US tenure rules 'must reflect help to poor countries'
A top science adviser to the US administration has suggested that promotion rules in US universities should be modified to reward work relevant to development.
Nina Fedoroff, professor of life sciences at Pennsylvania State University and special adviser for science and technology to the US Department of State (see US appoints new science advisor for foreign affairs), made the recommendations at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston, United States, last week (16 February).
Fedoroff said that it is important to find ways that US science, engineering and technology infrastructure can ensure that "all people have the opportunities now available almost exclusively in the developed world".
Responding to the problems of the developing world requires a "paradigm shift" in governments, charitable foundations, and both the academic and business worlds, she added.
Academic institutions could provide concrete recognition within their reward structures for the crucial role that scientists and engineers play in ensuring that all citizens have the opportunities enjoyed in the US.
"At present, the notion of taking time out from a busy and competitive career to teach and develop research collaborations in the least advanced countries most in need of help is just not on the academic radar screen," said Fedoroff.
Modifying the rules governing promotion in US universities to acknowledge contributions a researcher makes to helping solve the problems of less developed countries was a potential solution, she said.
"There is often awareness at the top of institutions that more effort is needed in the direction of helping such countries, but at the laboratory bench it still tends to be business as usual," Fedoroff told SciDev.Net.
The solution was to indicate to young researchers that any such activity would help increase their chances of obtaining a permanent academic position through the
tenure process, a development that has already been adopted by Fedoroff's own university.
Fedoroff told the AAAS audience that science and technology had an important role to play in strengthening links with poorer countries, particularly at a time when the United States faced "a rising tide of resentment" rooted in the deep disparities between its way of life and those of many poor countries.
She highlighted the signing last month of a new science and technology agreement with Libya as evidence of growing acceptance of the role science can play in US diplomacy (see "Libyan-US science cooperation plan announced").