Thus University of Chicago is technically still in the Big Ten; the 1st Heisman went to the Maroons’ Jay Berwanger
[2] When I was first at Boise State, the WAC was chock-full of great entrepreneurship programs; of course, by the time we got traction, the league had changed dramatically L But the P12 schools are working on it!
[3] And you can’t really bribe, order or threaten faculty to be immersed if they didn’t do this Day One; it’s intrinsically motivated (but you CAN hire faculty who are already doing this… And the true superstars do this/)
[4] Of course, this isn’t even a football conference
[5] And plays football… otherwise the U of Toronto would be a great fit for the B1G or ACC J

Labels: , , , , ,

1 Comments:

Blogger Rick Ritter said...

Norris, Well said BUT how many superstar researchers can you get for plus or minus $600K??? How did SBOE allocate the money? Not sure I see any superstars in that group.

9:10 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home