College entrepreneurship departments are raking in the bucks, but there aren't enough professors to staff them
Go to almost any business school today, and the students are hooked on entrepreneurship. So are the major donors. Entrepreneurship programs brought in a quarter of a billion dollars in gifts between 2000 and 2003, says Jerome Katz, a researcher at St. Louis University. But schools are struggling to hire professors and endowed chairs can remain vacant for years. In 2003, 71 of 406 chairs were unfilled, compared with 41 of 236 in 1999, Katz says. Even top programs at schools such as Wharton, UCLA, the University of Virginia, and Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., were in the market for three or more professors each, Katz found.
Universities themselves are largely to blame for the dearth of candidates. While 1,600 colleges and universities offer at least one class in entrepreneurship, only two dozen offer a Ph.D., which is a prerequisite for a tenure-track position. And despite the lack of professor candidates, schools often push to create or expand programs because they can provide a fundraising windfall, attracting interest from rich alumni and local business owners.
A vicious cycle created by the tenure system also exacerbates the problem. Schools have been reluctant to offer tenure to entrepreneurship professors, believing that many of them have mediocre academic qualifications. As a result, the best and the brightest in the business research world often choose more tenure-friendly areas of study. As more jobs are created, more underqualified instructors are hired, making schools even more leery of granting tenure.
Some critics argue that the lack of qualified professors isn't a problem, but rather a symptom of something larger. "Universities define qualified faculty as having published in refereed journals and having a Ph.D.," says Bernie Tenenbaum, a former associate director at Wharton's entrepreneurship center. "The person who wants to be a Ph.D. in a traditional academic environment is not the person who wants to go out there and make decisions" as a practitioner of entrepreneurship, he continues. "In a perfect world, every Ph.D. would have had a job being an entrepreneur for eight to 10 years." Since that's not the case, schools often get by with a few researchers and a lot of guest lecturer company builders who drop in for a day to tell war stories, which may or may not edify students.
Even as the shortage of professors worsens, ever-optimistic CEOs continue to endow chairs. Dick Heckmann of sporting good giant K2 recently donated $6 million to the University of California at Riverside to build a center that plans to offer a five-year combined bachelor's and M.B.A. in entrepreneurship. The point of the dual degree, as Heckmann sees it, is to "get this book s-- out of the way early." The center's coordinators hope to hire four professors by the fall of 2006. But if they fill just two of those jobs, they say they'll be satisfied.
Last updated: Sep 1, 2005
Senior contributing writer MAX CHAFKIN has profiled companies such as Yelp, Zappos, Twitter,
Threadless, and Tesla for the magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. @chafkin