Heard on the Hill: Association of American Universities lets in new member, but prez says no other changes soon; new student designated driver program begins; students, tell me where you’re voting

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

• The exclusive Association of American Universities made another rare change in its membership Monday, allowing Boston University to join.

The last time an institution was granted entry to the AAU’s ranks — Georgia Tech in 2010 — was followed the next year by the group’s first-ever booting, of the University of Nebraska. Also at that time, Syracuse University withdrew voluntarily, rather than risk expulsion.

This all could raise some eyebrows at KU because state and university leaders alike have stated that maintaining membership in the prestigious AAU is a big priority for KU.

Provost Jeff Vitter cited KU’s lower standing among the other AAU institutions in several areas as a reason for a new strategic planning effort a couple years ago. That led to “Bold Aspirations,” the plan that influences a lot of the developments on campus these days.

In the most recent U.S. News and World Report rankings, only two of the now-60 U.S. universities in the AAU were ranked lower than KU (the University of Buffalo-SUNY was tied). KU also ranked just below Nebraska. It should be noted that many other research-based metrics come in to play when the AAU evaluates its membership, though.

After Nebraska was kicked out, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said in a message that it served as a reminder that AAU membership isn’t “static or guaranteed.”

A quote from the organization’s president in a Chronicle of Higher Education story should perhaps ease any fears of imminent danger for other AAU members, though. Hunter R. Rawlings III told the Chronicle that the “membership committee is not in a hurry to add or subtract any members,” and no other changes are likely in the immediate future. (That link requires a subscription.)

• In a new program beginning this week at various bars around Lawrence, students serving as designated drivers will be offered perks.

The program is called “Responsible Refreshments,” and it involves KU’s Student Senate, the Jayhawk Buddy System (famous, you may recall, for a flash-mob routine at a KU basketball game a couple seasons back) and a bunch of Lawrence bars.

The participating establishments will offer anyone serving as a DD for a student group free food or nonalcoholic beverages or pay their cover charge, among other gestures. Designated drivers will receive red plastic wristbands to denote their status.

The venues taking part, according to a release from Student Senate: The Hawk, The Wheel, The Cave, Tonic, The Ranch, the Yacht Club, Johnny’s Tavern, Louise’s West and Tapas. Several of those were places frequented by students during my days at KU, and several others did not even exist then, which sure makes me feel old.

• Along with my Journal-World colleagues, I’m going to be dropping in on some polling places today for a live blog we’ll have running throughout the day.

I’d like to hit a couple of spots where students will be voting. So if you’re a student, and you’re voting in Lawrence, shoot me a note to let me know where you’ll be performing your civic duty. Hopefully I can get a sense of the best spots to visit.

Also, if you’re voting today, don’t forget to bring photo identification. (Your KU ID card will do the job.)

• If you’d like to let me know where you’re voting, or if you’d just like to send me a nice KU news tip, hit me up at merickson@ljworld.com.