Opinion

Opinion

AAU status

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s removal from the Association of American Universities should be cause for concern at Kansas University.

May 4, 2011

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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?

Comments

average 4 years, 3 months ago

Like a papal conclave, it would be very interesting to see who gave NU the black ball. There could have been no more than 20 'yea' votes for them. Did any of their new Big Ten cohort vote them out? You'd think they wouldn't. I wouldn't think Iowa St, Kansas, Mizzou, or A&M would vote them out, even out of B12/B10 spite, because if the 'kick em out' ball gets rolling, they're targets. The same question of Pitt, Florida, GaTech, Arizona, etc.

Jack Martin 4 years, 3 months ago

KU's standing relative to the rest of the AAU has been an area of focus for the administration for some time. It is central to the strategic planning process, and both the Chancellor and Provost discussed this topic in messages to campus last November as they highlighted the need to raise the academic and research stature of the university.

KU's stature, mission at stake in planning process http://www.chancellor.ku.edu/messages/2010/november9.shtml

Building Tomorrow by Reflecting on Today http://www.provost.ku.edu/enews/20101102.shtml

Additionally, after the news about Nebraska and Syracuse (which confirmed last weekend it was departing voluntarily), Chancellor Gray-Little wrote to the university community Monday on this subject:

KU and the AAU http://www.chancellor.ku.edu/messages/2011/may2.shtml

Thunderdome 4 years, 3 months ago

So, does the Big 10 rescind its invitation? If not, the Big 10 is a sham. Both NU and the Big 10 made a big deal about AAU membership. This places that conference in a very conflicted position. It is possible that both KU and MU's membership could be in jeopardy, but in the grand scheme, there are more pressing issues than being a member of an elitist organization. Get back to basics, accentuate strengths, and shore up leadership and everything else will fall in place. Oh yea, and the Board of Regents needs to show some leadership and stop being a rubber stamp.

laika 4 years, 3 months ago

The AAU criteria are different from those typical university rankings (US News, Kiplinger, etc). The AAU is focused on research dollars, especially federal ones. NU was suffering because it doesn't have an associated medical school and as a land-grant university, much of its federal research funding comes from appropriated agricultural research dollars which the AAU does not count. KU is obviously not the land-grant institution in Kansas and receives quite a bit in federal grant dollars, especially at the School of Pharmacy, KU Med etc. If KU Med receives NCI designation, that will also bring in lots of new research dollars. Now, that is not to say that KU does not have big problems with their undergraduate programs.

Read in depth here:

http://chronicle.com/article/Ouster-Opens-a-Painful-Debate/127364/

milehighhawk 4 years, 3 months ago

Seems like a lot of spitballing in the column rather than something actually insightful.

voevoda 4 years, 3 months ago

There are certainly problems with how the AAU determines the quality of its member institutions, External grants from particular types of agencies shouldn't carry the weight that that they do in the AAU's calculations. Other determinants used in the AAU are also suspect. At the same time, what's KU to do? KU doesn't want to suffer Nebraska's fate and the consequent embarrassment. Two things: 1. Don't react in panic and institute new policies that will just make matters worse. Instead, analyze AAU standards and design targeted policies that will actually help. 2. Recognize that the AAU standards can't be met solely through hard work and talent among the faculty. KU needs to expend money on research in order to compete successfully.

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