Boston U. Receives Coveted Invitation to Join Assn. of American Universities

November 05, 2012

The Association of American Universities announced on Monday that it had invited Boston University to join its exclusive group of prestigious research institutions.

This is the third time since 2009 that the association has made a change in its usually stable rolls. It added a new member, the Georgia Institute of Technology, in 2009, and lost two, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and Syracuse University, last year.

Robert A. Brown, president of Boston University, said he was "taken aback" by the invitation he received during a telephone call last week. The university is still relatively new to the ranks of very successful research institutions, he said, after some 40 years of efforts to join them.

"This is just a tremendously gratifying occasion for a young research university, a tremendous recognition of what this institution has accomplished," Mr. Brown said.

The university will benefit from membership by hearing the practices of elite institutions and being able to weigh in on federal issues that affect the association's members, Mr. Brown said. In addition, it means a lot to the university's faculty to be affiliated with an AAU member, he said.

The association offered Boston University the opportunity to join after a review of the institution's research productivity as well as more-subjective criteria, such as the quality of its faculty and doctoral programs, said Hunter R. Rawlings III, president of the organization.

Boston University not only has a strong showing in its amount of federally sponsored research, Mr. Rawlings said, but it continues to improve in that area.

Mr. Rawlings said the AAU's membership committee tries to make its considerations on a very broad set of benchmarks in order to avoid basing its decisions only on raw statistical information.

The addition of Boston University brings the association's total membership to 62, including 60 in the United States and two in Canada. The last new member, Georgia Tech in 2009, was the first in nearly a decade.

But the criteria for membership have sparked heated controversy in recent years, and questions about which universities deserve to be counted among the continent's elite. In 2010 the association adopted revised membership criteria that compared members to nonmembers on their amount of sponsored research and eliminated the assumption that current members would retain their status indefinitely.

In 2011, after reviewing the research performance of at least two universities, the association took its first vote ever to remove an institution from membership—the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. At nearly the same time, Syracuse University announced that it would voluntarily leave the association.

The association's membership is comfortable now with the number of members, and the "membership committee is not in a hurry to add or subtract any members," Mr. Rawlings said. "My guess is there will be a little time before any more changes take place. Membership has made it clear they don't want a large organization."