Archive for Saturday, September 22, 2012

KU should be concerned about AAU membership

September 22, 2012


A Journal-World editorial last weekend focused on the lack of leadership at Kansas University and the downward slide of KU in the annual U.S. News and World Report rankings of public and private American universities.

Not too many years ago, KU was among the top 50 schools in the nation, but it now has slipped to 106th and is surpassed by many of the former Big Eight Conference schools it used to top.

Some try to downplay the importance of rankings and claim they are merely a popularity contest. This is a dangerous exercise because rankings do count, and it would be a serious mistake to think alumni, students, potential faculty members, taxpayers, legislators, high school placement directors and counselors, potential donors and others do not check rankings.

In addition to the U.S. News and World Report, there is another ranking that is extremely important, probably significantly more important. This is the Association of American Universities listing of the top U.S. research universities.

This is a highly prized designation, and KU was accepted for membership in 1909. Membership currently is 61, and there is a desire to limit its growth. There are many top-flight schools knocking on the AAU admissions committee’s door seeking membership.

Nebraska was kicked out of the AAU two years ago, and Syracuse resigned from the association knowing it was about to be dismissed.

Many of the schools seeking admission have greater research activity, funding and excellence than some of the current members, and the membership committee is trying to figure out what to do. The axing of Nebraska got everyone’s attention, and, this year, the committee did not drop or add any members.

It would be foolish for KU officials, the Kansas Board of Regents, faculty members or alumni and friends to try to pooh-pooh the importance of KU’s AAU membership. The embarrassment and damage done if KU were dropped from the association would be immense.

Are those who called the U.S. News and World Report rankings a “hoax” sufficiently confident that they think the AAU membership committee does not look at the magazine’s ratings and wonder why a school ranked 106th is an AAU member while schools ranked considerably higher are not?

It is likely KU officials have been notified they are on thin ice and that there must be evidence the school is making major strides in improving its research efforts. Could this be the reason KU officials made a number of announcements in the past year or so about how they were emphasizing the importance of attracting more research dollars?

It’s likely many associated with KU had taken the AAU membership for granted, KU was an early member and would always be counted among the elite. Unfortunately, times have changed, and now, KU may be hanging on by its fingertips.

Rankings and memberships do count. Likewise, leadership and vision count.

In last week’s column, KU business school dean Neeli Bendapudi was cited as a leader and an example of how a single individual can accomplish great things in elevating the enthusiasm and drive toward excellence.

It would be interesting to know the relative importance of a dean of a school within the university, a provost or a chancellor in developing and building the academic/research excellence of a university.

All are important, terribly important.

The trick would seem to be how to hold onto the good ones and replace those who do not measure up. It’s easier said than done.

KU let a good one get away when former engineering dean Stuart Bell left KU this year to become executive vice chancellor and provost at Louisiana State University. Bell came to KU in 2002 and, during the past 10 years, he injected enthusiasm, vision and leadership into the school. He played a critical role in the physical growth of the school, as well as its excellence. Major additions are being made at the school; student enrollment is up; and private giving to the school has increased significantly.

Dean Bell played a significant role in encouraging Kansas legislators to fund a major program to increase the number of engineering graduates at KU, Kansas State and Wichita State.

A search now is under way to select an outstanding individual to move into the dean’s office. Stan Rolfe is serving as interim dean and he will do a superior job of maintaining the excellence and initiatives Bell oversaw. The university is fortunate to have an individual so talented, loyal and committed willing to take on this responsibility.

What Bell accomplished and the programs and activities now under way will help the school in its search for a truly outstanding new dean.

A university is an entire family, but which members of the family play significant roles in advancing the excellence of the school? Deans, provosts and chancellors are the likely candidates, but how about the faculty? For example, what would KU be today without those who carry the title of distinguished professors?

KU and the Kansas Board of Regents face a challenge in how to attract and hold onto outstanding deans, provosts, chancellors AND faculty and replace those who do not measure up.

A continued decline in various ranking is a disservice to the state, its taxpayers, faculty and students.


cowboy 5 years, 5 months ago

The sun comes up in the east It's saturday Dolph is ragging on KU

Jack Martin 5 years, 5 months ago

Many of us would be interested to know who supposedly tries to "pooh-pooh" the importance of Association of American Universities membership.

It certainly wouldn't be the leadership of the University of Kansas, as KU's AAU membership has been an area of focus. It's also been the topic of several messages to the campus and alumni communities, including this one from Chancellor Gray-Little in May of 2011, which itself references messages going back many months prior to that.

(This May message was itself later referenced by a LJW editorial, which praised KU's leaders for focusing on AAU membership.

Unlike U.S. News rankings, which focus largely on undergraduate education, AAU membership is based largely on research productivity and graduate education. The Bold Aspirations strategic plan, which is about one year into implementation, is designed to address all of these areas. On the research side, we are working to increase scholarly activity, including research funding, citations and faculty awards, in all disciplines. More information is available at

Thanks to the support of Governor Brownback and the Kansas Legislature, we are also in the process of recruiting 12 distinguished chaired faculty to add to the renowned scholars we currently have at KU. These Foundation Professors are part of an overall expansion of 64 faculty members for the coming year. You can learn more at

One other note: In the second paragraph, the author is apparently comparing the ranking among public universities to the ranking among all universities. Those are two different things.

I know the habit of this writer is to ask lots of questions in his pieces. Those questions very often have answers, many of which are quite easy to find if one is actually looking for them.

fiddleback 5 years, 5 months ago

The man on the porch yelling for everyone to pull his/her weight evidently isn't really keeping up on the details, not that he ever did. Reading this you'd think he'd never heard of KU's strategic plan, any of the resulting overhauls now underway, or indeed anything said by the Provost or Chancellor about the AAU membership. And I've been told that this year's rankings are based on last year's data. So since the strategic plan began this year, the time to worry will be if we continue to slide in next year's rankings.

took_the_money_and_ran 5 years, 5 months ago

Regarding AAU, follow the money.

By this dollar measure of the research enterprise (it's not based on the opinions of high school guidance counselors, or anybody's opinion for that matter), KU is in 76th place. If there are going to be 60 universities in AAU, it takes 132% of KU's reported research expenditures to be be in 60th place.

John Hamm 5 years, 5 months ago

Yeah, well, KU needs to get ragged on. Except Basketball of course. Well, Bill and the boys can't carry this institution much further on their own..

Bob Reinsch 5 years, 5 months ago

Had Dolph ever listened to a single thing Provost Jeff Vitter has said? The Provost has been talking about the importance of AAU from the first day he stepped foot on campus.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 5 months ago

Hey, if KU gets kicked out of the AAU, they might get admitted into the Big 10, which is much more highly respected academically than the Big 12-- it worked for Nebraska.

blindrabbit 5 years, 5 months ago

KU continues it's slide toward mediocrity; this enhanced by all the negative press Kansas continues to reap because the backsliding political situation.

Michael Shaw 5 years, 5 months ago

I didn't realize how much good this editorial had done until I read this comment. Jack Martin deserves a media forum.

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