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What We're Up Against in Top Three Trek - U of M Faculty Membership in National Academy

"You gotta know when to hold 'em, you gotta know when to fold 'em..."

First the latest numbers from the Board of Regents Meeting yesterday:


And now for some more unpleasant facts...

The strategic propaganda initiative has been going on for five years with little impact on the above numbers.

Are they important?
Well yes, but mostly no.

They have an effect on our rankings in most of the popularity polls. But schools further down the pecking order, even than us, have managed to have decent graduation rates.

Can we, or do we want to, get these numbers up?

First look at Berkeley.
Why we even have Berkeley in our so-called peer comparison group is beyond me. Earlier posts have demonstrated that fully 98% of the incoming class comes from the top ten percent of their high school class. It makes a lot of sense that this place is so competitive because California is our most populous state at 37 million and our population is 5 million.

[Hello, Bob? Hello, Tom?]

Berkeley is the premier educational institution in the state and it shows.

Now Berkely has an almost unbelievable 214 Academy members and has increased that figure in the last five years by six percent.
For comparison, we have a mere 36 and over the past five years that number has decreased by five percent. I will point out that Paul Barbara was recruited from our chemistry department by Texas. A year or so later he was elected to the academy. The so-called Texas National Science Foundation (the Welch Foundation) had deep pockets and has taken two other chemistry faculty members within recent memory. I will bet a six-pack that within ten years, one or both of them will be elected to the Academy - my money is on Ben Liu, but XYZ is also a great scientist.

So what's the conclusion?
We simply can't compete in increasing the number of Academy members significantly because we simply don't have the resources. And we are not going to climb up the greasy poll on this metric because the next rung is occupied by Illinois with twenty more members than us. We are not going to see an increase of twenty members in my lifetime and by then Illinois will have even more. When most of our hotshots become hot, they leave. And who can blame them given the horrible climate for scientific funding in this country. Going to Texas and having to worry a little less about grubbing for money is extremely attractive to any academic.

And this is not to diss the faculty at Minnesota. Don Truhlar was recently elected and he has been here his entire career. He is one of the best computational chemists in the world and this is not yet another slice of baloney from the strategic propaganda initative. In the area of ecology Dave Tilman is a member and has made fundamental contributions at a world class level to our understanding of such things as the economic benefit of producing alcohol from corn vs. other sources. And he has suffered from the slings and arrows of people who don't like his results. But that is what research at a great university does. Go, Dave.

So is this an important metric? I don't think so. Note that Penn State, Florida, and Ohio State are even lower than we are in this regard. One can make a pretty good case that they are doing a better job than we are.

Let's quit complaining about the quality of the students and the quality of the faculty. Why don't we start worrying about our priorities and the quality of our academic leadership?

Let's start playing with the cards we've got, President Bruininks. Let's get those graduation rates up? Let's start walking the talk of: "People are our most important product."

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