Newest UM System executive envisions entrepreneurial education

Thursday, December 26, 2013 | 4:42 p.m. CST; updated 7:24 a.m. CST, Friday, December 27, 2013
Hank Foley, University of Missouri System executive vice president, sits in front of an "idea wall" in his University Hall office. Foley had the wall specially painted so he could write on it.

COLUMBIA — Hank Foley, the newest executive for the University of Missouri System, thinks Missouri should raise the next generation of entrepreneurs rather than the next generation of farmers.

Foley is executive vice president for academic affairs, which includes systemwide oversight of research and economic development. Noting Missouri's increasingly diverse workforce, he said that its citizens might work five or six jobs in their lives and that self-employment will likely be part of their job history.

Rather than the Jeffersonian ideal of yeoman farmers, Foley thinks a technologically savvy entrepreneurial workforce is the answer to furthering the state economy.

"I think we’re responsible for providing our students with a toolbox that they can use so that they can be self-employed when they need to be or aspire to be self-employed for their careers," he said. "But either way, those skill sets, are wonderful if you're in a business."

Foley, 57, came to MU in August from The Pennsylvania State University, where he was vice president for research and graduate school dean.

One wall of his office at 309 University Hall is covered in black and red ink. He had it specially painted so he could sketch out metrics, dashboards and plans for strategy on the system and campus levels.

Foley recently expounded on funding for education, the role of technology in learning and MU's rankings in the Association of American Universities. Here are excerpts:

Since 2004, the University of Missouri System has had a shift in how education is funded. It used to be more state-funded, and now it’s more student-funded. What kind of impact is that having on students and their academic performance?

Students are feeling the pinch. Students' families are feeling the pinch. There's more borrowing going on. I think that's a topic that’s been covered a great deal. I think it’s just a fact of life.

The cost of Chevrolets has gone up over the last 30 years, the cost of education has gone up over the last 30 years, but the economy has not kept pace. Tax revenues are not there. I don't blame the states — the taxes just aren't there to do the appropriations at the same levels they used to, if they're going to use the same percentage of their money for higher ed. So they have had to make a choice.

It's a devil's bargain. If you give more money to higher ed, you're taking more money away from other programs that are also very good programs. I think they've kind of tried to do their best in most states — I’m thinking Pennsylvania and other states — and it's painful for us in higher ed. But it is, I think, the best you can do under the circumstance.

What we really need is to lift the economy; get it going again. We need young people out there trying to start businesses. We need to make it easy to start businesses. We need to make it more than OK to fail and even easier to start the second one.

Ten years ago, we were starting to tell young people, even 15 years ago, in engineering and business, that they would probably work for five or six companies during their lifetimes.

Now we would say, not only would you probably work for different companies, you'll  probably work for yourself at different points. Maybe instead of looking at that as scary, we should give you all the tool kits you need to be entrepreneurs from now on.

I think it would be great. (Thomas) Jefferson had a view of a nation of yeoman farmers. Maybe the best we could get, or the closest we could get to that today, is yeoman entrepreneurs.

One of the strategic goals that the university states for the Columbia campus is to raise the (Association of American Universities) standing four places by 2018, from 32 to 28 out of the 34 public universities in the AAU. How do you intend to do this from the academic affairs perspective?

(The AAU describes itself as a nonprofit association of 60 U.S. and two Canadian preeminent public and private research universities. Members are ranked based on research spending, the number of faculty who belong to National Academies, faculty awards and citations.)

I think the key to that is really focus. It means looking at what are the measures that the AAU is using to evaluate us and going out and hitting and hammering on those points as hard as we can.

It's actually pretty simple. What we have to do is make some tough choices, we have to recycle some money, put it into a pot in the provost's office, basically, and then we have to use that money to go out and hire people who are either close to National Academy of Sciences status, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Philosophical Society.

There's a range of societies that people can be in. The more of those people you have, frankly, the higher your numbers go.

