The University of Akron community is being asked to make painful decisions regarding how we allocate our resources. The decisions we make now will shape this institution for years to come. Examining our institutional priorities, then, is essential to this endeavor. One priority that can easily be lost in discussions about our fiscal challenges is our responsibility to support and encourage research and other scholarly and creative endeavors among our faculty as well as our students. That part of our mission is at the heart of everything else we do; it is the lifeblood of any research university. It is also the engine that drives economic advancement.
The role of research universities.
Robert Berdahl, former President of the Association of American Universities, highlighted the key role that research universities play, not only for higher education itself but also for our society as a whole, in his 2009 essay, “Research Universities: Their Value to Society Extends Well Beyond Research.” The public seems to understand how research in the natural sciences helps us to cure diseases, address our energy needs, and create the new technologies that promote economic growth. But, equally importantly, few of these solutions can be effective without other areas of research such as the social sciences.
Social science research is a means of examining complex social issues, and thus is indispensable for developing effective public policy. Similarly, the turmoil overtaking the world underscores the importance that the social sciences and the humanities play in helping us to understand different cultures, and in a shrinking world, this is ever more important for people both in the U.S. and abroad. Finally, as Berdahl noted, “our lives are informed and enriched by the aesthetic environment in which we live and by an appreciation for the art, architecture, and music that express the essence of our society.” In short, great nations support basic and applied research as well as the arts and humanities because without these things, no nation can achieve greatness.
How students benefit from attending a research university
A few years ago, an article in US News & World Report gave 10 reasons why students should go to a research university. Included among these are:
- Top researchers can be the best teachers (For instance, if you want to learn the scientific method, it is better to do so from someone who is actively using it)
- Courses at research universities often contain the latest knowledge on a given topic (you may be taking a course with someone who literally wrote the book on it)
- You may get to directly collaborate with leading experts in the field, rather than learning from someone who simply reads books and articles written by them.
- Graduating from a research university can give one a leg up in the job market and when applying to graduate/professional schools for advanced education.
The better a society supports the fundamental research purpose of its universities, the more that society will progress for generations to come. This is why four-year and research universities are ideal settings for emerging adults to learn, grow, and become successful in real world careers (rather than in short-term jobs). At four-year research universities, students learn so much more than job skills; they learn the critical thinking skills, tools for inquiry, and self-expression that employers want – and that our society requires.
In an increasingly competitive higher education market, a university’s investment in and encouragement of research and other scholarly endeavors is precisely what will ensure our successful competition. It is key to ensuring that our nation continues to be a place of innovation that fosters economic and cultural growth. For this reason, as we make decisions that affect the allocation of resources at UA, we must remember our responsibility to uphold the academic research and scholarship mission of this institution.