Research Universities, Research Centers and Undergraduate Education

Donna R. Gabaccia, Director, Immigration History Research Center

The IHRC earned a notice in the July 25 New York Times "EducationTimes" Supplement: Normally, that's cause for celebration here in Andersen Library.

Unfortunately, this time the IHRC (along with other research centers at the University of Minnesota) was noted as part of a supposedly disturbing trend--the proliferation of educational administrative costs--that (according to authors Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus) deflects resources from education.

In their analysis, Hacker and Dreifus juxtapose the multiplication of educational administrators (84 coaches, "queer life coordinator," etc.) at the 2000-student Williams College in Massachusetts to the large numbers of research centers at the University of Minnesota with its 65,000 students.

Can we really equate the two developments or find a threat to undergraduate education in either?

As a long time faculty member, I have certainly been aware of the growing numbers of educational administrators in all institutions of higher education. Administrative costs have generally outpaced the costs of faculty and instructional staff. But even Hacker and Dreifus are forced to admit that most research centers (including the IHRC) are usually funded by private endowments and grants and not by tuition or funding from state legislatures.

Are there more research centers now than in the past? Probably. But the IHRC was created in 1965, well before the supposed trend the authors identify.

The authors also call attention to the rise of what they call "educational executives." It's not a label I recognize in my own life as Director of the IHRC. I'm a half-time member of the faculty, responsible for teaching undergraduate and graduate students. A large part of my job furthermore is to integrate IHRC research into the university educational programs. In the five years since I arrived at the IHRC, our administrative staff has been cut almost in half, while the numbers of undergraduate students involved in our programs and research activities has increased tenfold.

"Isn't education the purpose of college?" the two authors conclude provocatively.

It certainly is. And the IHRC--like most Minnesota research centers--is actively involved in that education. On a research budget of about $80,000 this past year, twelve undergraduate researchers--some working for pay, some for academic credit--assisted the IHRC staff and faculty in doing original research on the lives of immigrants and refugees in the United States. The undergraduates helped create a new digital archive of Facebook writings by immigrant youth, sorted through rare foreign-language books and pamphlets, did background research for an exhibit on immigrant letter writing, analyzed newspaper content on nineteenth century immigration, and explored the lives of foreign-born from the Midwest.

Last I checked, every one of those undergraduates was happy to include "research" among the accomplishments of their undergraduate education at Minnesota. The undergraduates who participate in research teams at the 200 plus Minnesota research centers thus easily surpass the total number of undergraduates at Williams College. And that's an educational achievement we should celebrate!

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Immigration History Research Center published on July 28, 2010 1:32 PM.

What I'm Reading: Portraits of Asian America in the 21st Century was the previous entry in this blog.

IHRC projects & courses explore different perspectives is the next entry in this blog.

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