Then we need to, at the same time, put clusters together of younger faculty members who will be mentored by those excellent, more senior faculty members. We need to pick some keys areas, and I think the Mizzou Advantage that came out a few years ago, really had done a very nice job of picking areas that were especially relevant to AAU.

The trick in all of that, though, is that the humanities have to realize that we'll do our best to keep them not just doing well, but thriving. There are certain areas, like chemistry and physics, that really weigh heavily into the AAU metrics, and they're costly, so we have to have a broad discussion of that and hopefully get aligned to realize that if you want to do this, and they do, this is what it's going to look like over the next few years.

All boats will rise on the rising tide.

With those professional associations, is UM just paying for the name or will the faculty with those ties actually be a worthwhile investment?

I think they're worthwhile investments. I think the people who are at that level are really the people who are truly the best in their fields. What we need to do is bring a few more of those people into the sciences, into engineering, into some of the humanities areas — Pulitzer Prize-winners — so then we can hit the objective measures that the AAU uses, but really it's a lot of other stuff, to0, that the humanities do contribute to, but more subjectively.

So we have to have both, and we have to really try to raise everything at the same time, and I think we can do it. I think people of goodwill will come together around this, independent of their area, what their background is, because they love the university.

Regarding funding models, the joint commission on education is tossing around a model that’s more performance-based. What’s your view on that?

I think performance metrics are a great thing, and I think that the idea of trying to live up to those metrics and using them is a good thing. I think we can overuse metrics on the other side, and there's some things in some parts of our economy that are easier to measure than other things.

For example, it's easier to measure the outcome of a Ford factory, how many Fords they produce, the quality of Fords, than it is for me to really measure the output of the University of Missouri in Columbia.

I can count the number of students, I can see their GPA, but things like that are harder to really quantify. It's a different kind of business, and we have to realize that we can apply metrics to all different kinds of businesses, but they apply better in some realms than other. That said, the performance metrics the governor came up with are really very good. I like them, and I think they’re reasonable.

Textbook prices have risen about 800 percent in the last three decades. About 30 percent of textbooks at the Mizzou Store have a digital component, according to a 2013 Mizzou News article. As you're overseeing eLearning, where would you like that number to be?

I think where eLearning fits in is in different ways. One is outreach. I think we could reach out to many, many more students who are place-bound with eLearning, online learning. Again, it's got to be high-quality. We're experimenting with that. We have some really nice models around the system now of people who are doing things with eLearning.

I would point to some of the things that are happening. In Rolla, for example, there's a new chemistry course down there where students can take the course, they can sit in the classroom, they can sit in their dorm room while the class is being given, or they can take it asynchronously.

Similarly, we've got some courses down there that are going out to major corporations where they're using studio classrooms of the new kind, not the 20-year-old kind, that are involving green screens and very sophisticated technology, so it's from one end to the other.

We have other people doing the flipped-classroom thing, where they're putting their media up, and their lectures and so forth online, and then going to class to solve problems. Problem-based learning approach with media.

Where I think this is going to go over the next few years is really exciting. I think by the time you're my age, the whole impact of technology will become more fully embraced.

We’re at the beginning of this era, so it's hard to make predictions, but we really do want to make eLearning to be the death of distance, so that it lets people who wouldn't ordinarily be able to get access to our courses to get it. We want to use eLearning to drive even better learning outcomes, so that students who are really digital natives and comfortable with this, see things in the sort of modalities that they learn best in.

Ultimately, some day, I would like to think we would have mass-produced, customization of education. That sounds like an oxymoron, but it's not. What it really means is that you could start whenever you want to start, you could finish whenever you want to finish. You can mix and match and put things together as you wish. That's the direction, I think, that all this will go.

Maybe we'll have superstar teachers, I don't know. Maybe they'll establish their own little universities in the sense, but they won't be universities, they'll be enterprises of different kinds. It's going to be exciting to watch. I'd love to live another 100 years and see it.

