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AMES — Two weeks after Iowa State University resigned from the esteemed Association of American Universities, and six years since the campus last updated its list of 10 land-grant universities it compares itself with, faculty are asking whether ISU should re-evaluate who it now considers its peers.
Only one of ISU’s current peers — a group that includes the University of California-Davis, the University of Illinois-Urbana, Michigan State University and Ohio State University — in return lists the Ames campus as a peer, ISU political science professor David Peterson told Provost Jonathan Wickert on Tuesday during the last Faculty Senate meeting of the academic year.
“To me, peer is reciprocal, right? If we think they're a peer, and they don't think we're a peer, I think that says something,” Peterson said. “Additionally, all but one of the universities we list as peers are members of the AAU. Is this decision going to mean that we're going to reevaluate who we consider and publicly declare to be our peer universities?”
Wickert said it might.
“It's a good point,” Wickert said. “I appreciate your raising that, and that might be something we have to look at.”
In his comments, Peterson said while he doesn’t necessarily disagree with ISU’s decision to withdraw from the AAU — a 65-member invite-only association of North America’s top comprehensive research universities — the move seems to indicate, “We are not a leading comprehensive university.”
“We're good at a lot of things,” he said. “But this sort of indicates that we aren't, and that we can't be, a full comprehensive university. And that's OK.”
“We're the same university we were a month ago. We’re the same university we were a year ago. We're the same great university we were more 100 years ago,” he said. “And we're going to be the same way tomorrow, and we're going to be the same way in a month, a year, or 10 years and 100 years from now.”
Reiterating a critique ISU has leveled that AAU membership criteria favors institutions with medical schools — given its weight toward federal funding — Wickert said ISU is staying true to itself.
“This is really a statement that we know who we are, and we're confident in who we are, and we're not going to distort the university, and we're not going to chase metrics for any one external organization,” he said.
Wickert did not directly answer Peterson’s question about whether ISU jumped before it was pushed by the AAU.
“There's a clear sense and more than a few rumors that the decision to leave the AAU was motivated by a sense that we were inevitably going to be asked to leave,” Peterson said. “And I want to know if that’s true. I want to know if we were told that our membership was at risk, or if our membership was being reconsidered, and for how long that's been in play.”
In response, Wickert said, “This was our decision.”
As to a question of who, specifically, decided to pull ISU from the AAU and whether any faculty were involved, Wickert said ISU President Wendy Wintersteen made the call.
“The decision was ultimately made by President Winterstein,” he said. “But I was fully aware of the decision and had been at the table for all those conversations, as well as the president's senior team.”
ISU faculty members raised concerns Tuesday about the decision-making and communication process. ISU English professor Kenny Cook noted Wintersteen came before the Faculty Senate two days before the AAU announcement and didn’t mention the issue.
“It made me and I know many of my colleagues worry about shared governance and how much we're involved in these discussions and decisions beforehand,” Cook said.
Wickert answered those concerns by asserting this was a decision the campus couldn’t make in a traditional shared-governance style.
“I believe in shared governance. I think shared governance is alive and well at Iowa State University,” he said. “This is just not the kind of decision that can be done in a large public setting, with a lot of lead time associated.”
A leak was part of the concern, according to Wickert.
“There is kind of a timeline for how that announcement is made, and the more time in that process, the more likely it is that word is going to get out,” he said. “So the announcement was fairly tightly compressed around that time frame.”
ISU geological and atmospheric professor Igor Beresnev pressed Wickert on the mixed messages faculty have received over the years — with many past presidents and Wintersteen previously touting the campus’ AAU status as meaningful and a point of pride.
“Suddenly, a week ago, the administration turns around 180 degrees and tries to preach totally the opposite,” he said. “So that does not bode well, in my opinion, for the trust that we place in what we hear from the administration.”
Wickert responded in a sentence: “Different presidents at different points in time have different priorities and different perspectives.”
Since the announcement on April 21, ISU administrators have met with donors and supporters through the ISU Foundation, according to Wickert. “And really we're hearing a lot of a lot of support, a lot of recognition, that this is the right decision to make for Iowa State University,” he said.
The point, according to Wickert, is that, “We excel at what we’re designed to do as a land grant university, and we’re very very proud of that.”
“So the decision is really just to be true to who we are, to stand up for Iowa State in our broad mission in education, research, extension and outreach, economic development, and many other things,” he said, noting a bit later that, “Our mission is broad by design. We see a broader vision of universities than the slice that the association chooses to favor.”
University of California-Davis: AAU member and Carnegie-classified doctoral institution with very high research activity;
University of Illinois-Urbana: AAU member and Carnegie-classified doctoral institution with very high research activity;
Michigan State University: AAU member and Carnegie-classified doctoral institution with very high research activity;
University of Minnesota: AAU member and Carnegie-classified doctoral institution with very high research activity;
Ohio State University: AAU member and Carnegie-classified doctoral institution with very high research activity;
Pennsylvania State University: AAU member and Carnegie-classified doctoral institution with very high research activity;
Texas A&M: AAU member and Carnegie-classified doctoral institution with very high research activity;
University of Wisconsin: AAU member and Carnegie-classified doctoral institution with very high research activity;
Purdue University: AAU member and Carnegie-classified doctoral institution with very high research activity;
North Carolina State University: Not an AAU member but Carnegie-classified doctoral institution with very high research activity;
Iowa State University: Not an AAU member but Carnegie-classified doctoral institution with very high research activity.
(Source: Iowa State University; Board of Regents, Association of American Universities and The Carnegie Classification of Institutes of Higher Education)
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