Beyond Academic Capitalism: Innovation and Entrepreneurship as Institutional Ethos at a Public Research University

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2014

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The theory of academic capitalism provides a cogent explanation of the actors, organizations, and networks that initiated a shift in U.S. higher education from a "public good knowledge/learning regime" to an emerging "academic capitalist knowledge/learning regime." In the academic capitalist knowledge/learning regime, the claims of entrepreneurs, administrators, and corporations--amidst amplified market forces--have come to supersede the claims of the public. Research thus far has not analyzed the process by which the multiple levels of higher education institutions adopt values and norms of the academic capitalist knowledge/learning regime. Using case study methodology, this dissertation empirically examines the development and dissemination of an institutional ethos that, consistent with the theory of academic capitalism, has attributed great importance to innovation and entrepreneurship at a public doctoral/research-intensive university in the United States between 1998 and 2013. Specifically, I am interested in explaining why this ethos was initiated and supported by university leaders and how it has been translated into incentives for faculty members and academic opportunities for undergraduate students. Therefore, this dissertation traces academic capitalism as a multi-level process at one higher education institution. The findings demonstrate that meanings ascribed to innovation and entrepreneurship vary across the campus. However, there is a preponderance of language and examples derived from the for-profit sector. The individuals on campus instrumental in crafting the innovation and entrepreneurship ethos were central administrators, particularly presidents and provosts. The main motivations for supporting the ethos were generating revenue in the future, continuing a land-grant tradition of service to the state, and attempting to keep pace with institutional peers and garner prestige. Efforts to translate the ethos into incentives for faculty have been limited in scope and mainly cater to disciplines in sciences, engineering, and technology. However, there is clearly emphasis placed on developing the entrepreneurial mindset in undergraduate students. The implications of these incentives and academic opportunities are analyzed, suggesting possible outcomes of innovation and entrepreneurship as institutional ethos.

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