If you had to describe your job description to an elementary student, how would you do that?

I wouldn't. (Laughs.) So, my job involves three distinct areas. Academic affairs, research and economic development. Academic affairs is everything that has to do with our degree programs.

The core of the university's function in teaching. There's all sorts of issues that come up in keeping track of those programs, making sure they stay up to date, creating new programs, eliminating programs that aren't working so well. Just a plethora of things that we do day in and day out.

Research obviously is embedded in everything that we do at public research universities, so what we're trying to do is always stimulate, as much as possible, the research enterprise and to try to help it grow and become more excellent. That really means the people. Everything we do is all people. It's all faculty and students.

Third leg of the stool is economic development. The idea there is through education and research, we should be able to drive the economy to get better. That's a very hard thing to do.

To some extent, teaching does that. Obviously, as we help the individual achieve more academically, typically they do better in life. The numbers are there to prove it.

The second piece of that, though, is the research we do. What we're trying to do there is even better than we've done in the past. Just sort of drive new science into new technology into the real economy, and there are a couple different ways we can do that:

  • We can do that by licensing our technology, if we've patented it.
  • We can also do that by licensing technology to entrepreneurs who want to start new companies around it. One of the strategies is you license to a small company and they start a business.
  • Around the other end of the spectrum is, you license it to a large corporation — a Monsanto or Boeing — and they take it and embed it in some technology that they already have or that they want to start. Either way works, and then there’s a lot of stuff in between.

Those are the three key things we do. Could I really tell an elementary school kid that? I don’t know. Some smart kids would get it.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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Mary Douglass December 27, 2013 | 8:44 a.m.

No, that's not thunder you hear, that would be the architects of the land grant system rolling in their graves...

Um...just for the record...Agriculturalists (farmers, ranchers, wine growers, apiary keepers, foresters...) ARE entrepreneurs!

Um...the three legs of a land grant institution (University of Missouri is one..) are teaching, research, and EXTENSION.

The corporatization of our land grant system is the primary critical issue creating underfunding by our legislature and driving the rise in student loan debt. All those patents the systems are living off of are supposed to be FREELY available to the people the land grants serve. THIS is what drives a states economy in positive ways.

The Land Grant system was established to be the economic engines of the states. When operated as such, within the Jeffersonian Theory of education, they do just the states economy by empowering the people who OWN the institution. Land Grants were NEVER intended to become entities used to line the nests of the few at the expense of the public...ergo, the corporate model has created student loan debt load that cripples our state's economy.

Let's start by reviewing what our land grant University is supposed to be, where we are now, and what must be done to become the economic engine of the state again.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 27, 2013 | 9:51 a.m.

Mary: I do agree with much that you wrote. We're a long way from where land-grant universities were intended.

Maybe it's simply time to privatize.

You wrote: "The corporatization of our land grant system is the primary critical issue...driving the rise in student loan debt."

Costs follow the availability of money. When we adopt the philosophy that a college education is a "right" and follow that with making money more available for college (via grants, loans, scholarships, and the like), institutions will respond by increasing their prices.

The same thing happens with all other "commodities". By perturbing the system at one point (i.e., available money), we cause inflation in another.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 27, 2013 | 12:37 p.m.

The Morrill Act, signed into federal law by President Abraham Lincoln, covered more educational ground than agriculture. It was specifically inteneded to pertain to PRACTICAL education, and concerned both agriculture and what was then termed the "mechanic arts."

We can observe this in the original or current names of certain public universities: Texas A&M, Iowa State College of Agriculture & Mechanic Arts (today, Iowa State University of Science & Technology), Colorado School of Mines, University of Missouri School of Mines & Metallurgy (today, Missouri University of Science & Technology).

I agree that it would be a good idea to review the mission of a Land Grant university - not just on a one-time basis but on some ONGOING basis. (I'm too lazy to check, but believe I've previously said that.)

