Teaching or Research?

This seems to be the question many faculty and administrators deal with from time to time. Often one choice comes at the expense of the primary role of an institution. If this question comes up, I refer quickly to Frederick Terman, the Stanford Provost who effectively founded silicon valley by supporting stanford students in their entrepreneurial endeavors. Students like Hewlett and Packard (heard of them?). When asked if he’d like Stanford to be a teaching institution or a research institution, he replied “it should be a learning institution.” This approach helped transform Stanford from a struggling college to a top-tier university in a few decades.

The bottom line is that it wasn’t about changing the world, it was about doing the right thing for students. Not every student wanted to go to grad school and become a professor or a doctor or a teacher. Some of them had good ideas and wanted to start companies. Why is it that most colleges only allow their business students to think about starting companies? Perhaps part of the problem with today’s economy is that most businesses are run by business majors? I’m only half serious here, but the thought that anyone with a good idea can start a company seems to have faded during my lifetime. Fortunately, the maker movement, the DIY electronic kit market, and several other movements seem to be turning this around. Now the trick is to keep them going and let them grow.

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