Tech accepts AAU invite

On April 20 Tech received the honor of an invitation to join the historic Association of American Universities. President G.P. “Bud” Peterson accepted the honor on behalf of the Institute.

“I am certain this is something Georgia Tech has aspired to for some time. It’s a very elite group with many fine institutions,” Peterson said.

The AAU is a consortium of 61 universities from the U.S and two from Canada. According to, AAU universities stress research in the teaching process. As of 2007, members of the AAU account for 62 percent of a research grants awarded by the National Science Foundation, 54 percent of NASA grants and 48 percent of Department of Defense grants.

Members of the AAU include both private and public universities. The Association was founded in 1900 by the 14 universities who were leading the nation in granting PhD’s. Peterson was chancellor at the University of Colorado, a member of the AAU.

“I participated for about three years. The presidents [and other administrators] meet on a regular basis…and they talk about some common issues and problems,” Peterson said.

Today the organization pushes initiatives and talk about the major questions facing universities. They discuss stances the AAU can take on certain policy issues even if they are cautious about making an official statement.

“The AAU does not make policy, they collectively discuss the issue and then periodically take a stance. They are very selective about those public statements that they make,” Peterson said.

The organization will still come out in favor of a certain idea if its members feel as though it is particularly important.

“When I was participating [in these discussions with other members], we talked about stimulus funds and how they might be helpful for higher education and the research programs we have…How should they be designed? How should they be directed?” Peterson said.

The AAU, in partnership with other universities, had lobbied to be a part of the development and writing of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 concerning research and education. The schools helped direct more than $21 billion in funding for scientific research and development.

Tech will be the consortium’s 63rd member, the first new member in nine years since the 2001 addition of Stony Brooke and Texas A&M. In the AAU’s official press release on the invitation AAU President Robert M. Berdahl said “Georgia Tech is an outstanding institution that, like other AAU universities, plays a major role in the nation’s research enterprise, as well as in training the next generation of scientists, engineers, and scholars.”

The AAU membership process is twofold, beginning with a quantitative assessment of the potential university. Universities are evaluated based on competitively funded federal research support, membership in the National Academies, national research council faculty quality ratings, faculty arts and humanities awards, fellowships and memberships and citations.

“A lot of institutions use those types of metrics to try and improve their program and types of activities they are involved in.” Peterson said.

According to the National Science Foundation’s Academic R&D Expenditures: FY 2008, released this month, Tech had $281,184,000 in competitively funded federal research support, one of the top figures for a university that was not a part of the AAU.

While the honor affects many of the administrators and leaders on campus, the school’s admission into the AAU will not necessarily affect students on a day-to-day basis.

“[This changes the perception of Tech more so] with other organizations than to students. I think it’s probably not a big issue for students, but faculty are very aware, administrators are very aware, our board of regents, my advisory board are all very cognizant for what this means to Georgia Tech and the benefits that [the institution can] accrue from it,” Peterson said.

Still, the students are likely to see a benefit from the increased prestige given to Tech by being a part of the organization.

“I think it certainly adds to the value of your degree. I think it helps us with the programs were involved in, the types of educational programs [and] the types of research programs,” Peterson said.

Coming into Tech, this was one of Peterson’s plans for the institute’s future.

“Being invited to become a member of AAU was yes, a goal. I was asked about it during the interview process….It is not so much to work to get into AAU as it is trying to work to accomplish those things that are important. If you do that and focus on that an invitation to AAU will come,” Peterson said.