However, any such review should recognize that situations today aren't identical to or even substantually the same as they were in the sixth decade of the 19th Century. For example, disciplines we today group together as engineering education were mainly in their infancy in the 1860s; some had yet to even acquire separate designations.

And I can't resist again making the observation that the Missouri Legislature in 1870 probably botched implementation of the Morrill Act.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 27, 2013 | 1:04 p.m.

Ellis: I admit I go back-and-forth on this thing called entrepreneurship within academia.

One the one hand, I can play "old-school" and envision that an academician's job description by-definition includes a healthy dose of altruism. Those deciding on an public academic career must, as a part of their job, recognize they are employees of the taxpayers and any fruits of their labors belong to the taxpayers free-gratis. Their reward is academic acclaim via recognition within their own discipline (or school) and perhaps periodic monetary reward.

On the other hand, my buns would be rather frosted if my brain developed a multi-billion dollar idea and I got zip for it.

When I started grad school in the early '70s, I think I witnessed the start of the changeover from the 1st notion above to the 2nd. The older professors were teachers first, researchers second, and service third. Their money came from rather paltry gov't grants. More money eventually became available (NSF, NIH) from the feds, and soon the corporate money poured in. Younger professors saw others profiting from their ideas and universities had to respond to their demands. We now have professors with NO teaching responsibilities.

And, with evolution, here we are today.

Eventually, privatization (especially in the sciences and engineering) is the only real option, methinks.

PS: My grad school starting wages in 1971 were....taadaaaaahhh....$2400 per year. My first post doc wages in 1976 at Washington State University were....$10K/YEAR!!!!! I was so freakin' rich I actually bought some Topsy's stock!

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 27, 2013 | 4:20 p.m.


I'd agree that ambiguity exists, particularly in technology (which I'd think would include agricultural technology as well as the non-ag variety).

One example is MoSci Corporation, Rolla, Missouri, which I've mentioned before. The founder of this combination research/production firm is an emeritus professor of Ceramic Engineering (slightly younger than I am, but not much) who holds among his other honors an international Phoenix Award for lifetime achievement in glass technology research. [No doubt you recall the lavish articles in the Columbia media when he received that award. :)]

MoSci Corporation is a custom glass melter (products) and an independent glass researcher "under the same roof." They can supply quantities of glass from what would fit into a large mailing tube to a couple of tons, your call, for remelting and to make whatever you wish with it. Or, if you don't know what you need, they will do research to give you something useful. The product line also includes finished articles such as glass microspheres for all sorts of applications, from hydrofracting to in situ cancer radiation therapy.

Question: how many of these items have had their genesis during my friend's time as a full-time university professor? I have no idea - nor am I suggesting improprieties have occurred.

My point is that it can be difficult sometimes to draw clear distinctions as to what intellectual property belongs to whom. When one leaves academia and either starts a business or goes to work for an existing one, is he/she supposed to pretend he/she has forgotten all he/she learned?
In some cases patents and licensing would clearly be involved, but there has to be some degree of "gray."

I also agree that because one decides to make a career as a faculty member it should not be necessary to take vows of poverty and chastity - especially chastity, which the U.S. Supreme Court would certainly rule would be "cruel and unusual punishment."

PS: On re-reading this it occurs to me that what it says is that technoloy (ag or non-ag) is accelerating to the point our would be "rule makers" and "enforcers" like governments, universities, and the legal profession are left behind and are never going to catch up.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 27, 2013 | 4:39 p.m.

"My point is that it can be difficult sometimes to draw clear distinctions as to what intellectual property belongs to whom."

This is most certainly correct. Science and technology are built from the ground up, usually on the shoulders of many people....especially those in the literature. You could go so far as to say that a new discovery started in kindergarten. In your case, how many ceramic discoveries had their basis in the first melting of sand? Who owns the intellectual knowledge for stuff learned decades ago, anyway?

