Fuentek's Tech Transfer Blog

Calling All Universities: Promotion and Tenure Coalition Forming

The notion of incorporating innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) into promotion and tenure (P&T) decisions is by no means new. But making the concept a reality has been a struggle for many universities.

Now, a diverse coalition of universities will be gathering for a September 16-18, 2020 P&T summit, thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the leadership of Professor Rich Carter from Oregon State University.

Below is my conversation with Rich as we were preparing for a P&T session.

What is the objective of this coalition?

In a nutshell, this Promotion & Tenure Innovation & Entrepreneurship (PTIE) Coalition is a rapidly growing group of universities who will leverage our collective experiences to develop a plan for inclusively recognizing I&E impact within P&T guidelines. The goal is to develop a roadmap for implementation that coalition members can take back and use at their own respective institutions, hopefully with greater success than if we had each come up with individual approaches. It is important to note that our approach is intended to support faculty that choose to maximize the impact of their work through I&E efforts to the same extent that universities already reward the traditional research endeavors of faculty. To quote a term from the 2019 National Academies Convocation on Promotion & Advancement, we seek to “broaden the bar” for P&T.

This sounds like a great way for schools to learn what others have done while providing the consistency needed to solidify new I&E standards for promotion and tenure.

Right. Fostering communication and information sharing is part of the goal. Thanks to our NSF funding, we recently conducted a survey which was sent to over 350 institutions—99 unique institutions responded via 123 representative individuals—to understand how I&E criteria are being incorporated within existing P&T guidelines across the nation. This information and case studies will be a valuable starting point for the summit discussions.

What types of institutions will participate in the summit?

We use the word “university” to refer to all institutions of higher education – from primarily undergraduate institutions [PUIs] to M1s [master’s-serving institutions] and R1s [PhD-serving institutions]. Throughout this effort, we are committed to the diverse inclusion of all voices on this topic. Our survey targeted at least two schools from each state and representation from HBCUs [historically black colleges and universities], TCUs [tribal colleges and universities], and HSIs [Hispanic-serving institutions]. We recognize that challenges and opportunities can vary by institution type, student/faculty population as well as geographic factors.

Is the idea behind having a broad spectrum of institutions represented that the recommendations coming out of the summit can be widely applicable?

Exactly. The more voices we can have in the conversation, the easier it will be to identify best practices and recognize the nuances that exist between institutions. Changing P&T guidelines is often viewed as the “third rail of academics,” as no one university wants to be out of step with other institutions. Fortunately, our networked-systems approach helps to de-risk change for an individual institution, as they can point to the PTIE effort as identifying best practices. In addition, our approach will enable a large collection of universities to adopt a similar change in a concerted fashion, as the P&T review process almost always requires input from faculty at other universities.

And what types of university representatives are you hoping to engage in the coalition?

Our goal is to have participants from within universities as well as from the stakeholder community outside the university. University representatives include administrators (e.g., provosts, vice presidents of research, vice provosts of academic affairs), faculty engaged in I&E and faculty senate leadership. The stakeholder community consists of organizations that directly engage with universities, such as national societies and funding agencies as well as research, policy, and advocacy organizations.

I think your perspective as an entrepreneurial faculty member will be particularly valuable.

We are all informed by our own experiences. My time as department chair and serving on college-level P&T committees coupled with my own I&E endeavors helped me to understand how faculty think about P&T and how to connect with them on this topic. For example, the words we use matter a lot. Just one or two words can be the difference between ruffling feathers and getting folks on board. I’m really looking forward to sharing these insights with tech transfer professionals at AUTM as well as in this larger effort.

If our readers from universities want to participate in the coalition, what’s the best way to connect with you?

I would love to talk with folks who are interested in joining the coalition. If they’re going to be at the AUTM meeting in San Diego, they should absolutely come to our session on Wednesday morning at 10:30. They are welcome to email me beforehand to set up a time to chat on Wednesday at the AUTM meeting itself. Those who aren’t at AUTM 2020 also can reach out to me via email. (Editor’s note: Because AUTM 2020 was cancelled due to coronavirus, this session was presented as a webinar.)

This is clearly something you’re very passionate about.

Yes, I have long been fascinated by the intersection between science and industry. During my time at OSU, I have seen a real opportunity to positively impact the careers of my colleagues interested in I&E, the students and researchers engaged in I&E-related research, and the overall mission of the University. I am hopeful that our coalition approach around how to incorporate I&E into P&T can have real, broad-reaching impact for higher education and the society.

I can see why you’re enthusiastic about this project. Successfully integrating technology transfer–related achievements into promotion and tenure across so many institutions would be a major accomplishment.

I appreciate that. We firmly believe that if we can more effectively align the intellectual capabilities of interested faculty with the innovation economy, then the professional careers of those faculty will be positively impacted and universities will be better positioned to accomplish their own institutional strategic goals focused around I&E. This grant has the potential to cause a fundamental shift in how faculty who are interested in pursuing I&E-focused work are incentivized and rewarded for their research endeavors.

For more information on Rich’s work, read this article and watch the webinar of this AUTM 2020 session.

Engage on P&T at AUTM 2020

Fuentek will be hosting a session on including innovation and entrepreneurship in promotion and tenure decisions at AUTM 2020. If you will be in San Diego, join Danielle and Rich along with Justin Streuli of the University of North Carolina–Greensboro on Wed., March 11th at 10:30 am in Harbor F. UPDATE: More info on the webinar offered instead of the in-person session is available here.