Competing for the Creative Class

When the University of Virginia recruited Joe C. Campbell from the University of Texas and named him the Lucien Carr III Professor of Engineering and Applied Science, the hire went largely unnoticed outside of UVa. But the coup is highly significant in more ways than one.

Campbell is known for inventing a device — a high-speed avalanche photodiode — that changes photonic signals into electronic signals extremely quickly, reliably and with very little noise or distortion. That achievement won him membership in the elite National Academy of Sciences. Explains an article in the University of Virginia Engineering Magazine:

Campbell brings with him an extensive research agenda—and a team of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to push it forward. “Essentially, everything we do involves converting light into large electrical signals,” he says. Campbell has projects under way that span the light spectrum, from ultraviolet to infrared. For instance, he is working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to create highly sensitive detectors that can pick out the characteristic ultraviolet signature of a missile plume in the midst of the radiation that pours from the sun.

From an economic development perspective, Campbell is the first of 10 National Academy of Sciences members to be recruited to the University of Virginia faculty as part of UVa’s program to transform itself into a national R&D powerhouse. Says President John Casteen: “The hiring of Joe Campbell is the first step in a strategy to transform scientific research here and to position the University of Virginia as a preeminent research institution in science and engineering.”

In an interesting juxtaposition, UVa is the center of agitation for the so-called “living wage,” which would increase wages for workers at the bottom of the compensation pyramid. UVa officials did not release any information on how much it was paying the super-star scientist to come to Charlottesville, but it was undoubtedly a princely sum. But that’s reality: If you want to build a world-renowned research institution, which is a prerequisite for creating an entrepreneurial, knowledge-based economy, you have to recruit world-class scientific talent. And it takes more than the magnificence of Mr. Jefferson’s architecture to do that. The benefit of paying top dollar to bring Dr. Campbell to Charlottesville — even to those at the bottom of the wage scale — is economic growth and increased opportunity for all.

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4 responses to “Competing for the Creative Class”

  1. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Let me see if i understand this, The state has decided it is not smart enough and hasn’t enough money to manage the highway system, so they are going to turn it over to private enterprise. Then, in order to dazzle us into thinking there is some justification for the government’s continued existence, they are going to go into the one business private enterprise has always done best and which takes the most money: innovation.

    Is that what is happening here?

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Ray, I am 99 percent sure that Dr. Campbell’s state salary is supplemented by funds from a private endowment. The state has very little to do with it, other than to act as a cheerleader.

  3. Toomanytaxes Avatar


    Why not make a FOIA request to UVA to set the record straight?


  4. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I think it is fine, and it is the usual way of doing business, if you will. Certainly thee is no harm in having more brilliant investigators at the University.

    But the irony is not lost on me. You can look at it many ways. If the state is providing office space labs and equipment, then is that in essence a subsidy to the organizations that sponsor (and somewhat control) the research? Or is it the other way around, the endowment provides more benefit to the university than to the grantors?

    I might prefer that they had some investigator studying things of real and immediate interest to the commonwealth, like what is really going to happen at MetroWest and Albemarle place. What is the real economic value of this transport option versus that, etc.

    I wonder if he is going to live where he can walk to work, or if he is going to have plenty of time to think in the car.

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