On the rise of the “Innovation Center,” in the Chronicle of Higher Ed

I have a short piece in the Chronic on the proliferation of “innovation centers,” “makerspaces,” “hubs,” etc. in American universities. My argument, in short, is that academic institutions and the administrators who run them are, generally speaking, not innovative, and that innovation centers function mostly as vanity projects and political missions for wealthy donors.

At Wayne State University, a commuter campus in Detroit where faculty members and students struggle to turn people out for events, the opening of the Innovation Hub last fall was a big deal. I have rarely seen so many people in one room on campus. Speakers gushed about the university’s “innovation ecosystem” and the “disruptive” start-ups sure to blossom in its “incubators.”

Speakers paced the stage giving TED-style speeches rich in the soothing platitudes of business books. To nurture innovation, explained one, “you’ve got to have serendipity and creativity, and that’s when two plus two equals seven — apologies to the math department,” he added, chuckling at his own baffling joke. “You’ve heard the word ‘innovation’ a lot so far this evening,” said another, apologetically, briefly giving me hope that the term would finally be defined, or better yet, discarded. He continued: “You’re about to hear it a lot more.”

Read the rest of it here.


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