Longtime research center at Calvin to become independent

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Courtesy Calvin University

The Center for Social Research (CSR) said it will become an independent entity from Calvin University.

After being associated with the university for more than 50 years, Neil Carlson, CSR director, said the center will spin off this spring. The organization has until April 30 to finalize the separation.

Throughout the years, the organization has conducted and collaborated on research projects for academic, public-sector, nonprofit, religious and business organizations.

Carlson said there are a variety of reasons for the spinoff, including institutional support.

“In 2011, when I became director, a lot of the original institutional support … began to be withdrawn,” he said. “That was the tail end of the recession. Higher ed budgets were shrinking already, so in some respect, we have been gradually separating and becoming more and more of a consulting business for a long time.”

Over the past few years, Carlson said he and his team have been anticipating and making contingency plans about the possibility of a spinoff, but they only were thought experiments. He and his team became serious about the plans just this month, and it was a mutual recognition between Calvin and CSR that it was time to become an independent entity.

“For a very long time, CSR has been one of the university’s most entrepreneurial and creative organizations. It has been a hub of intellectual ferment, community partnership and professional development for students and employees,” said Noah Toly, provost, Calvin University. “At the same time, it has developed in directions that require greater entrepreneurial freedom, access to capital and agility, and this move will open up new horizons for the center. So, while Calvin and CSR have been good for each other, we’re also supportive of positioning the center to flourish in new ways.”

In addition to the move being driven by the decline in institutional resources, Carlson said there were other recurring issues.

“Right now, for reasons of good stewardship, Calvin is watching hiring very carefully, and we are in an annual process of hiring, and that process is being held up by that kind of review,” he said. “There is not much capacity in higher ed generally, that I am aware of, that is specifically geared toward providing access to capital. There are no bridge loans or venture capital or anything like that, so when we have an opportunity to do something, it is pretty difficult to make the case for doing it. We will be a bit more agile as an independent.”

As CSR becomes an independent entity, Carlson said the organization expect to continue to serve its existing clientele, which has helped generate more than $700,000 per year for consulting, research and evaluation services. The organization also is looking into commercializing some intellectual properties it developed, including software to generate more revenue. The organization might need some financing, investors and partners.

There is some uncertainty about where the organization will be permanently located, but Carlson said it is considering its options, including leasing space at the university, co-locating with a client or partner, or operating virtually.

In the past 10 years, CSR conducted 167 research projects and supported almost 200 more, employed 57 student researchers and worked with more than 500 external organizations, often serving community network conveners such as KConnect, the Essential Needs Task Force, Talent 2025 and First Steps Kent.

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