University of Nebraska voted out of university association

By Rayza Goldsmith, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 14, 2011

The newest member of the Big Ten, the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, was voted out of the Association of American Universities — becoming the only member of the Big Ten to not be part of the association.

The AAU — an association comprised of the nation’s top research universities — has never before voted to remove a member, though other universities have left voluntarily on the expectation they would soon be voted out due to failure to meet the organization’s criteria. The vote comes nine months after the university's induction into the Big Ten.

Among the committee members who voted on Nebraska’s membership in the AAU was University President Mary Sue Coleman, who was also involved in the final vote in determining the school’s place in the program.

According to a Sept. 3 article in the Journal Star, Harvey Perlman, chancellor of the University of Nebraska, said he thought Coleman and Carolyn Martin, the former chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, voted against Nebraska’s membership in the AAU. Though the vote is anonymous, he said in the article he assumed this given the fact that Coleman and Martin are members of committees that recommended the reassessment of Nebraska’s AAU membership.

The decision to remove Nebraska from the organization in April transpired after the school was called to be reviewed by AAU committees that were concerned the school no longer held the qualifications for membership in the program, according to Barry Toiv, the AAU’s vice president for public affairs.

“There is a set of criteria that are used to determine whether universities ought to be considered for membership or current members should be discontinued for membership,” Toiv said.

The AAU has 61 members that are invited to join the organization based on the institution's quality of research and programs for undergraduate, graduate and professional students and other criteria.

In an e-mail interview Perlman wrote that he is not upset with Coleman if she did vote against Nebraska and he knows she had the best interest of the AAU in mind.

“Mary Sue and I have been friends,” Perlman wrote. “Her husband is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I do not know how she finally voted but I am sure she voted in good faith in accordance with what she thought was best for AAU.”

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald declined to comment on Coleman’s part in the matter since voting is anonymous. The University of Wisconsin-Madison also declined to comment on the grounds that Martin is now president of Amherst College and no longer affiliated with Wisconsin.

The Big Ten unanimously voted to invite Nebraska to become a member nine months before the AAU meeting that resulted in Nebraska losing its AAU membership. Perlman wrote that not being an AAU member will not affect Nebraska’s relationship with its Big Ten colleagues.

“This will have, and has had, no impact on our relationship with Michigan or with the Big Ten,” Perlman wrote.

Perlman called the timing “awkward,” but said he is excited by the opportunity to work with the Big Ten, despite Nebraska’s removal from the AAU.

“I don't agree with the AAU decision, but we are excited about the opportunities to be a member of the Big Ten and to lead in academics in those areas where we have unique credentials to do so,” Perlman wrote.

He added that he thinks Nebraska’s removal from the AAU potentially had to do with the fact that its medical school is located in Omaha, Neb. and is separate from the main campus in Lincoln. He wrote that the AAU does not value the agricultural research of land-grant universities like Nebraska as much as schools with strengths in the medical field.

“The AAU failed to follow their own rules, failed to apply the standards established for membership and failed to account for the fact that their qualitative membership criteria can not account for the diversity of higher education,” Perlman wrote.

Toiv said he disagrees with the notion that the AAU prioritizes universities with strong medical programs and facilities over land-grant institutions, adding that most of the schools on the list are public universities.