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July 30, 2007

« Getting Ahead | Main | Risky Real Estate »

Richard has written extensively on the role of the University in the Creative Economy... (check out the library for pieces by Richard including The University and The Creative Economy by Richard, Gary, Kevin, and Brian). His work has informed my work on the benefits of starting new ventures on campuses.

A recent story in the WSJ by Thaddeus Herrick (available w/out a sub via AOL) shows that corporations are beginning to try new strategies in leveraging the benefits of the university in the creative economy. Express Scripts, Inc., a company that does $18 billion in pharmacy benefits management, is relocating its HQ to the University of Missouri's St. Louis Campus. From the piece,

"So when Express Scripts announced in 2004 that it was seeking to relocate its headquarters, administrators saw a good fit. The company relies heavily on information technology, processing 1 million prescriptions a day, and such technology is one of the university's strengths.

It wasn't a hard sell. Express Scripts Chief Executive George Paz saw in the campus of 15,000 students a potential work force. And the unusual arrangement would give Express Scripts a hand in developing courses and joint programs with the university, likely defraying the company's training costs and reducing turnover. "This will allow us to get good people and keep them," Mr. Paz says.

The plan raised concerns among some faculty members, who worried that the partnership would undermine academics and research. "It may serve the needs of the company," says Joseph Martinich, professor of operations management and a member of a joint task force between the University of Missouri at St. Louis and Express Scripts. "But that's not necessarily our mission."

Still, most of the campus cheered last month when Express Scripts, lured in part by $12.5 million in state tax credits, traded its home in a suburban St. Louis office park for a $50 million brick-and-aluminum building near the university's athletics complex. The company is the first tenant in what university administrators hope to be a business-and-research park, creating what they say could become a technology hub.

Students at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, many of them from modest backgrounds, are particularly supportive. Senior Kelcy Siddall, an intern at Express Scripts this summer in information technology finance, says the partnership between the university and the company has allowed him crucial on-the-job experience. "I get to see what the corporate world is all about," he says.

Already, the university and Express Scripts are developing academic programs they say will be mutually beneficial. In one undergraduate course, students will be assigned to create software to test how much activity the Express Scripts computer system can handle. And the university will offer several courses for Express Scripts employees, including one that targets potential leaders identified by the company."

posted by David

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Comments

Brian

The university is not about profit.

DJM

Brian.. can you expand on your thoughts? I haven;t made up my mind on the scripts story. I would like to hear more of your thoughts on this issue. thanks.

daver

No a university isn't about profits but isn't the goal of many if not most students at any university to get a job once the graduate? It sure can't hurt them to be closely associated with Express Scripts.

Roger Workman

The article makes it sound like a bigger deal than it is. I can see people picturing this as ESI's corporate building right in the middle of campus with students walking around it. The building was placed on a site at the very edge of campus. The school gave up a practice baseball field (moved to the other side of campus) and a hazardous waste site (a large part of the construction process was removal of decades of "fill" from other construction sites around the metro area -- some known to be mildly hazardous waste). There are no students anywhere near the building other than a few dozen who have very nice summer jobs. It was a win for the school since the students get a convenient place to interview for work and removal an eye sore and potential health problem. The company got, through a state subsidy, a piece of real estate that would have sat undeveloped for a long long time -- close to the regional airport.

Brian

Universities should be devoted to values other than mere private accumulation of profits. Such things as justice, knowledge, beauty, awareness, etc. There should be at least one space in society sheilded from the disciplining forces of the market and its profit-motive, a place where people are free to think thoughts and undertake actions that aren't instrumentally valuable in an immediate economic sense. For the same reason that tenure exists - to enable professors to persue controversial topics free from political interference - we should be wary of the exclusionary effects of the privatisation of the academy. Also, to "daver" who claimed that students are interested in getting jobs after college: fair enough, but universities should not be designed as vocational schools. It is not their sole mission to train people for future employment. Yes, people need jobs, but there are also values other than narrow economic ones, and universities are places where those values should be protected and nurtured. The corporatization of the university is a threat to those values, in my mind. Along these lines, Richard, Kevin, and I all met a number of years ago with Jennifer Washburn, a very smart writer, and author of the book "University Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of American Higher Education". Those interested should look the book up on Amazon.

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