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Message from Chancellor Cantor

May 02, 2011

Dear Faculty and Staff:

As you may have read today in the media, we have been in discussions with the Association of American Universities about their membership review; along with the University of Nebraska, we will be leaving the AAU. I wanted to write directly to you to give you some details about their process and my perspective on it.

Over the last year, the AAU has changed its membership criteria with the aim of making room to accommodate other universities without growing the size of the organization. In this process, they began a review of current members, comparing them on a narrow set of indicators of federal sponsored R&D dollars and faculty awards, with institutions both inside and outside the AAU. These indicators favor institutions with large medical complexes and/or proportionately larger science and engineering faculties, in light of the predominance of federal funding in those areas. As Robert Berdahl, president of the AAU, told Inside Higher Education, “what has changed is that the massive expansion of federal spending on biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health has strengthened the profile of universities inside and outside of AAU to which Syracuse, Nebraska and other institutions without medicals schools are compared.”

While I certainly respect the accomplishments of institutions with large biomedical and/or science and engineering profiles, I urge us not to forget the contributions to knowledge and to our world’s pressing issues that come from disciplines as far-ranging as architecture, public affairs, information studies and public communications, areas in which SU has undisputed pre-eminence. In fact, in the latest NRC rankings of doctoral program quality, 27% of our programs were rated above the average of the 62 other AAU institutions, including areas such as philosophy, religion, public administration, mass communications, and clinical psychology, in which the rewards for scholarly distinction are far less likely to come from federal R&D funding or membership in the National Academies.

We have invested substantially and strategically in the last decade in targeted areas of science and engineering in which our faculty and graduate students can have maximal impact. These investments, alongside those in areas of traditional strength at Syracuse, have resulted in 94% growth in our total sponsored research funding from all sources, a trajectory worthy of considerable pride. This progress has been undergirded by the investments we’ve made in our faculty and facilities – with the number of full-time faculty growing by 20% and $365 million invested in research/academic facilities and collaborative venues since 2001. Most especially, it is a result of our diversified funding portfolio comprised from federal, state, and local government and corporate and foundation sources and the many interdisciplinary, collaborative, and cross-sector partnerships we have created.

Through a series of inter-disciplinary, highly collaborative research clusters we are addressing major societal issues -- from global security, biomaterials, and disabilities to inclusive education, gerontology, environmental sustainability, entrepreneurship, and the role of the arts, technology and design in revitalizing metropolitan centers.

We are educating the diverse next generation of leaders and partnering with corporations, foundations, local residents, global collaborators, and non-profits to demonstrate the value of higher education as a public good, at a time when universities must engage in the world and not depend solely on federal sponsored research support. We are rightly proud of our map of excellence and optimistic that the many substantive partnerships we have formed will continue to make a difference in the world.

I firmly believe that our positive momentum will continue uninterrupted as we leave the AAU, and I ask you to join together energetically as we go forward.


Nancy Cantor

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