Sunday, December 1, 2002

Catholic University drops out of the Association of American Universities

The Catholic University of America has dropped out of an elite association of research universities it helped found more than a century ago, prompted by concerns it can no longer keep up with the pace of major scientific research set by the group's larger institutions.

The college in Northeast Washington will lose little more than bragging rights by leaving the Association of American Universities, an influential lobbying and support network whose members include Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Catholic was the only college in the District to belong to the AAU and the only church-controlled member.

But the move also reflects a larger shift in mission for Catholic, a relatively small school for the AAU -- with relatively modest finances.

As the cost of graduate education continues to rise, campus officials said Catholic may soon have to consider whether to close some of its 45 doctoral programs to devote its limited resources to others. Catholic's strongest programs are in theology and the humanities, low priorities in AAU's increasing focus on federal funding for scientific research.

"We still give 100 doctorates a year. And we still do about $15 million a year in sponsored research," Provost John J. Convey said. "But that's small compared to places like [the University of] Michigan."

....Some faculty members expressed dismay at the decision to leave because of Catholic's historical affiliation with the AAU, he said, but few on campus have protested loudly.

"It didn't seem like a big deal to me," said Mark Mirotznik, an associate professor and chairman of the biomedical engineering department, one of Catholic's doctorate-granting disciplines. "It seems like it was unusual we were still in it -- the AAU outgrew us."

Andrew Hill, president of the Graduate Student Association, said the move has sparked little discussion among doctoral students. "We're a very humanities-centered institution," he said. "The university has tried for a very long time to be a lot of different things, and the scale of what it's tried to be has been beyond its means. The administration knows that, and the students know that."

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