4 Ways Economic Woes Impact Scholarship and Innovation ~ Praxis Habitus - On Race Religion & Culture

Thursday, February 19, 2009

4 Ways Economic Woes Impact Scholarship and Innovation

The downturn in the economy will affect scholarship and innovation for the coming years.

From my academic perch, I'm seeing first-hand how the downturn in the economy is affecting scholarship. Why does this matter? Here are a four things to consider:

Academic doctors gather before a graduation pr...Image via Wikipedia

1. Colleges and universities are contracting the ranks of professors by releasing contractually-hired lecturers and freezing new hires for academic departments.

Currently, about 50% of college classes are taught by these "adjunct" professors hired semester-by-semester (or quarter-by-quarter). Many will find their contracts fail to be renewed, new jobs unavailable, and their already-meagre wages lost. And the failure to staff new tenure-track lines means new PhD's are struggling for stable work in a smaller market.

Not only is this a loss of academic jobs, it also means an increase in class sizes for students and work load for remaining professors. Think you have a hard time getting an appointment to talk to a professor? It will get even harder.

2. Traveling expenses to academic conferences are being cut by institutions, and grant monies for travel are being cut back or removed entirely.

Conferences matter because much of the engine of scholarship happens at these meetings. The presentation, discussion, and general networking that occurs at thousands of conferences held every year both domestically and abroad fuel ideas at every stage of development. Also, journal editors and book publishers often meet with academics to discuss new projects. The book displays at conferences also offer a unique opportunity to review hundreds and hundreds of new ideas at one setting within a few hours time.

Bottom line: Empty meeting rooms translate into the failure of ideas circulating.

3. Grant funding from private endowments will drop for the coming years as the percentage of proceeds from endowment investments goes negative.

The loss of grant funding opportunities means that bold, new, and needed research initiatives will be delayed or dropped entirely as cycles of funding pass. Grant funds (ranging from small of less than $10,000 to large at over $100,000) contribute directly to the employment of professors, graduate students and support staff.

Grant funds also support the operation of universities who receive a percentage of funded grants (which helps bring down the cost of student tuition, for example).

researchImage by suttonhoo via Flickr

4. Libraries are cutting expenses by pulling back on book orders and journal subscriptions.

Not only is this a loss of keeping "up to date" with the continual stream of new knowledge generated daily but also a loss for academic presses that publish this work.

If academic presses contract their publishing efforts (which appears to be happening), then good work will be delayed in publishing or fail to be published at all.

And there's more.

I believe higher education is one of the great strengths of the United States. Our knowledge and our graduates are one of our greatest exports. I hope to see the contributions coming from our institutions further expanded. At the very least, we all need to be aware that the downturn in the economy will contract the many important intellectual efforts being made today.

Any stuttering in the unexpected inspirations that accompany diligent academic work may impede the kinds of innovations we are used to seeing from the labs and libraries of our institutions of higher learning, including those highly practical discoveries that will help alleviate our economic woes.

No comments: