Iowa State University announced Thursday that it is leaving the Association of American Universities, the group long known for bestowing coveted status on research universities. The university said in a statement that the decision to withdraw from the association came after Iowa State felt its core priorities did not match AAU’s growing focus on specific types of research.
“The decision to terminate AAU membership was driven by Iowa’s commitment to its mission, benefits and impact,” the statement read. “While the University’s core values have not changed since it joined the Association in 1958, the metrics the AAU uses to rank its members has come to favor institutions with funding for medical schools and related medical research.” (Iowa State spokesman declined Answer further questions about the decision.)
Pedro Ribeiro, AAU’s vice president for communications, declined to comment on Iowa’s decision. chronicle“AAU does not comment on membership issues other than our public membership standards and policies,” Ribeiro wrote.
The university’s statement cited statistics about its research spending and funding. It said Iowa ranks 16th in federal research spending among U.S. institutions without medical schools, and in the top 10 percent of institutions receiving funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Energy and the National Science Foundation.
Iowa also articulates a series of institutional privileges that go beyond research. “Ultimately, our efforts are measured by the success of our students, the innovation of our faculty, and our service to Iowa and the world,” Iowa President Wendy Wintersteen said in the statement. “These metrics are not unique to any one institution or group of institutions.”
The statement continued that the university “remains notable in several important areas that AAU has not prioritized, such as affordability, student engagement, student retention, post-graduation employment, first-generation students, and accessibility.” It noted, Tuition at Iowa State University has historically been the lowest in AAU.
“Handwriting on the Wall”
Joining the AAU and maintaining its membership has long been a source of confusion and controversy among scholars. Some say its ranking system does more harm than good. New America’s Kevin Carey wrote in a 2014 report critical of the AAU that, through the association, “the work done by a small group of ancient institutions in shaping American higher education is increasingly The more it hurts higher education in America.” . Carey, now vice president of education policy and knowledge management at the think tank and director of the education policy program, proposed in the report that the AAU should move away from its seemingly singular focus on research spending and instead “ Awards are committed to keeping college accessible, affordable, and focused on student success.”
The Society’s invitation is based on a two-stage assessment, the first of which examines an institution’s research capacity. The phase itself is a two-pronged process that takes into account federal research spending—especially when the money is obtained through a competitive, merit-based review process—as well as professors at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine and other college membership awards, scholarships, memberships and citations. The AAU’s membership policy said the second phase involved “a more qualitative judgement of the institution and its trajectory”.
Carey’s report comes three years after two high-profile exits from the AAU. In 2011, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was voted out by its member institutions, while Syracuse University voluntarily withdrew after being reviewed, choosing not to accept the Nebraska vote. Leaders of both institutions at the time cited the association’s emphasis on medical research as a factor in their departure.
Nancy Cantor, then president of Syracuse University, criticized the AAU’s membership criteria as “narrow”, saying it relied on data that favored federal research funding in medicine and science, rather than other factors that make a research university work. “I respect what they’re doing,” she said in 2011, “but that doesn’t mean it covers what research universities need to do to be key to this century.”
AAU’s Membership Committee “periodically evaluates” member institutions and potential membership candidates. The membership policy says: “Non-member universities with research and education profiles that exceed those of some existing members may be invited to join the association, while “research and education profiles significantly lower than those of other existing members or below the admission criteria for new members will be subject to further scrutiny,” and may terminate membership. “
David Peterson, professor of political science at Iowa State, tweet On Thursday, the decision to leave the AAU was “really jaw-dropping and acknowledges that ISU is not on the same level as the leading universities in North America.”
As Syracuse and Nebraska leave AAU, Peterson tells chronicle, Iowa executives are increasingly concerned that their own members may be at risk. This has led to what Peterson calls “a concerted effort to emphasize the types and criteria of awards used by the AAU.” He and other faculty members received a spreadsheet of awards that count toward AAU membership for consideration.
But he thinks Iowa’s commitment to membership is starting to wane. Peterson said Wintersteen, who became president in 2017, did not publicly mention the AAU’s status as her predecessor Steven Leith did. When Wintersteen delivered prepared remarks to Iowa’s Senate of Teachers on Tuesday, there was no mention of the AAU’s decision.
Planned cuts for liberal arts colleges — heading into fiscal 2022 with an annual budget deficit of $11.4 million that is expected to increase to $15 million by fiscal 2025, it could also lead to an Iowa exit. “It looks like the decision may have been driven by reading the writing on the wall,” Peterson said, a cut that could jeopardize the agency’s AAU membership.
While leaving the AAU was controversial, membership has expanded in recent years. Dartmouth College, UC Santa Cruz and the University of Utah all joined in 2019.