Thursday, June 30, 2016

Centres of Adequacy

I saw a story last week about a NATO Centre of Excellence, and it just bothered me.*  Carleton is also creating Centres of Excellence.  So, I did a modest twitter poll:

Centres of Adequacy it is.  I get it that various organizations want to focus resources and bring visibility to a specific effort, but I cannot help but think the following when I see the term:
  • Overcompensation.  If a centre is truly excellent, won't it make a name for itself?  And relatedly, isn't centre of excellence just inherently forgettable? 
  • The Incredibles' Lesson: If everyone is equally special, is anyone special?  If nearly any new centre is a centre of excellence, then are any of them really excellent?
  • The bureaucratic politics of empire-building.  Some new centres are important additions, but many are created so that some administrator can declare progress/victory/something to point to as their mark on the larger organization.  

I probably should not whine about this since I am in the process of writing a major grant that would fund a research centre at Carleton and also give funds to research centres elsewhere.  However, my aim is not to create new centres, but give existing ones the funding they need to be adequate and then some.  Sure, we will aim for excellence, but just naming something excellent is like another classic phrase: confusing hope with a plan. The name does not make it so.

This blog post was funded by the new Semi-Spew Institute of Amazeballs.

* No, this post was not inspired by my learning that my old place now has a Vice Principal of Innovation.  Yuck, but no.

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