In the book, Voices From State: An Oral History of Arkansas State University, the authors describe the challenges faced by our early faculty members in balancing research with a heavy teaching load. “However, one of Aggie’s most respected teachers - Mary Watters - transcended this drawback and published scholarly books. Her publications were probably the first serious works of this faculty and a worthy example for her successors to follow” (Ball and Clements 1984, p. 56).
Standing on the shoulders of giants like Mary Watters, A-State has established itself as one of the top research universities in Arkansas. And today, I have exciting news to share with you that Arkansas State is now ranked as “Doctoral University: High Research Activity” according to The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.
Our modern-day faculty members are what make A-State distinctive. You continue to value your teaching role, but we have also strongly embraced the research enterprise. Because we do not have many Ph.D. programs, our undergraduates and master’s students benefit from the opportunity to be part of the creative and discovery process at a level uncommon among research universities.
Recognition of our research excellence beyond our campus has been partially shrouded because quantifying research and creative activities can be challenging. Prior to this year, for example, the Carnegie Classification system classified schools according to the number of research doctorates (Ph.D.’s) awarded and the total amount of research expenditures in a given year. In spite of the large number of professional doctorates we generated each year and our robust research enterprise, the relative lack of Ph.D.’s we awarded left us classified in the “Master's Colleges and Universities: Larger programs (M1)” category. That is the highest level of the “Master’s Colleges and Universities” categories (M1, M2, and M3), but short of where we really belonged - in the “Doctorate Granting Universities” categories (R1, R2, and R3).
The good news is that The Carnegie Foundation has changed its methodology for 2018 and is now including professional doctorates in its classification system. One result of this change is that A-State is now classified as a “Doctoral University - Higher Research Activity (R2).” We were one of only 12 institutions that moved from M1 to R2 with the change in this methodology (there are now 120 R1 institutions and 139 R2 institutions). This new methodology more accurately places A-State among peer R2 institutions such as Baylor, Boise State, Georgia Southern, Marquette, Seton Hall, TCU, Memphis, Tulsa, Wake Forest, Villanova, and UALR (the only other Arkansas R2 university.
I know from our discussions that many of you agree that we were mis-classified in this system. As I have said publicly in the past, while Carnegie Classifications are not rankings per se, they are classifications used by others to describe who we are. As we enter into a strategic planning exercise this coming spring, I intend to lead a discussion on that very question: “Who are we?” My sense is that our research excellence is under-appreciated beyond our campus. I do not desire for A-State to “chase” rankings and classifications - I prefer that we determine our destiny independent of outside (and often artificial) pressures. But I also desire that our noble mission and the work of our faculty be acknowledged and recognized. This new classification begins that recognition.
This re-classification is also important for our region. A-State is a research university that attracts faculty and students from around the world and, as such, is an engine for economic growth for the state of Arkansas. Being recognized as an R2 university will play an economic development role for northeast Arkansas, because proximity to a research university is an important factor when businesses decide where to locate future operations.
Our ASU System President, Dr. Charles L. Welch, asked me to pass this along to our campus team: “I am so proud of our faculty and staff who have made this designation possible. We have only begun to scratch the surface of what is possible for our university. Thank you all for your hard work. Arkansas State is a university on the rise.”
Friends, I am glad that your efforts are now being acknowledged. We still need to have those conversations about our mission and who we want to be, but it is good that others now have a better sense of who we are. While this change in classification is due to a change in methodology, it is also reflective over a century of research excellence by our faculty members, stretching as far back as A-State pioneers like Mary Watters. Your dedication to the research enterprise, too often unrecognized, put us in the position that allowed for this significant change in classification. It is a tribute to your creativity and hard work. Congratulations and thank you.
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