Nicholas Lemann’s vision for the American Research University….

He is the dean of journalism at Columbia and his important long piece is here, from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

There are many excellent points in the article, not the least of which is that very few academic leaders focus on actually making the case for the research to the stakeholders of US research universities. The other interesting insight is that tenured faculty self-identify on the basis of their discipline rather than their employer (e.g. I am a neuroscientist, not I work for George Mason University). I believe this, and I’m guessing that it creates an ersatz dialectic between the talent (the faculty) and their employer which works against making the larger case.

So I would say this is an excellent read. I hope it’s read by many college presidents.

Cost sharing

It’s a requirement of many federal grants and potentially is a deal killer for younger institutions which may not have the resources to pull it off. The upshot of this problem is that institutions which may win awards on pure merit may have to forego competing for new awards with significant cost share. At the same time, institutions with much more massive resource pools, available to be deployed as cost share, have less competition for scarce federal grants. Merit becomes less important as a criterion while institutional resource base becomes more important. The rich get richer.

Now, I’m not saying that rich institutions don’t deserve a lot of grant support purely based on scientific merit. That’s clear; they do. But I’m also worried that newer institutions will have a much more difficult time getting up to speed, as a result of grant cost-share requirements.

It’s time to rethink grant cost share so that newer places have a chance to compete purely on the merits of the science.

The Great American Research University: Endangered?

A National Academy Panel visited the subject recently and a news report is here. Money quote:

Panelist James Duderstadt, former president of the University of Michigan, suggested that the country needs a national education policy that encompasses its research universities. “Most countries have one, and it usually includes a statement about creating X number of world-class research universities,” Duderstadt said. “Our emphasis has always been on providing access. But maybe we should have a national policy that says we need to have a certain number of global research universities.”