Must get a grant!

Any program a university wants to implement, from the mundane to the obvious, gains legs and cachet if it secures external funding. Even very wealthy private colleges with endowments dwarfing many private foundations will claim that unless a sponsor is found for the coffee and bagels that seminar series on (pick one of substitute your own topic) improving undergraduate education, or transfering educational skills to workplace skills, or how to better communicate your ideas to journalists is simply not going to happen. Similarly, despite the big bucks paid to build new research infrastructure with that all important “mingling space so needed to cross-fertilize new ideas across disciplinary silos” (or some other cliche about innovation) – don’t try to actually act on an interesting idea that emerges from that fortuitous bumping of heads unless you can identify an external source ready to fund it. The reality is – there is just not that much external funding available. In my neck of the woods – private foundation funding – grants are precisou and hard to come by. The funding rate at many private funders for scientific projects is probably around 5%. This makes the government funders like NIH and NSF look easy! What’s the solution – I am not sure. But it does seem to me that universities should be thinking about how they deploy their institutional resources to allow good ideas to seed. They may also need to re-evaluate their value system. AN idea should not be considered good because someone ELSE is willing to fund it. A strong internal compass and small amounts of discretionary funding might go along way. Now this may mean cutting back on the 5 star dorms, on campus sushi bars, and work out facilities that make a luxury resort envious. Never mind the university delegations to tour the gardens of Japan. Might be time to bring intellectual shabby chic back in style.