Despite optimism and interest from faculty and students, OU President James Gallogly’s goal of doubling OU’s research output of would require monumental increases in federal funding, the likes of which OU has not seen in the recent decade.
Though Gallogly has yet to release details of how he plans to accomplish increasing research, he said federal funding for research programs will be one benchmark used to determine the success of this goal. Gallogly pointed to Association of American Universities schools as an example of what OU could become with greater research output. AAU schools are "leading comprehensive research universities distinguished by the breadth and quality of their programs of research and graduate education," according the AAU website. AAU membership is by invitation only.
“We need to double the amount of research that we’re doing today,” Gallogly said in a press conference Aug. 16. “That’s incredibly important because at this point in time, that’s about the only thing that keeps us from being an AAU-type institution.”
Gallogly said this initiative is part of his strategy to promote the graduate student experience at OU and better serve faculty members who conduct research. However, OU falls well behind the pack of AAU schools when it comes to funding for research.
According to the AAU website, the University of Kansas, Iowa State and University of Texas at Austin are the only schools in the Big 12 Conference in the AAU. Among the most notable members of the AAU are schools like Harvard, Yale and Brown. In total, there are 60 public and private U.S. universities in the association.
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, OU’s research expenditures per full-time equivalent student was $5,000 in 2016. The average for an AAU institution was around $23,000 per full-time equivalent student in the same year.
Additionally, 16 percent of OU’s expenditures in 2016 went to research, while the average AAU institution spent around 25 percent on research in the same year.
The most recent public university accepted into the AAU, the Georgia Institute of Technology, increased its research expenditures per full-time equivalent student by 11 percent between 2011 and 2016. OU, on the other hand, has seen its spending remain roughly the same during those years.
Despite the loftiness of this goal, Gallogly publicly voicing these aspirations has created a buzz among OU students and faculty who conduct research at the university.
Alisa Hicklin Fryar, director of professional programs for OU’s political science department, said OU has not had a broader discussion about research like this before — something she looks forward to.
“As somebody who’s on faculty at OU, it’s exciting,” Fryar said. “I’ve been here for 12 years, and we’ve had a lot of opportunities to build in other areas, but we’ve not had an institutional level discussion about this part of what we do. So it’s nice to get to have that and see what it looks like.”
At the press conference where Gallogly laid out this strategy, the head of OU’s Faculty Senate, Megan Elwood Madden, said university faculty have continued to excel in research, sometimes without recognition. She expressed support for the administration’s intentions regarding research.
“Despite resources and few raises, OU’s faculty has continued to excel in their research and creative endeavors, a core and perhaps unrecognized component of the university’s mission,” Madden said. “The (Faculty Senate) executive committee has been meeting regularly since April with President Gallogly to discuss how we can improve diversity, equity and inclusion across campus, as well as how we bolster faculty scholarship.”
Gallogly has pointed to and praised the expanded undergraduate programs built before his appointment to the presidency, but says it is time to promote the graduate student experience. This is a goal that will be, by nature, intertwined with his objective to double research.
“We have a great undergraduate program here at OU — we’ve created a wonderful undergraduate experience,” Gallogly said. “It’s time to broaden that base and build out a more robust graduate program."
Along with the faculty, graduate students are intrigued but have been left waiting for details on how these ambitions will be implemented.
Carrie Pavlowsky, who serves as the chair of OU’s Graduate Student Senate, is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability. Pavlowsky said graduate students are enthusiastic about Gallogly’s intention.
“I’m very excited about it. I want graduate students to be more of a focus. After all, we are a part of the University of Oklahoma, and I want us to be more connected,” Pavlowsky said. “I am also just kind of waiting for specifics. It’s easy to say ‘Let’s double research,’ but it’s harder in practice.”
When it comes to specifics, Pavlowsky pointed to one area where the graduate student experience definitely could use some attention — cost.
Pavlowsky said while OU waives tuition costs for graduate research and teaching assistants, most schools also waive fees, something OU does not do for its graduate students.
“Quite honestly, the biggest issues graduate students have are fees,” Pavlowsky said. “We lose a lot of really good graduate students because they simply can’t afford to be here.”
Gallogly said a main reason he wants to revitalize the graduate program at OU is because OU can recruit strong undergraduate students to campus but can’t convince them to stay for their graduate work. Gallogly also says convincing graduate students to stay in Oklahoma benefits the state economically by bringing in new innovation.
“Those are the kinds of things that build university reputations,” Gallogly said. “When they rank universities, they often look to the graduate programs. There are also strong economic impacts of advanced graduate research depending on the type of research.”
The specifics on expanding the graduate student experience and doubling research is something Gallogly hinted in his Aug. 16 press conference would be on the horizon in the near future.
Meanwhile, faculty researchers like Fryar remain cautiously optimistic.
“As a scholar, I’m very curious about implementation,” Fryar said. “There’s no world in which you’ll always have enough money for research, and other institutions have been doing this for a very long time. So we’re going to be playing catch-up, and catch-up is expensive.”