Gov. John Kasich Is Wrong to Denigrate Ohio Universities’ Innovation Capabilities

What follows is an op-ed by John T. McNay, chair of the department of history, philosophy and political science at the University of Cincinnati’s Blue Ash campus and president of the Ohio Conference of AAUP.

This op-ed originally appeared at Cleveland.com: http://www.cleveland.com/opinion/index.ssf/2015/05/gov_john_kasich_is_wrong_to_de.html#incart_river

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Gov. John Kasich, while making the rounds in Washington, D.C., on his pre-presidential tour, roundly and wrongly criticized Ohio’s universities and faculty, as reported by the Northeast Ohio Media Group on April 24.

Kasich lamented, “One of the big problems that we have in the Midwest when it comes to innovating . . . is the Midwest for whatever reason gets extremely comfortable with the status quo,” as quoted in the story by Stephen Koff. “Change is not something that they get real excited about. And it’s reflected in our university structures,” Kasich added.

On the contrary, Ohio’s universities are always innovating. Our open-access regional campus system is an outstanding example of outreach to rural populations that is unusual and successful. OhioLink, the system that ties together all the large libraries in Ohio, so that scholars and students have access to literally millions of books and articles, is better than most systems across the country. We’ve explored online education and created links with universities around the world. Several universities have made or considered serious structural change in recent years. Anybody who spends time at a university knows that the only thing we can be sure of is change. We do it all the time.

But change for change’s sake is simply busy work. Our faculty aim to make changes that will have a practical and positive benefit on our students and our work. Out system of higher education in the United States is the envy of the world and should not be undermined by pointless tinkering.

Kasich told the audience that Ohio doesn’t compete with California in university commercialization of technology and inventions because Ohio lacks “a culture of innovation.” Ohio may in fact be behind California, but it’s not because our universities lack a culture of innovation. If the governor took the time to discover everything going on at our institutions, I believe he’d reach a very different conclusion.

Commercialization takes money, and the state of California invests in higher education at levels far greater than Ohio under the Kasich administration. The University of California alone has a $250 million venture capital fund. By comparison, Ohio’s much praised Third Frontier fund awarded only about $85 million in 2014. And when Kasich became governor, he took that Third Frontier money out of the hands of the universities.

The real problem in higher education is the lack of investment by the state. In the last 10 years, funding to our four-year research universities has been cut by over 14 percent, our regional campuses by over 25 percent, and our community colleges by over 22 percent.

It is not fair to complain about the lack of commercialization at Ohio’s universities when funding has been cut and diverted away from those very universities. While the governor has proposed increases in higher education support over the biennium, proposed Fiscal Year 2017 funding won’t even fully restore subsidies to where they were before the governor heavily slashed them in his first budget in 2011. We can and should do better.

Gov. Kasich also said the problem in the universities is that tenure creates a disincentive for people to be “risk-takers” and that scholarly work undermines innovation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In reality, tenure is what enables risk taking. It ensures a faculty member won’t lose his or her job because they took a risk and tried something new that may be controversial. All innovation has its roots in research-based academic publishing. It is the way progress is made to new ways of thinking and new ways of doing things.

We appreciate that Gov. Kasich is making higher education a focus. Ohio’s distinguished faculty invite him to learn more about the work that we do and to use us as a resource to create better policy and tackle the real problems facing our higher education system.

 

2 thoughts on “Gov. John Kasich Is Wrong to Denigrate Ohio Universities’ Innovation Capabilities

  1. Pingback: 2016 Republican candidates on higher education and top grant funders | Wanderings Through Grant Land

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