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APLU Task Force Recommends Technology Transfer as a Criteria for Tenure and Promotion

Indianapolis, IN – A report released today from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) Task Force on Tenure, Promotion, and Technology Transfer today called for public research universities to formally consider, when relevant, faculty involvement in technology transfer activities as part of tenure and promotion decisions. With many research universities placing an increased emphasis on the economic development dimension of their mission, the task force noted it is appropriate for faculty activities in technology transfer to be considered according to quality criteria as are published research papers and other activities included in faculty advancement decisions.

“A faculty member’s accomplishments in technology transfer, innovation, and entrepreneurship are worthy of consideration in the review process for tenure and advancement,” the concluded. “The Task Force recommends that university policies and criteria for judging merit include technology transfer as one manifestation of meritorious faculty work, as they do for a number of other types of valuable activities that should not be expected to result in refereed publications. As with other forms of faculty work, it is essential that the evaluation of technology transfer activities weigh the likely impact of the work, its quality and its foreseeable societal benefit. When it is successful, technology transfer can invigorate the university and establish relationships with other private and public sectors that affirm the value of a research university.”

The Task Force surveyed U.S. and Canadian public universities to ascertain current approaches for defining technology transfer activities and recognizing them in assessing faculty performance, and made five recommendations:

  • Policy statements should acknowledge the merit of technology transfer as part of the university’s work, with safeguards against conflicts of interest or commitment.
  • Technology transfer activities should be explicitly included among the criteria relevant for promotion and tenure, at the university, college, and department levels, as appropriate to the disciplines.
  • Technology transfer activities should be an optional component of the review process, one that will be rewarded when present, but not seen as a requirement for everyone.
  • Recognizing the unique character of technology transfer, the criteria should be flexible to encompass high-quality work in many forms of creative expression.
  • Technology transfer activities should be evaluated for intellectual contribution and expected social benefit consistent with the accepted process of peer review and without reliance on artificial metrics.

Prompted by a suggestion from APLU’s Research Intensive Public University Committee, the task force was formed in August 2014 and charged with surveying current practices at member institutions and making recommendations to the full APLU membership. The task force found there was some consideration of technology transfer in tenure and promotion decision, but that it was not widely considered or formalized into the decision making process at most institutions.

The task force was comprised of a half dozen presidents and chancellors, provosts, and senior research officers from APLU members institutions: Judy Genshaft, President, University of South Florida (Co-Chair); Bernadette Gray-Little, Chancellor, University of Kansas; Jonathan Wickert, SVP & Provost, Iowa State University, (Co-Chair); Karen Hanson, SVP & Provost, University of Minnesota; Richard Marchase, Vice President for Research & Economic Development, University of Alabama, Birmingham; and Peter E. Schiffer, Vice Chancellor for Research, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Paul R. Sanberg, Senior Vice President for Research, Innovation & Economic Development, provided special assistance with the development of the task force’s report.

The task force’s report on tenure and promotion takes place in the context of proposed reforms of patent law by Congress aimed at curtailing abusive behaviors by patent assertion entities. The APLU Task Force on Managing University Intellectual Property and the Association of American Universities Working Group on Technology Transfer and Intellectual Property studied best practices for university management of intellectual property and released reports earlier this year. Recommendations from both reaffirm the societal benefits of technology transfer. The APLU report emphasized the importance of managing university intellectual property at public institutions manifestly for the sake of public good.

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