When Elson S. Floyd addressed the university recently as incoming president, he said WSU’s goal of creating a “global, world-class land-grant institution” included building the capability to join the American Association of Universities (AAU).

“It’s sort of an elite club,” he noted.

Elite, certainly. The 62 members of the AAU (ONLINE @ www.aau.edu) are America’s most prestigious and influential research universities. Institutions cannot apply to join; membership is by invitation only.

“AAU membership defines the benchmarks we seek as a quality institution,” said James Petersen, WSU vice provost for research. “A defined set of criteria has been developed by the AAU to measure the quality of the institution and its faculty.

These quality measures can focus our efforts to improve WSU and continue to shape it into one of the premier land-grant research universities.” 
 
Petersen listed three reasons for developing the characteristics of AAU institutions. First, members offer the integrated educational and research programs that drive innovation nationally.
Demonstrating that WSU’s programs are comparable to those at AAU institutions would provide convincing evidence that the university is truly world-class.

Second, seeking to attain the characteristics of an AAU institution can guide WSU’s development. To evaluate prospective members, the AAU has developed a set of indicators for assessing the breadth and quality of a university’s programs in research and graduate education. WSU can use these as benchmarks for judging its own progress as a top-tier research university and to guide institutional improvement.

Third, inclusion with AAU institutions would enable WSU to be more influential in the development of national policies that affect research universities. Many of the changes in federal research initiatives and graduate education directives are made after thorough consultation with the AAU and its member institutions. 

President V. Lane Rawlins helped build the foundation to lift the university to AAU standards, having mentioned seeking AAU membership for several years. (See the May 2004, interview with Rawlins ONLINE @ www.wsutoday.wsu.edu/completestory.asp?StoryID=1014).  Now, the experience brought by Floyd, president of the University of Missouri at Columbia, an AAU member, will be vital in WSU’s effort to emulate, and ultimately join, the AAU, Petersen said.

“We have begun a series of meetings with faculty and supporters to discuss the AAU and the ways we need to grow to measure up to those standards,” Petersen added.  “We are defining a timetable and strategies for continuing our trajectory toward excellence. The faculty who have heard this message have been excited about our future.”

Members include:
WSU Peer Institutions:
University of Wisconsin at Madison
University of Florida
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
University of Minnesota at Twin Cities
Ohio State University at Columbus
University of California at Davis
Texas A&M University
Michigan State University
Purdue University at West Lafayette
University of Missouri at Columbia
Iowa State University

PAC-10 Institutions:
Stanford University
University of California at Berkeley
University of California at Los Angeles
University of Oregon
University of Southern California
University of Washington
University of Arizona

Evaluating potential membership in AAU
Membership in the AAU is based on a quantitative assessment of the faculty and the institution, evaluating “primary indicators” labeled Phase I and “additional” indicators labeled Phase II, as follows:

Phase I
• competitively funded federal research support
• faculty membership in national academies
• National Research Council faculty quality ratings
• faculty arts and humanities awards, fellowships and memberships
• citations in the U.S. University Science Indicators database

Phase II
• USDA, state and industrial research funding
• quantity and distribution of doctoral degrees
• number of postdoctoral appointees
• quality of undergraduate education

In the evaluation process, the AAU also includes what is described on their website as a “qualitative set of judgments about the institutions and their trajectories.”