Heard on the Hill: Academics’ role in conference shifting questioned; New York Times columnist to deliver lecture at KU; researcher finds people typically see themselves in their friends

Your daily dose of news, notes and links from around Kansas University.

• An eagle-eyed Heard on the Hill commenter pointed to this article in the Wall Street Journal on academics and conference realignment (written, by the way, by KU journalism grad Kevin Helliker).

It called the University of Oklahoma’s academic standing “by some measures, abysmal.”

That can’t be good to hear for KU folks. In case you don’t remember, KU tied with OU in the latest U.S. News and World Report rankings at No. 101 overall.

KU, of course, has a few things going for it that OU doesn’t. KU ranks higher than OU in federal research expenses — KU is No. 138 in the country, while OU is No. 162. The biggest is membership in the Association of American Universities.

KU leaders are well aware that KU doesn’t hold up well when compared with its AAU peers, which is why they’ve been undertaking some measures to bolster the overall research expenses at the school. Provost Jeff Vitter outlined the situation in a memo last November.

And you can also get a sense of where KU stacks up using this chart from the Chronicle of Higher Education that shows several AAU non-members are doing better with federal research dollars than many members, including KU.

Also, you may have noticed that KU was asking for state funds to hire “foundation professors” in key areas that would align with KU’s strategic plan.

Vitter told regents recently that the profs would help KU stay in the AAU.

“We are competing with another 60 universities that want to join,” he told regents.

As I understand it, the hope is that KU would be able to use the funds ($3 million per year) to attract faculty who belong to national academies, which the AAU looks favorably on.

The AAU voted Nebraska out earlier this year, and Syracuse left voluntarily rather than face expulsion, so the issue is of no small concern.

What role all this plays in conference realignment is still a little murky, as Helliker points out. But — conference realignment or no — it’s still obviously a major area of concern for KU’s leaders.

• A New York Times columnist will come to campus to deliver the School of Business’ 2011 Anderson Chandler Lecture.

Andrew Ross Sorkin, author of “Too Big to Fail,” will deliver “The Global Economy: What’s Next?” at 7 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Lied Center.

It’s free and open to the public.

Sorkin, who covers mergers and acquisitions for the Times, had his book made into a 2011 HBO television movie that had the same name.

• Chris Crandall thinks he knows what attracts friends to each other, and it’s, well … each other, according to today.com.

Crandall, a KU psychology professor, and others interviewed students at KU and other smaller Kansas colleges to determine that people often find friends that share many of the same traits, including politics, moral beliefs, prejudices and health-related activities.

“When you have opportunity to choose your friends, you will tend to choose people who are similar to you; there’s a lot of evidence that we like similar others,” KU psychology professor Chris Crandall told today.com, discussing study entitled “Social Ecology of Similarity: Big Schools, Small Schools and Social Relationships,” which he co-authored. The research was published in the psychology journal Group Processes and Intergroup Relations.

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