After World War II, the United States embarked on the creation of the federal grant-supported research university. The intellectual leaders for this expansion, epitomized by Vannevar Bush, promised that government-funded university basic research would lead to commercial products and even new industries (for a discussion of this period, see David M. Hart, Forged Consensus, 1998). They assumed that this translation would occur through some vague and undefined diffusion process.
The premise of this book is that in the 1970s a new market-based logic was adopted, one driven by an emerging conviction among governmental policy makers that innovation was the remedy for the flagging economy. This was coupled with the belief that university research was a fount of invention. Elizabeth Berman examines the goals, context, and diffusion of policy initiatives that federal and, to a more limited degree, state governments launched encouraging the acceptance of a transfer-based logic for university research.
To illustrate this market logic, she selects three case studies. The first is the commercialization from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s of molecular biology, as its research discoveries became the business of “biotechnology.” While the historical material is mostly already known (for example, Sally S. Hughes, Genentech, 2011; Martin Kenney, Biotechnology: The University Industrial Complex, 1986; Eric Vettel, Biotech: The Countercultural Origins of an Industry, 2008), Berman contextualizes this process, relating it to her larger thesis about the diffusion of a market-based logic and to other developments in innovation-related fields, including the growth in venture capital after the lowering of capital gains taxes and, especially, the liberalization of restrictions on pension-fund investment into venture capital.
The next case explores changes in U.S. patent law, especially the passage of the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act granting ownership of any intellectual property developed by government contractors, including universities. [End Page 1032] While this topic was covered extensively by Thomas Mowery et al., Ivory Tower and Industrial Innovation (2004), Berman summarizes her earlier contributions on the motivations and background of the act. This case is pivotal for her thesis and readers interested in the details regarding the Bayh-Dole Act should consult her 2008 article, “Why Did Universities Start Patenting? Institution-Building and the Road to the Bayh-Dole Act,” Social Studies of Science 38: 835–71.
The final case is federal government and later state-run initiatives to support the establishment of university/industry research centers (UIRCs). Berman relates the remarkable growth in the number of these centers to efforts to encourage university-industry interaction. Because the UIRCs were normally not in the biosciences, this extends her argument more broadly. The variety, incoherence, and mixed survival record of UIRCs make them fit far less comfortably within her overall thesis.
In addition, seven other cases of government policy intended to instill a market logic into universities are examined. This is a major contribution to understanding the changes in the U.S. political economy and the role of universities in terms of a heightened emphasis on “innovation” and research translation. Importantly, Berman critiques the casual and causal attribution of this change to “neoliberalism,” because it was not accompanied by research budget cuts and government-mandated metrics and assessment exercises. Rather, it was an inchoate mélange of initiatives, policies, and incentives to encourage innovation.
This book reminded me of the Buffalo Springfield lyrics written at the time: “There’s something happening here/But what it is ain’t exactly clear.” Certainly, the changes Berman documents were meant to drive the market logic deeper into the research university. There are now technology transfer offices, more patents, greater professorial entrepreneurship, increased emphasis on securing industrial support, and insistent pledges of the paramount importance of interaction with industry, but how much has the university changed? Industrial research support from industry never increased to even 10 percent of research budgets. How much of the market logic is just rhetoric or even a deeply held belief that is not actualized in reality?
This is a well-written and meticulously researched...