Tech Transfer eNews Blog

Call for changes to promotion and tenure policies grows louder


By David Schwartz
Published: June 25th, 2014

It’s no secret that promotion and tenure (P&T) policies that reward publishing, teaching, and service but turn a blind eye toward commercialization activities have long hampered the efforts of technology transfer professionals to engage young professors and researchers in market-focused innovation. However, despite all the talk on the subject, the pace of change in this area is glacial at best, according to a new report published by the National Academy of Inventors in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The authors, led by Paul Sanberg, the senior vice president for research and innovation at the University of South Florida in Tampa who also serves as president of the National Academy of Inventors, make the case that especially now, when states are increasingly looking to academia to light a fire under regional economic development efforts, it is high time to address what the authors refer to as the “misalignment of incentives” that is inherent in too many P&T policies.

“Most people do things they are going to get credit for,” notes Sanberg. Consequently, if states want universities to get more involved with the local economy, the business community, and other community development organizations, then these activities need to be rewarded — or at least not discouraged, he stresses.

Of particular concern to Sanberg are junior faculty who are trying to get tenure. “They are trying to get promoted or trying to just get merit, and they are following the traditional department routes that most universities have,” he says. “They have to teach, they have to be on committees, they have to bring in grants, and they have to publish or perish, and that’s a lot.”

It is a tall order to then expect these same professors to work toward translating their research into patents and to engage in commercialization work if these “extra” activities are not going to be recognized during P&T considerations, notes Sanberg. “These are the people we want to really move in this direction because they are very creative at that age. That is where a lot of the creativity comes from,” he says. “Even our post-docs and graduate students; we want to get them involved earlier on in these activities because they are so creative.”

Far from encouraging these types of activities, however, current policies “at best mostly tolerate commercialization activities,” according to Sanberg and his co-authors. This is curious, given the pressure by states on universities to boost jobs through university-driven innovation. In an encouraging sign, however, administrative leaders at a number of universities have recognized this disconnect and are taking steps to bring the economic development missions of their states in line with their reward systems for faculty. A detailed article on efforts to update P&T policy and work with faculty to embrace them appears in the June issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the complete article, and also receive free access to our 8-year archive of best practices, case studies, and success strategies for TTOs, CLICK HERE

Posted under: Tech Transfer e-News

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