Meet the Modern Research University

I got a letter today that says a lot by what it doesn’t say. For all I know, the letter has a “sell-by” date and will disappear down the memory hole when that arrives, so I reproduce it in full:

July 31, 2014

Dear Purdue friends,

Your university is setting records — thanks to our brilliant faculty and our dedicated staff, and thanks to you, our engaged alumni, who have helped us to significant achievements over the past year.

This month, we are reporting a record-setting fiscal year with new marks in commercialization activity and charitable donations, and the second-highest total ever in external research funding.

Already known as an important engine for economic development and growth for Indiana, Purdue announced that a record-breaking number of startups — a total of 24 new companies created from university innovations — launched during the 2014 fiscal year, which ended June 30. These startups, triple last year’s number, are based on patented Purdue University intellectual property and they are a direct result of our efforts to aggressively cultivate a climate of entrepreneurship and to foster technology commercialization.

The creation of the Purdue Foundry last year was a significant step in the process. This startup hub in the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship provides a team of entrepreneurial experts who assist with business plans, product ideation, market analysis, grant writing, legal counsel and more. Along with the Purdue Technology Centers, the Purdue Foundry won the 2014 Incubator Network of the Year award from the National Business Incubation Association, its highest distinction.

The results of this year’s startup activities are a testament to the dedication of Boilermaker researcher-entrepreneurs and the strong support system developed here on campus. As Indiana’s land-grant university, one of Purdue’s most important missions is to move its innovations to the public where we can help our global society and create jobs for Hoosiers. We are making strides on this front as never before.

This news comes along with record-breaking research funding during the past fiscal year as well. External research funding to Purdue saw its largest annual increase during the just-ended fiscal year — a jump of $70 million — to a total of $389 million. These dollars are pouring into our labs and classrooms, into our infrastructure, and into the future of the university. Through this significant investment in Purdue, our researchers are hard at work on projects focusing on converting plant biomass into fuel, reducing hunger and poverty by improving the processing and marketing of key crops, and developing methods to mass-produce new nanomaterials for advanced sensors and batteries, to name just a few.

Supporting these significant gains, we recently announced the merger of our research and global offices into one organization, the Office of Research and Partnerships. This change will facilitate further growth in research funding, which last year included significant awards from Department of Energy, National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense, among others.

The close of the 2014 fiscal year also brought a celebration of the many generous gifts our friends, alumni and partners have made to support our great university. This year’s giving was historic in several ways. Our first-ever Purdue Day of Giving in April raised $7.5 million from more than 6,500 gifts. This figure contributed significantly to the more than $235 million we raised for the year — our 13th consecutive year of more than $200 million — and to a record number of new donors and record funding for student support. It’s clear to me that our faculty excellence and our goals for student success are resonating with our greatest supporters — you.

Some quotes from our generous donors describe their reasons for giving:

“Today is Purdue Day of Giving. My opportunity was granted by my Purdue Promise Scholarship. I love Purdue. Again, thank you so much, Purdue Promise! I couldn’t do it without you and the donors.”

— Sophie O., student

“Please accept this gift to the Ag. study abroad department. Our daughter Abbey Amos is in Australia now and wouldn’t have had this opportunity to do this amazing trip without scholarships like this!! Paying it forward so someone else can do the same!”
— Frank and Michele Amos, Purdue parents

“Purdue has given me more through academic, social and professional experiences than I have given to the school monetarily or could ever give in any way. Education opens opportunities for individuals to change their lives and the lives around them. I wanted to give because I want to see other students have the opportunities I have been privileged to have through Purdue.”
— Barnard Mondal, a recent graduate and alumnus of Purdue’s Science Bound program

Every gift to Purdue, large and small, means an investment in the future of our university, whether that is research, student success, or facilities. Loyal alumni, friends, corporations and foundations, faculty and staff — and students, too — have given back to Purdue in a truly spectacular fashion. Thanks to this generosity and foresight, we are strengthening Purdue’s leadership in the STEM disciplines, pursuing world-changing research, and transforming how students learn — all while keeping a Purdue education affordable for our students.

As alumni, your remarkable gifts, your reputation for excellence and your inspiring stories are what make our university so great. Thank you for the part you play in our success.

Sincerely,

Mitchell E. Daniels Jr.<

(Emphasis added)

Greater Lafayette is a great place to make a living. I have no reason to think any of Mitch’s claims are bogus. It sounds as if Purdue is succeeding in producing not just cogs in productive gears, but hubs. This is the modern research university.

But I grieve that there is so little pride in actually producing educated individuals, not just entrepreneurs, who may be craven, shriveled souls for all their commercial success. Barnard Mondal is, by my count, the only donor who comes close to maybe valuing education for its own sake.

I guess education simpliciter just doesn’t fit the feedback loop of financial success breeding financial success.

* * * * *

“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.