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Research and Balance at Mason

Research and Balance at Mason
 

The current economic situations and the concomitant federal climate inevitably provoke new discussions of the research mission of universities — and of course, George Mason.  Mason has been on a rapid upward curve in funded research over the past decade with only two plateau years tossed in. From less than 30 million in the late 1990s, our research funding now nears 130 million. We have strong, and I hope reasonable, aspirations for continued growth.

Obviously, federal funding may be harder to get, but our research leadership has some plausible new strategies to maintain momentum. This includes new attention to the commercialization of relevant research findings.  So far, no issue.

Research is important to us. We have real commitments in the area. The notion that Northern Virginia needs and deserves a major research university is fully defensible. Where there may be an issue involves maintaining the commitment within a balanced portfolio, including the need for further innovation.

I have always argued that the University’s research growth should not compromise its devotion to teaching. I frankly worry that some of our current research advocates would push so far in using research funding as the only talisman of University success that we would lose what I see as a precious quality, right up there with our entrepreneurial culture.

So I hope we will continue talk of teaching and learning right alongside research, seeking active relationships between the two wherever possible. I would wish us never to fall into the trap of measuring the success of an individual faculty member by how many grants he or she gets and therefore how little teaching they have to do (which was deep in the culture of an institution with which I was previously associated, and which I found dubious at best).

We have lots of faculty deeply interested in teaching — and in better teaching. We have reward systems for teaching, which we need to preserve (even though research measurements remain more pervasive). We have new projects like Students as Scholars that encourage a healthy relationship between our two main endeavors.

Balance is not, of course, as sexy as urging something like a vault into the top 20 research institutions (which I would love to see as well if properly done). It’s also true that the deep pleasure of a successful class is harder to translate into publicity than the latest research discovery.  But balance is essential, and we should not let excited calls for universities simply to become engines of economic growth to distract us.  That’s a legitimate part of our current mission, but our full mission runs deeper.