Three Strikes for AAU

April, 2013

Lincoln -- The Association of American Universities has struck out with me.

The first strike came in 1999, when the AAU joined with several other higher education associations in putting their own interests ahead of students, families, taxpayers, and the public interest when they sought to defeat a federal rule to ensure that grant aid from a new federal program would lower students' debt burdens. Instead, they wanted to permit institutions to use the grant funds to displace other grant aid, leaving students no better off, essentially pocketing the money for themselves. (See Janet Lorin's excellent article on how displacement works.)

The second strike came in 2011, when the AAU removed the University of Nebraska-Lincoln from its membership, the first time in AAU history a university had been voted off its rolls for not being sufficiently a research university. The removal would have been justified if the AAU's allegations had been true, but they weren't. The AAU's research ranking methodology was unbecoming an association of research universities, in that it disallowed certain agriculture research funds from consideration and it did not correct for organizational differences among institutions. It then held the UNL removal vote open beyond the original deadline to round up the votes it needed, essentially making up rules as it went. Several of my friends and colleagues in higher education in Washington have said not to be concerned, as the AAU is more of a social club than a respected association, but that is not a sufficient answer to the question of why all the effort to remove UNL. (If anyone has more insight into the motivation behind this bizarre AAU action, please email me at

The third stike is the amicus brief from AAU in the current Monsanto case, in which the AAU, by aligning totally with Monsanto, is undermining research faculties and standards in higher education institutions everywhere. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports ("In Standing Up for Big Ag, Are Universities Undercutting Their Own Researchers?") how faculty do not have freedom to research and publish their findings on Monsanto processes and products. Monsanto has blocked publication of research findings on its Roundup Ready patents.

Money talks. Apparently agribusiness money talks louder than the state and federal taxpayer money that is being appropriated to universities to do unbiased research. What a justified comeuppance were UNL to assert its research independence and oppose the AAU brief on Monsanto as it applies to research. It would strike a blow for research integrity and independence everywhere. But that won't happen because UNL has joined the AAU in its amicus brief, with nary a word to protect faculty researchers. What an opportunity missed, to show that UNL is a true research institution.