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25 Feb Posted by in Business | Comments Off on Entreprencratic

George Mason, as you all know, prides itself on entrepreneurial readiness and agility. We would rather say yes than no, rather find reasons to move ahead on a good idea than all the factors that caution against. I believe that these characteristics are, on the whole, desirable, and even exciting; and I believe that they accurately describe the University and, within reason, some differences between us and some more established places.

Of course there are downsides. We sometimes venture things that don’t pan out. My favorite example (since I was not alone involved) was when we excitedly kicked off an interdisciplinary degree in e-commerce, right as the bubble burst and when, as a result, no one wanted the program. We are sometimes vulnerable to accusations that we don’t seem to have an overall plan or direction (I believe these accusations are exaggerated, but I confess they’re not always wrong). We sometimes pile up organizational structures that don’t always make sense, because they have accumulated from pursuing one idea after another.

But I think our eagerness to respond to the excitements of faculty, sometimes the external community, and sometimes students is a good quality, and one that helps explain our ability to weather the obvious storms around us, budgetary most notably, without losing all our verve.

Recently, one important faculty leader noted that he’s worried we’ve lost some of this exuberant quality, in becoming more bureaucratic and rule-conscious. The charge is interesting, and I have recurrently wondered about the same issue. We are of course no longer in first youth (I’m talking about the University, not myself personally). We’re big and we’ve inevitably developed lots more regulations and complexities. Also, of course, the world around us imposes more rules as well: safety concerns multiply far more rapidly than risks, the feds invent new research requirements faster than they print money, the state adds in a little bit and then there’s accreditation. Some of this stuff is desirable; some of it’s inevitable; some, we need perhaps to sort out a little more creatively. But we also impose some rules of our own — I have several offices in mind here that sometimes seem to go overboard, but I won’t mention by name.

The goal of course is balance. We can’t confuse entrepreneurial with heedless. But I think the University deserves a recurrent debate about aspects that still seem out of reasonable control, but, even more, areas where we may be, with all good intentions, thwarting one of our most important characteristics. Reactions welcome.