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Faculty Voices: MSU Marks 50 Years in Prestigious AAU

  • Author:
    Douglas A. Noverr
  • Published:
    Winter 2015

Simon chosen as organization’s vice chairwoman

            Fifty years ago this fall, Michigan State University claimed its place among the elite of research-intensive institutions. On October 28, 1964, the university was admitted to the prestigious American Association of Universities (AAU), confirming MSU’s transformation from an agricultural college into a major national university that had developed a worldwide reach and demonstrated excellence in research and graduate studies. MSU’s president at the time, John A. Hannah, learned that the vote of the then-35-member institution was unanimous, and that MSU was the only university selected for admission out of 16 reviewed by the AAU Membership Committee that year.

            Fast forward to today. The AAU is a 62-member nonprofit group of research universities, with 60 in the United States and two in Canada. It is devoted to issues that affect research universities, such as funding, research and education policy, and graduate and undergraduate education. AAU memberuniversitiesare on the leading edge of innovation, scholarship and solutions that contribute to the nation's economy, security and well-being.

            And now, MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon has been tapped as the organization’s vice chairwoman, which will most likely lead to her helming the group in the 2015 academic year. Simon called her election humbling and surprising. “It’s really an honor when you’re selected by your colleagues and peers,” she said. “Team MSU has to earn recognition and it gives us real insight into the issues affecting the best universities in the world, and how then we can translate that into things that we’re doing.”

            MSU’s reputation has continued to grow in the 50 years since it was admitted into the AAU. The main criteria for AAU membership focused on the production of PhDs under the mentorship of research-active faculty in strong departments with excellent records of publications and grant activity. In the 1950s, Michigan State College and then Michigan State University of Agriculture and Applied Science produced 992 doctorates, compared with 145 in the 1940s. By 1970, MSU was the nation’s sixth largest producer of PhDs, granting 633 doctorates in 1972 alone. Today, the 60 AAU universities in the U.S. bestow more than half of all American doctoral degrees and 55 percent of those in the sciences and engineering.