Universities are centers of knowledge and have a hallowed place that reminds people of chalkboards, Einstein looking professors, sun spotted hallways, and rows of dust covered books. It is a place where people sit for hours, if not days and years, to ponder how things work. One can almost imagine Newton sitting under the tree and getting clunked by an apple. Research is still an important function of universities and is an outward facing sign of internal activities.
Research takes time, money and resources from other university activities. Where professors might otherwise engage in the immediate needs of the university they are spending their time in longer-term research projects. The type of research often depends on the interest of the professor but is generally focused on their content areas. Something as simple as a literature review or as grandiose as a full-scale experiment can both add value in the long term but will come with a cost.
The type of research should push for advancement or understanding of the professor's field. At times this research might focus on the better knowledge depth of the professor who then publishes his/her work in a journal and incorporates it into their classroom. At other times it may seek to create something new and contribute to the entire field. Without sharing and integrating that knowledge with the world and with their students many of the benefits are lost.
This brings us back to our original idea of research being an important function of universities. That research must either be used for public consumption or integration into student knowledge. Successful research programs don't need to have an expensive laboratory but do need to highlight creative works to the public through journal publications, outward facing websites, blogs, publications, and news media outlets. They will then need to continually update their courses to integrate their research to create brand value.