The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said, “Universities create the future”; and Drew Gilpin Faust, president of Harvard, explained that they do so “in two fundamental ways: by educating those to whom the future belongs, and by generating the ideas and discoveries that can transform the present and build a better world.”1 Despite unprecedented challenges we remain enthusiastic about the role of research universities at this moment in history—perhaps because as entrepreneurs we habitually see opportunity when confronted with adversity.
The challenges are real, and daunting. On average, university endowments are 30 percent smaller than they were at the beginning of the financial crisis, and the situation is much worse for many of the institutions whose budgets depend on state funds. Whether voluntarily or involuntarily, universities must reinvent themselves and at the same time respond to the most serious problems of our day. Universities are being asked to do more precisely at a time when their resources are dramatically constricting. In such an environment, it is not possible simply to throw money at emerging problems. Rather, students and faculty must discard traditional notions of academic compartmentalization and resource availability and view themselves as members of teams capable of mobilizing on their own initiative and prepared to leverage resources beyond the walls of their own institutions.
This requirement that research universities do more with less convinces us that an entrepreneurial mindset is required for these great institutions to have the impact we know they can. An environment of rapid change, like the one we confront today, demands innovation, and entrepreneurial thinking increases the impact of innovative ideas. As research universities take on society’s biggest challenges, it is imperative that we expand the conversation be