W4, #5: COLLGE PROFIT VS. WONDER

Set-Up: As 10th graders, the “prepare for college” drumbeat seems to be playing a bigger and bigger role in all of all of your lives with each passing day.  Hard to spend a single day at school without this being brought up, I would imagine (just like now — wink).

Needless to say, the major priorities typically are:

  • what will it take to get into a ‘good’/’dream’ college?
  • will I enjoy the experience once I’m there?
  • how will my life be better once I’ve had that experience/degree?

Beyond just being about one’s individual ability to leave home (to grow as a person, see the world, etc) and earning a degree (to be in a position to develop a career, earn a living, etc), the entire focus on “getting to college” also say a great deal about our culture/society.  It also invites us to look into the ‘business’ of colleges/universities.

Challenge: Read the following 2 page New York Times editorial entitled “When Academia Puts Profit Ahead of Wonder” by Janet Rae-Dupree.  Do the following:

  • Share one quote that caught your eye that looks at the conflict between research universities being places of ‘learning’/’wonder’ vs. ‘profit’/’patents’.
  • React to that as a big idea in general
  • React to that in terms of what it means to be a ‘student’ at a university that has to make such a decision in terms of how professors spend their time, the purpose of a university education, etc.

Length: 7+ sentences

Note: This article is not meant to be representative of all research universities, nor suggesting how you should view the two goals. It is merely offered as a way to consider the deeper issues that go on at universities every day that may have an unexpected impact on what it means to be on campus in your future.

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2 responses to “W4, #5: COLLGE PROFIT VS. WONDER

  1. “Perhaps the most troublesome aspect of campus commercialization is that research decisions are now being based on possible profits, not on the inherent value of knowledge. ‘Blue sky’ research — the kind of basic experimentation that leads to a greater understanding of how the world works — has largely been set aside in favor of projects considered to have more immediate market potential.”

    The law of patents has taken away academia’s focus on research alone, and is now concentrated on what kind of profit can be garnered from research. Without the “Blue Sky” research, what is needed to be known to produce innovations and technology that can be profited form, will remain unknown. The law that attempted to resolve the problem of “conflicting rules and regulations”, now allows universities to “patent and license results of federally financed research”, this has transformed undergraduate, graduate, and professorial research into an object of profit. Without the natural drive of curiosity to fuel research, research may be conducted for short term measures in the hope of revealing a short term innovation that will acquire a large amount of cash. Yes, this could be fine for the long-term, but new discoveries and inventions produced in the quest for money could have long-term effects that go by unrealized until it is too late to stop them, very alike to the Bayh-Dole Act. The unintended consequences of this law may lead to unforeseen ramifications in the future.

    As a student that is aspiring to go and flourish at a university, this idea is almost frightening. Being unable to conduct research because of a lack of funding is a reality, because of the limited amount of money that there actually is to support research. However, losing the funding on my research or projects because there isn’t a likely chance of profit completely changes the picture. Normal students wouldn’t necessarily mind a lack of funding, if there was an equitable reason for such lack, but if money and the pursuit of money were the reason, it would not be acceptable.

    Professors may begin to neglect their duties as teachers in order to pursue research patents to earn money. I know that there is an overwhelming amount of teacher’s assistants teaching in place of professors at larger colleges and that theses TAs aren’t necessarily ‘good’ at teaching, but it is understandable if a professor can’t teach Chemistry 101 to undergrads because of other responsibilities in other classes that require more attention, but neglecting teaching for the pursuit of profit and patents is wrong and it can’t be tolerated on the professional level.

    This law that intended to do no harm has altered the way universities functions and has made me, an aspiring college student, fearful of how the norms changed by the Bayh-Dole Act will affect my college career.

    ***

    Mr. Long: There were times as I was reading the paragraphs following the opening quotation where I felt that the article’s author was still speaking. In other words, the sophistication of your language choices and the way in which you analyze the topics at hand are quite impressive.

    In addition to the maturity of your vocabulary, you are razor-sharp in terms of analyzing the article. This was not an easy article to read (esp. since it is a new set of ideas/topics for most of us), but you made it seem like a casual discussion.

    Very impressive (in spite of it being a run-on sentence — he smiles): “I know that there is an overwhelming amount of teacher’s assistants teaching in place of professors at larger colleges and that theses TAs aren’t necessarily ‘good’ at teaching, but it is understandable if a professor can’t teach Chemistry 101 to undergrads because of other responsibilities in other classes that require more attention, but neglecting teaching for the pursuit of profit and patents is wrong and it can’t be tolerated on the professional level.”

    Most importantly, by the time you wrap up your response, it is extremely obvious how invested you are and how intentional your reaction is. And this truly sets the bar for anyone else who chooses to tackle this article (as well as others).

  2. This article is an interesting look on how “academia could be powered as much by profit motive as by the psychic reward of new discovery.” This new outlook presented by the Bayh-Dole Act is one which is both profitable and quite disturbing. This demonstrates that many professors teaching at universities are not concerned with the welfare of their students as much as they are worried about how they are profiting from the situation. A university is a place of higher education and this patent ability seems to have brought down a once noble quest for learning sophisticated information from very intelligent professors. A university is not meant to be a private workplace where professors can perfect their own inventions but a place of open opportunity where intelligent students can truly excel. This ideal that professors need to have a patent ability is a product of modern day society and modern values. In our society we are constantly concerned with how to better our own situations both financially and spiritually. If these professors are so concerned with the protection of their own projects then maybe they should have a job that is truly meant to focus on this. If a professor creates some phenomenal invention then of course they should be given credit but this should by no means be a common occurrence. Though this ability does present the importance of the continuation of learning and experimentation, in that even these great professors are perfecting their discoveries, this does not out way the negatives of the situation.

    As a student in a university it would be quite frustrating to encounter a professor who was preoccupied with some invention and truly wasn’t giving a full effort in class due to their own research. Though some professors will be able to handle this juggling act better than others it seems that some classes would be negatively affected. Also there are many brilliant college students in the world who have the ability to contribute to or expand the creations and ideas of others and this patent prohibits this. If a student truly knew the perfect way to improve a patented invention they would not have the ability to do so. Not only are the professors concentrating more on their own inventions then on their students but also they are hindering their students ability to learn and improve on their creation. A teacher is an individual gifted with the desire and ability to promote learning and this patent ability allows teachers to do the complete opposite. Though many brilliant professors who use this ability perhaps have the best intentions, many college students will perceive this as a selfish act. This perception is due to the fact that the college students want what’s best for them and that does not include investing in a program with preoccupied teachers whom patent their inventions and keep individuals from improving on their ideas. Individuals invest in a program they know will invest in them also and so this description of the teachers would not be appealing to many incoming students. Students learn from and admire professors but if the professors are not willing to help their students learn in all ways possible then students loose interest in and respect for that professor. Furthermore if these universities feel it is imperative to have this ability available to their professors they should also feel the same urgency in making the ability available to every student.

    ***

    Mr. Long: Mmmm…you definitely captured my attention in these ways:

    1. “A university is a place of higher education and this patent ability seems to have brought down a once noble quest for learning sophisticated information from very intelligent professors.”

    2. “A university is not meant to be a private workplace where professors can perfect their own inventions but a place of open opportunity where intelligent students can truly excel.”

    3. “A teacher is an individual gifted with the desire and ability to promote learning and this patent ability allows teachers to do the complete opposite. Though many brilliant professors who use this ability perhaps have the best intentions, many college students will perceive this as a selfish act.”

    Much thanks for the reply.

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