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.
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
(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
The AAU is an organization that includes the
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
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’
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
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
as an academic alliance. Whatever conferences that Idaho schools land in, I
hope that we are proactive in building academic linkages.
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
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?
We do NOT need more good research; we need GREAT research,
And isn't that what iGEM is intended to do?
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.
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.
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?
infrastructure: Is there a widely, deeply held mindset that supports
world-class research? Do the social and cultural norms support that mindset?
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.
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
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
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
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
And guess what?
You hire superstars, you get this.
You hire less-than-superstars, you don't. (Do you sense another
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
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
C-USA 2 0
BE 1 0
MWC 0 0
WAC 0 0
Remaining AAU Schools
not in Power Conference
(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
5X increase for grants-based research
10X increase for industry-sponsored research
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 ]
Labels: AAU, BCS, football, superstars, technology development, university development