The problem also exists in literature. I've taken to a bit of private, short story writing and am constantly bedeviled by stray thoughts that seem my own but 6 months later I find myself re-reading the same "stray" thought in someone else's story. I'm no proponent of plagarism, but I can sure understand how an "idea" can be learned long ago, only to reappear as an "original" thought. Lol, I guess fear of that is what keeps my short stories private. I've read too damn many books and my filing system is shot!

PS: I've often marveled that Einstein wrote his famous special relativity paper while employed in a patent office. Maybe he picked up some useful info from Maxwell's equations in a patent application, lol????

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 28, 2013 | 12:20 a.m.

Sand seems to have come up several times during the week.

While many glass compositions have silicon dioxide, aka silica, as their major ingredient essentially none are close to being 100% silica. Silica has a relatively high melting point, so ingredients to lower the melting point are added. (We can, and commercially do, fuse silica, but that requires considerable (electrical) energy and is expensive.

Guess what? "Other ingredients" used to lower melting point are compounds that evolve carbon dioxide when the glass batch is melted. Just can't keep from producing "greenhouse gas," can we?

Guess we'll just have to do without glass. No problem, right?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 28, 2013 | 8:15 a.m.

Now that we've decided to do without glass, let's look at steel.

What is the single most important difference between iron and steel? Steel is iron that, through additional processing, has had much of the carbon content removed.

There are currently two processes used for doing this: electric arc furnace (EAF) and basic oxygen furnace (BOF, BOP, L-D, Q-BOP, Kaldo, etc.). The greatest amount of steel produced world-wide is by the basic oxygen process. Molten iron, steel scrap and various other ingredients are charged into an egg-shaped vessel with a special refractory ceramic inner lining; the vessel is open at the "small end of the egg." Through the open vessel top a water-cooled lance is inserted* and large quantities of pure oxygen are blasted into the vessel.

What gasses are coming out of the vessel while this (called a "blow") happens? Some really interesting ones, but the main ones are CARBON MONOXIDE and CARBON DIOXIDE.

So, along with glass, I suppose we'd better eliminate steel. :)

*- The Q-BOP and Kaldo processes, both proprietary, use some variations, but gas compositions generated are the same. Kaldo process creates very uniform quality steel in a shorter amount of blow time, but because the Kaldo vessel is also rotating around an inclined axis the process causes severe wear on refractory ceramic vessel linings (more product development work for Ceramic Engineers). "L-D" signifies the Linz-Donawitz process. You recall Linz, Austria, don't you? Some nut named Adolf Hitler once resided there before moving to Germany. Small world!

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 29, 2013 | 6:27 a.m.

So, previously we learned that manufacture of Portland cement (without which concrete is impossible) releases large quantities* of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Now we find that manufacture of glass does the same*. Those products are ceramics.

Switching to metallurgy, we find that conversion of metallic iron into steel causes release of large quantities of carbon dioxide (along with carbon monoxide) to the atmosphere. We haven't discused production of other metals.

Try to imagine what our modern world would be like if we eliminated or even drastically reduced production of concrete (cement), glass and steel. CAN you imagine it? Assuming it were possible, what would YOU recommend as substitutes for these materials?

Granted, they are NOT foods, but would their absence definitely affect food production**, processing and distribution?

[I realize I'm beating this subject to death, but maybe it needs it. How much time does our "average bear" American "ecologist" spend considering such matters? Probably not much!]

*- With cement and glass we have the "double whammy." Carbon dioxide is coming from combustion of the fossil fuel AND from reactions occurring in thermally processing the materials. Some glass melting is done electrically, so no fuel combustion, but then we must consider to what extent the electricity may have been generated using fuel combustion. Do you see how complex these situations can be?

**- Our principal industry here (city of ~50,000) is a huge factory (dominates our western skyline) producing agricultural machinery, suggesting that steel may have importance in modern agriculture. Interestingly, one class of products made here is machinery to plant and harvest cotton, but one doesn't see cotton being growing in Iowa. :)

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