This weekend brought news that two members of the Association of American Universities were leaving the organization – one voluntarily and one after a vote by two-thirds of AAU members to discontinue its membership. This came after a review of both universities’ status was initiated by the AAU last year.
Many of us are now asking: What does this mean for the University of Kansas, itself an AAU member since 1909?
This is a question that I and many in the university have been contemplating for some time now. Our membership in this group of just over 60 leading research universities in the United States and Canada is a point of pride for the state of Kansas, and a reminder of KU’s important role as an international research university.
As I wrote to you then, “KU trails its fellow Association of American Universities members in a number of areas. Student retention and graduation rates are below AAU averages, as is faculty research productivity according to several key measures.” I said that this alone should give us a sense of urgency as we chart the future of KU.
The departure of two AAU members reaffirms my conviction that our priorities of raising KU’s academic stature and increasing the quality and quantity of our research are critical to the future success of our university. That’s why these priorities are core elements of the strategic planning processes at KU and the KU Medical Center.
This news also serves as a reminder that membership in the AAU is not static or guaranteed, and should add urgency to our efforts and those of Kansas policymakers to further strengthen KU. These efforts include the drive for National Cancer Institute designation for the KU Cancer Center and the proposed expansion of the School of Engineering. Both of these would increase our ability to fulfill our mission, as well as raise our stature.
I know how disappointed those at the departing universities must be by this news. I do not intend for KU to face a similar challenge. But if we are to raise our stature, we must work together to increase our academic and scholarly achievements. And it is critical that we have the full support of Kansas’ policymakers in Topeka in this endeavor.
With that support, and with the focused determination to achieve the goals we are all setting for ourselves and the university, our institution’s status and stature will be secure well into the future.