Culture and Structure
Inside academia, it’s hard to talk about the university’s impact on the world’s great problems without getting immersed in a conversation about faculty rewards and university structure. Discussions about enterprise creation or entrepreneurship in the university can quickly become debates over whether faculty should be rewarded with promotions and tenure for securing patents and creating businesses. Discussions of institutional innovation and how to attack big problems often bring up questions about how the university ought to be organized, whether the new program ought to report to a dean or the provost, or if the leader should be a center director or a department chair.
The time spent on these discussions, of course, is time not spent on solving critical problems. Actually addressing global warming is more important than determining who gets credit for it or whether to create a new unit to house the project. Creating the right culture and the right team with the expertise, resources, and passion to tackle a problem will have greater impact than arguing about developmental structures or the overhead allocation for a particular grant or contribution. In the abstract, academics usually agree that addressing critical problems is more important than debating organizational issues, but putting that belief into practice is sometimes difficult.
In this chapter, we discuss the difficulties involved in achieving consensus in universities. The passion and vigor that characterize debates over organizational issues grow