MARKET MODEL UNIVERSITY
by Giulio Gabbiani
As undergraduate student
I was very impressed by the description of natural selection phenomena implying
the rapid substitution of a whole population of a given species, e.g. flies,
by another, due to the advantage or disadvantage conferred by a seemingly irrelevant
trait, such as wing color, that was attracting or repulsing a recently arrived
A comparable situation is likely to emerge at present in our Science and particularly Medical Faculties due to a change in the rules of cooperation between University and Industry (1). Since the Bayh-Dole law allowing the Universities to patent inventions supported by the USA Government, an evolution has taken place in most countries toward a "market-model University" in which the Departments that "make money" or "attract money" are highly rewarded compared to those which do not succeed in this respect (2). This new attitude can go as far as to generate grottesque aspects such as the labeling of small laboratory furniture with the name of a private donnor, but most observers agree that it represents a very efficient and may be an essential way of supporting the activity of many laboratories, particularly at a time in which the governmental support for research tends to stagnate or even to decrease. The laboratories that most benefit of this help are those oriented towards biotechnological, analytical or practical applications, since their results can be eventually exploited by the donnor. The donnor can ask and most of the time asks to benefit of the public recognition expressed in different occasions by the recipient. It is clear that this new situation tends to orient reseach planification in a direction favorable to the views and the interests of the donnor corporations. This attitude has already produced important and sometime dramatic deviations and has stimulated a number of debates on ethical problems as well as the suggestion of including the teaching of ethics in the curriculum of scientific studies.
The favorable and unfavorable aspects of this evolution have been discussed widely in scientific and more general publications. I would like to concentrate on a point that has been in my opinion somehow neglected up to now. Since the Renaissance and the flourishing of modern Univesities the paradigm of the primacy of basic research, in which the main motivation is intellectual curiosity, has remained the basis for the selection process regulating the appointment of university professors. This attitude has allowed to select, in addition to other personality profiles, a category of individuals characterized on the one hand by the capacity of producing innovative concepts and on the other hand by the persistence in pursuing their ideas passionately when they inevitably encounter skepticism or even hostility. These imaginative researchers generally manifest a tendency to go against accepted rules and a lack of interest for economical problems. When their discoveries were recognized, these individuals became easily adopted by the society; but usually this lucky event took place after many years of struggle and bitter conflicts and not necessarily during their life time. As prototypes of this personality profile I would indicate Galileo Galilei in the 17th century and Albert Einstein in the 20th century, but it appears more and more evident that individuals exibiting this personality, who fight and eventually succeed in introducing new concepts or techniques in the everyday practice of science, belong to all levels of academic activity, from the most theoretical to the most technical and practical. Again such individuals are characterized by a predominant imaginative activity and by the desire to pursue their ideas rather than to accumulate wealth (3).
My worry is that the paradigm of "market-model University" creates an environment absolutely hostile to such category of scientists and/or technicians and thus causes their disappearence from the academic life. This would deprive our society of one, possibly the main, source of innovation that has contributed during the last centuries to the progress of science and of the society in general.
1.Warde I.Modele anglosaxon en question. Economica, Paris,1997
2.Engell J and Dangerfield A. Humanities in the age of money. Harward Review, may-june 1998.
3.Alter N. L'innovation ordinaire. PUF, 2000.