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The Daily Tar Heel

A call to innovation; UNC’s new Innovation Roadmap is a ?hearty document with a hardy vision

It’s hard to attend a major research university and not agree with the proposition that innovation is good. It’s at the heart of what we strive for.

To that end, three innovation-focused groups have put together a bold document outlining the way forward in fostering innovation at UNC.

The Innovation Roadmap, produced jointly by the Innovation Circle, the Faculty Innovation Working Group, and the Chancellor’s Student Innovation Team, is 46 pages outlining a plan for innovation that is as large as it is broad.

In many ways, it’s the quintessential bureaucratic document. It’s full of bold terms and a call to action. It seeks to “leverage history” to develop innovators, “launching” them, “armed with technical knowledge.” It’s clear that we have declared war on stagnation. If you thought innovation was an organic process, think again. Big goals call for big plans.

Also notable is the price tag: $125 million. Some goes to bringing innovators and endowing professorships. Some goes to involving students and creating a campus “Student Innovation Hub,” a collaborative space that also serves “as a common space to celebrate our campus-wide innovation culture.” It might be hyperbole, but sounds interesting.

In its own way, the document is also declaring war on the classic liberal education. It suggests knowledge should be grounded in the liberal arts, but it seems more a gesture. It exposes an eternal tension at research universities.

This document wants entrepreneurship.

Goals include closer ties to Research Triangle Park and venture capital. It emphasizes applied, not theoretical, sciences (Joseph DeSimone, UNC’s leader in the applied sciences and last year’s Tar Heel of the Year, comes to mind). It seeks more research dollars from industry. And, it seeks to inculcate this ethos in students: including a question on innovation in admissions applications, and emphasizing innovation in campus tours.

To accept the roadmap is to accept the primacy of innovation to UNC’s success. But it’s a hard thing not to accept. The document’s Case for Support commands, “We must be bold, again.” After reading the Innovation Roadmap, if you weren’t feeling bold already, you certainly will.

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