The current status of free enterprise chairs and professorships in academe.

Author:Clark, J.R.
  1. Introduction

    The current status of chairs and professorships in free enterprise and entrepreneurship is the focus of this work. Many individuals and organizations are interested in the creation of value and wealth through free markets and entrepreneurial action. Over the past two decades, the number of chairs and professorships has increased. There has also been a renewed interest in free enterprise and what free enterprise means to those holding these positions, those aspiring to these positions, and people outside of academe. Information could be gathered with a particular focus on either the positions themselves: what we might call the infrastructure of free enterprise within academe; or the characteristics of the individuals holding these positions: the human capital resources supportive of scholarship and advocacy for free enterprise within academe. This research does both by presenting an initial survey of the existing free enterprise infrastructure within academe, information regarding the characteristics of both the positions themselves and the individuals holding these positions, and an initial assessment of the primary intellectual resources that are important to the work and development of scholars interested in free enterprise and entrepreneurship.

    A survey was developed and then administered in the summer of 2008 that queried holders of these positions. Topics of inquiry included institutional demographics, structural characteristics of the chair or professorship itself, the history of the position, and an assessment of the demographics, scholarship, political perspectives, support mechanisms, and intellectual influences of those holding the chair or professorship. We were particularly interested in assessing attitudes toward free market and classical liberal ideas and identifying sources of support, sustenance, and intellectual development. These are important because free enterprise and entrepreneurship chairs and professorships may be somewhat isolated on their own campuses given the political perspectives of the academy in general. Academe is not a particularly inviting environment for free enterprise or classical liberal-oriented scholars (Alterman, 1994; Basinger, 1998; Beder, 2005; Cardiff and Klein, 2005; Klein and Stern, 2005; Wooster, 1990). Procuring, developing, and nurturing external resources such as national and international networking opportunities, academic meetings and conferences, free market or classical liberal-based organizations and think tanks, intellectual resources, and funding sources represent an important component of academic opportunity and growth. In short, given the autarkic nature of many of these scholars' positions, external networking and support are crucial.

    This survey provides a benchmark for the current status of chairs and professorships in free enterprise and entrepreneurship and attempts to gauge their support for classical liberalism. It collects information on institutional demographics; the characteristics of the chair or professorship itself; a brief history of the position including previous holders and their fields; individual demographics and perspectives on classical liberal ideas; and intellectual influences including institutions, writers, and colleagues.

  2. Literature Review

    Recent growth and interest in the number of endowed positions in private and free enterprise, entrepreneurship, small business, and family business are clear. These positions have been well documented in the literature. Robinson and Hayes (1991) document the establishment of the first endowed position in entrepreneurship in 1963 and note that the second position was not established until 1975, but by 1985 there were approximately 25 such positions. Katz (1991a, 2004) counts approximately 100 positions in 1989, approximately 175 by the mid-1990s, and 237 endowed professorships and chair positions by 1999. Subsequent years reflect a substantial growth spurt in endowed positions: between 1999 and 2003 Katz shows a 71% increase to 406 positions. Katz (2003, p.291) notes that the growth rate was "doubling on average every 4 years" but was beginning to slow in the U.S. "due to saturation."

    The table below summarizes the growth in endowed positions in entrepreneurship and related fields between 1963 and 2003.

    A review of the positions listed in Katz (2004), however, includes only one BB&T Scholar. In the past few years, the BB&T Charitable Foundation of North Carolina, under the leadership of John Allison, has endowed more than 50 new positions (Debi Ghate, personal communication) at various colleges and universities in the United States. The only requirements for these often endowed positions are to develop and teach a course on the moral foundations of capitalism that uses Atlas Shrugged as a primary text in the course and to expose students to the philosophy of objectivism developed by Ayn Rand (John Allison, personal communication). In short, the infrastructure within academe for the study of free enterprise and entrepreneurship has exhibited significant growth in recent years.

    Much of the existing literature comes from scholars in the field of entrepreneurship. Katz (2004) maintains that the classification of these holders into distinct fields is difficult because many bridge across fields or departments. Our primary questions of interest are how professors trained and working in various fields differ in their support for free markets and if they are supportive of classical liberalism. Despite the "wailing and gnashing of teeth" among the left concerning corporate funding, it may be that neither corporations nor holders of these positions are particularly supportive of free markets or classical liberalism. The entrepreneurship literature fails to provide clear insight into this issue. In fact, given the variety of fields in which these academics hold their terminal degrees, there is no reason to believe that they would be deeply trained in either the workings and benefits of free markets or the intellectual works of classical liberals.

    One result of the wide diversity in training among holders and the deep specialization in graduate training and beyond among professors is fragmentation in the curriculum, training, and goals of entrepreneurship programs (Ucbasaran et al., 2001). In a study of 146 entrepreneurship "centers" at academic institutions within the United States, Finkle et al. (2006) find that 47% of the centers had no endowed chair and that the academic locations of these centers are widely dispersed. Only 17% of the centers were located within a department of management, and 5% were located within a department of marketing. More than a quarter of the centers had faculty and staff with mixed fields of study within a college of business, and 46.6% were independent units (about half of these were associated with a department and about half were not). Course offerings reflect the makeup of faculty; the top five courses offered by these centers were: Introduction to Entrepreneurship, Business Plan Development, Entrepreneurial Finance, Entrepreneurial Growth, and Small Business Management. It seems unlikely that the curricula associated with these courses would cover free market principles or classical liberal perspectives, and if they do, it is unlikely that it is beyond introductory or topical levels.

    We freely admit that we believe it is necessary for entrepreneurs to understand the workings of free markets and that Austrian and classical liberal perspectives are important aspects of academic inquiry and business curricula. Many entrepreneurs themselves cite the importance of these lines of thought in their own educational experience, and those who establish free enterprise and entrepreneurship positions at colleges and universities have often developed a deep respect for, and knowledge of, free markets.

    Within the entrepreneurship literature there is an ongoing discussion concerning whether or not entrepreneurship can be taught at all (Fiet, 2001b; Henry et al., 2005). This literature often leads back to the conclusion that the field of economics is crucial because it provides an underpinning philosophical foundation and a cogent explanation of how markets actually work. Fiet (2001b) makes a strong case for a theory-based curriculum including informational economics, decision-making theory, industrial organization economics, Austrian economics, and game theory. He argues that the high failure rates of nascent entrepreneurs make it important for students to understand market processes and the role of business failure within a market system. Koppl and Minniti (2003) argue that understanding market processes is crucial for students and propose an Austrian economics perspective within any entrepreneurship curriculum with particular focus on Schumpeter, Hayek, Mises, and Kirzner. Katz (2003) documents intellectual sources for American entrepreneurship education with numerous citations from the work of economists, and in particular the Austrian economists. Brush and others (2003) present the work of a comprehensive task force formed by the Entrepreneurship Division of the Academy of Management charged with identifying appropriate intellectual design for doctoral education in the field of entrepreneurship. After noting a dearth of "intellectual cohesion" in entrepreneurship curricula, the task force recommends that doctoral programs include at least one core course "based in economic approaches to entrepreneurship ... [addressing] ... opportunity exploration, recognition and exploitation processes largely from the lens of Austrian economics" (p.318). The chairs and professorships we survey, whether trained in economics or some variant of business entrepreneurship, have clear guidance from the literature: Austrian market-process perspectives and the classical liberal ideals embodied within them contribute to the intellectual cohesion needed, but lacking...

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