The Sept. 18 Chronicle of Higher Education article on the University of Oregon shines a national spotlight on a simple fact: Like almost no other institution of higher education, the UO is putting its dollars into sports and the undergraduate entertainment enterprise.
As a result, we are accustomed to winning on the football field (at least until the Utah game), but we have a much harder time competing against other institutions for top faculty or graduate students. The money used to “buy” top football talent is not available when it comes to investing in top research talent or infrastructure.
According to the Chronicle article, “Save a few marquee programs, Oregon often fails now to measure up to higher education’s heavy hitters.”
As department head of one of these marquee programs (the Department of Psychology), I find this press coverage both useful and frustrating.
It is useful because it presents stakeholders with a reality check and a call to action. Department heads at our university do in fact become nervous whenever one of our colleagues receives an invitation to present his or her work at Stanford, Harvard or Berkeley, for fear that this might lead to yet another retention battle. …
Today, when I filter out the negative news and focus on the work that is happening on the ground and on a day-to-day basis, I find that very little has changed. Some former stars have since retired, but we have been very successful in recruiting a new generation of young faculty. Researchers across the university continue to do groundbreaking work, they are highly successful in acquiring federal funding (just in the last year our department’s annual grant funding almost doubled to $3.6 million from $1.9 million), and they provide education and mentoring for legions of undergraduate and graduate students. …
The bad news is that without an influx of funding, the goal of remaining a top research university will become more elusive with every passing year.
The good news is that it would take much less to achieve this goal than recent press coverage might suggest. At least for now, a strong foundation of research excellence is in place, just waiting to be brought to its full potential.
[Please leave any comments on the RG website, here. They published it, they get the hits. I won’t post any comments here.]