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University R&D.

John A. Armstrong's "University Research: New Goals, New Practices" (Issues, Winter 1992-93) makes a valuable contribution at a critical time for U.S. research universities. As he points out, there have recently been numerous suggestions that we refocus basic research in our universities on strengthening the nation's welfare and its industrial competitiveness. Armstrong counters with the argument that our immediate industrial problems do not result from a deficiency in the conduct of basic research or from poor transfer of research results from universities to industry. He further cautions that a misguided attempt to direct research toward the short-term solution of industrial problems could undermine the basic values that our universities bring to society as well as to industry.

As someone with a long and varied experience in a large industrial laboratory, I completely agree with Armstrong's conclusions. In my view, there are two key benefits that we in industry gain from our universities. The first is that they are a source of well-educated, motivated, innovative people to work in our laboratories. These people are the lifeblood of our enterprises. Although, as Armstrong points out, there are ways to make incremental improvements, we are, in general, well satisfied with university performance in this area.

The second benefit comes from the results of basic research. A nation with a strong industrial sector and access to new knowledge that comes from excellent research can be a world leader in bringing fundamentally new products to the marketplace. In turn, this can add to the prosperity of the nation. However, the time period from a fundamental breakthrough in research to the development of a commercial market for products is typically 5 to 20 years. Thus, we should not look to basic research to solve the short-term competitiveness problems of industry.

As Armstrong points out, the solution to the competitiveness problem rests with the private sector, which needs to improve its modes of operation, and, I believe, also with the government, which needs to improve the infrastructure and the financial environment in which industry must work. If we are to help our industry specifically in the field of R&D, we should concentrate more on national initiatives in technology than on basic science. With the end of the Cold War, we can safely convert substantial defense-related resources to the support of the strategic tecnhnologies that underpin U.S. competitiveness.

IAN M. ROSS President Emeritus AT&T Bell Laboratories Murray Hill, New Jersey

I agree with the spirit and most of the specific points raised by John A. Armstrong. However, his point of view would more properly be represented by adding "From an Industrial Perspective" to the article's title. From a university perspective, the following points should be emphasized:

Armstrong's characterization of the U.S. university as providing a competitive advantage, while correct, underestimates the critical contribution the university makes to our overall economic performance. The challenges we face as a country, such as competitiveness, protecting the environment, and controlling health care costs, all require increased technical competence. Without it, we will not achieve prosperity or meet other challenges. Of course, as Armstrong says, changes in the private and public sectors are also needed.

Armstrong is correct in stating that universities should modify parts of their culture and practice to better train graduates for R&D careers. It is important that some students come out of our universities excited by and prepared for contributing in needed areas such as improving U.S. manufacturing. However, it is even more important to students and to our country in the longer term that they all acquire the desire to learn and to continually question the world around them. An idea worth considering is to change science and engineering education to be more like medical education--that is, to follow the university period with an internship in functioning R&D enterprises, both industrial and governmental.

Having worked in industrial as well as university research, I can say that, given the current stress in the university system, it will be very difficult to make the changes in university culture that Armstrong advocates without weakening or even destroying the universities' existing strengths. I participated in one industrial organization's downsizing and change of culture. We spent large sums in making those changes. Very few, if any, universities have the resources to write off such restructuring costs.

Just as the defense-oriented investment in our universities in the 1950s and 1960s enabled them to play a critical role in the Cold War, we now need to provide the resources for our research universities to make their necessary contributions to our economic security and quality of life. This is certainly not a request for more government spending, but rather for obtaining the means to enable our research universities to evolve at the speed required by the times and by the challenges that lie ahead. To attempt the needed changes without additional resources would almost certainly destroy the strengths they now possess.

PETER EISENBERGER Director, Princeton Materials Institute Princeton University Princeton, New Jersey

In "University Research: New Goals, New Practices," we once again see the specter of anti-intellectualism running rampant in our country. That it should be promoted by our own Academy of Sciences is all the more sad and distressing. John A. Armstrong, no doubt a bright and wealthy man, trots out the usual litany of professors' failures: We do not teach enough; we teach the wrong things; we do not give industry what it wants; our intellectual property views are flawed; we do not care enough about industry; we care too much (or too little) about getting rich; and we should change our conflict-of-interest policies. Not a thing is said about excellence, creativity, productivity, scholarship, philosophy, or academic freedom, all of which should be at the center of our teaching, research, and service roles at the university.

Our top universities are the envy of the world. They often produce the most profound and creative thinkers of our time. Yet Armstrong would have you believe that we academics are flawed because we are not properly attuned to the needs of the almighty dollar.

This kind of thinking has converted our elementary and high schools from among the best to among the worst in the world. It will do no less for our universities.

VICTOR J. HRUBY Regents Professor of Chemistry University of Arizona Tucson, Arizona
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Title Annotation:response to John A. Armstrong, Issues, Wnt 1992-93
Author:Ross, Ian; Eisenberger, Peter; Hruby, Victor J.
Publication:Issues in Science and Technology
Date:Jun 22, 1993
Words:1057
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