Kansas University officials should be in a state of shock about the University of Nebraska-Lincoln being kicked out of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The AAU represents the cream of the cream of the nation’s top research universities.
If KU officials and alumni are not shocked or concerned, they should be. AAU officials periodically conduct reviews of current members and “in-depth” reviews in instances where there appears to be a “significant and sustained disparity between the mission or accomplishments of a member institution and that of other members of the association.”
There are 62 AAU members, and association officials say they do not intend to expand the membership. Only three new universities have been added to the organization in the last 10 years — Texas A&M, Stony Brook University and Georgia Tech — and many prestigious schools are knocking on the AAU door seeking admission.
It is likely Nebraska will not be the only school expelled from the organization. It is believed several other current AAU members are close to being kicked out. There is no justification for KU officials to believe their school’s AAU membership is safe or guaranteed.
According to several news reports, Nebraska had survived an attempt to push it out of the AAU in the late 1990s, but university officials were notified this past November that the school had been selected for an “in-depth” review. Rules of the AAU require a two-thirds majority vote of the group’s members to end an AAU membership.
Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman apparently fought hard to keep his school in the AAU. He wrote to the AAU review committee members, “As I know you must realize, being dropped from membership would have a far greater impact on the institution than not being invited to membership in the first place. We believe that this places at risk much of the progress the university has experienced during the last decade.”
AAU President Robert Berdahl said it was not an easy decision to terminate Nebraska’s membership. “The University of Nebraska is a fine institution and has been a valued member of the AAU since 1909. This process has been difficult and, frankly, painful for the association and its members. The association followed its policy and the process conducting this review and in carrying out this decision.”
An example of the bitterness or rivalry that exists among some Big 12 Conference schools is revealed in some news reports out of Nebraska, which are quick to point out the chairman of the AAU review committee is Larry Faulkner, president emeritus of the University of Texas. One Nebraska writer noted, “this embarrassing blow has been struck just before Nebraska enters the Big Ten after abandoning the Big 12.” Faulkner delivered the AAU “eviction notice” on April 7.
Nebraska officials make it quite clear one of the main reasons, if not THE main reason, they were leaving the Big 12 was that they believed their school was better than the other Big 12 universities and would be a better fit in terms of academics, research and athletics with the Big 10. They thumbed their noses at Big 12 schools.
At the time Nebraska announced it was leaving the Big 12, school officials touted their AAU membership and said this was one of the factors that made NU so attractive to the Big 10. All other Big 10 schools belong to the AAU.
Complacency is one of the most deadly afflictions that can infect an individual, a business, a sports team or even a university. The consequences can be devastating, and a tremendous amount of time, effort and money often is required to regain momentum, excellence and success. This is particularly true in the highly competitive environment in most every facet of today’s society.
The Nebraska action makes it clear AAU officials are studying how member schools measure up in terms of strength and breadth of research, federal research dollars, faculty credentials, awards and citations.
How does KU measure up in these areas?
Various reports indicate other AAU schools are likely to be given serious reviews. Could KU be one of those institutions, and could the university’s drift in recent years turn out to be terribly costly for KU and the state?