James L. Morrison
[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in
On the Horizon, 1992, 1(1), 7. It is posted here with permission
from Jossey Bass
Thomas E. Hall, Miami University (Ohio), sums up the U.S. economic problem as
the loss of its competitive edge during the past 20 years. The question now
dominating political debate is why and what can be done about it. Hall says the
problem is rooted in the slow growth of labor productivity since 1973.
Labor productivity in the U.S. grew at an average rate of 2.4 percent a year
between 1960 and 1973. From 1973 to 1989, the rate was only 0.8 percent per
year. Productivity growth in Japan during the same time has averaged about 6
Two factors are at play in the slow growth of productivity-inadequate
investment in plants and equipment, and a declining rate of technological
innovation. Both of these, in turn, are caused by the high cost of capital in
Hall sees no immediate remedies, but stresses the need for actions to begin
rebuilding productivity. Polices to encourage savings and reduce the budget
deficit would be a good start. ["The Real Problem: Productivity Deficit," (1992,
Summer), The Forum]
The relevant question is how to increase technological innovation at the
lowest possible cost and boost the research and development capacity of
universities? Encourage and support corporate-university partnerships that allow
universities to reduce development costs by actively participating in the
product development process. Of course, problems vis a vis proprietary ownership
of knowledge versus free discourse of knowledge arise from such collaboration.
However, a well-managed private industry-university research system can be a
win-win solution for industry and for universities.
Another implication of the push for productivity is the expectation that
colleges and universities will become more "productive." Increasingly, state
legislators are questioning what they perceive as low teaching loads and overly
liberal leave policies. As the dialogue between the state house and the campus
becomes more heated, college and university public relations people will have
their work cut out for them.