Update: In addition to the comment below from the AAU that provides clarification provided regarding the article in The Chronicle described in this post, I will add that Mr. Berdahl’s commentary on this issue can be read in The Chronicle, and Stan Katz apologizes for misinterpreting Berdahl’s comments, also in The Chronicle. Stan also poses some questions of his own, such as “Shouldn’t we also be asking the more complex question of whether research universities are (or are not) developing the broad range of human resources required by a vibrant democracy?”
Today The Chronicle of Higher Education reports a suggestion from the Association of American Universities that the US “may need “fewer but better” when it comes to top research universities.” The Chronicle reports AAU has taken its concern to the National Academies (Science, Engineering, IOM, NRC):
The association isn’t making any specific recommendations regarding such a reduction and instead has asked the National Academies to study the question. It also hasn’t said how deeply the number of American research universities would be reduced, though Mr. Berdahl [AAU president] suggested federal spending decisions could play a role.
Berdahl sent a letter to Senator Lamar Alexander in February asking, “How many research universities does the United States realistically require in order to maintain its agenda of innovation and advanced training?”
This in turn led to the press release earlier this week (distributed by AAMC & I’m sure other groups) by Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), joined by Representatives Bart Gordon (D-TN) and Ralph Hall (R-TX), in which they ask the National Academies to come up with “the top ten actions that Congress, state governments, research universities, and others could take to assure the ability of the American research university to maintain the excellence in research and doctoral education needed to help the United States compete, prosper, and achieve national goals for health, energy, the environment, and security in the global community of the 21st century?”
Sounds like AAU thinks the answer is more money to fewer institutions. The NIH’s CTSA and other major Roadmap programs are distinguishing to a certain extent the haves from the have nots. Consider too that of the 20K+ Challenge Grants submitted, ~7% came from 5 institutions, which comprised less than a quarter of one percent of applying institutions. Not that they’ll all get funded of course.