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Leading Research Universities Report, January 15, 2023

Black and white picture of the MLK Jr. memorialAmerica’s Leading Research Universities Commemorate MLK Day with Events and Activities

Across the nation, America’s leading research universities are commemorating the life and legacy of civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today with events, activities, and service projects.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day offers colleges and universities an opportunity to emphasize the value of inclusivity, engaged citizenship, and collective action to the campus community. Pennsylvania State University, for example, is hosting a day of service “designed to engage students in their community and to answer the Dr. King quote: ‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?’” At Rice University, President Reginald DesRoches is joining Houston’s mayor to walk in the city’s annual “Original” MLK Day parade hosted by the Houston Black Heritage Society. The University of Virginia will also host a community walk to explore “historical sites connected to the local fight for civil rights,” while the University of Chicago will host Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, as the keynote speaker at its MLK Commemoration Celebration.

Picture of the Capitol buildingCongress Has Less Than a Week to Prevent a Partial Government Shutdown

Congress has less than a week to avoid a partial government shutdown on January 19. As The Washington Post noted, “funding for 20 percent of the government” (including for the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Energy) is set to expire that day, with funding for the rest of the government expiring on February 2.

Earlier this month, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced a $1.7 trillion bipartisan agreement to fund the government in FY24, but it is unlikely that lawmakers can write and pass the appropriations bills they need to in order to avoid a partial government shutdown on January 19 this week. “Unfortunately, it has become crystal clear that it will take more than a week to finish the appropriations process,” said Schumer.

The Senate took procedural steps last week to begin the process of passing a stopgap funding bill to keep the government open a little longer, but some House Republicans are pushing Speaker Johnson to back out of the bipartisan agreement and to seek additional cuts on spending, The Post reported. Members of the House Freedom Caucus are also pushing for restrictive immigration and border security measures, as well as other policy provisions, to be attached to any stopgap funding bill; such measures would make the bill harder to pass in a Democrat-controlled Senate.

Six AAU Universities Receive Sloan Grants to Transform STEM Doctoral Programs

Last week, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation announced that it is awarding $250,000 each to 10 universities in the United States to help transform STEM doctoral programs and “to remove entrenched barriers to student success, improve student outcomes, and create educational environments that are more effective and equitable for all.” Six of the 10 universities to receive the grants are AAU members, including the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Colorado, Boulder; The Ohio State University; the University of Pittsburgh; Purdue University; and the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

The institutions will use the grants to develop plans and to begin implementing policies and practices that help create “equitable and diverse physical science and engineering doctoral programs” and improve doctoral student “recruitment, retention, and graduation outcomes.” Following the end of an initial two-year period, institutions will be eligible to apply for additional implementation grants, including “scholarship funds for students in participating departments.”

FEATURED RESOURCE: The AAU PhD Education Initiative

a large old book with the pages open in an accordion styleNEH Announces Grants Supporting Humanities Projects Nationwide, Including at AAU Institutions

Last week, the National Endowment for the Humanities announced $33.8 million in grants for humanities projects nationwide; nearly 70 of the 260 funded projects are at AAU member institutions. 

The grants fund a variety of innovative projects in the humanities, including advanced research by faculty; cultural and historical preservation efforts; initiatives that support humanities learning and education; and programs and projects that encourage public engagement with the humanities. For example, a project at Columbia University will work to preserve the lived experiences of individuals in Rio Grande Valley, Texas, through long-form oral history interviews. A fellowship awarded to a Princeton University faculty member will support a book project on “the cultural, political, and legal history of cancer in America.” Another fellowship awarded to a University of Notre Dame faculty member will support a book project on how U.S. entertainment industries used “literary, visual, and sound techniques” to portray “teenage girlhood” in the 1930s-1950s. 

In a press statement, NEH Chair Shelly C. Lowe said: “This funding will help preserve and expand access to community histories, strengthen the ability of small museums and archives to serve the public, and provide resources and educational opportunities for students to engage with history, literature, languages, and cultures.” A full list of grant awards and offers can be found here

Picture of Win BoerckelWin Boerckel Joins AAU as Senior VP for Communications

Win Boerckel has joined AAU as the new senior vice president for communications. Prior to joining AAU, Boerckel was with the RAND Corporation, where he served as vice president for external affairs for nine years and, for four years prior to that, director of congressional relations. Before joining RAND, he served as chief of staff and policy director for Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) and as the D.C. chief of staff and legislative director for former Rep. Jerry Kleczka (D-WI). Boerckel holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Kenyon College, and he studied international politics and Renaissance literature at Exeter University in the United Kingdom.

As AAU’s senior vice president for communications, Boerckel will provide strategic communications leadership and management to advance the association’s priorities.

House Education Committee Advances the Pregnant Students’ Rights Act

Last week the House Committee on Education and the Workforce marked up the Pregnant Students’ Rights Act (H.R. 6914); the committee voted 24-17 along party lines to advance the bill. According to Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC), the bill “would require universities to disclose the protections and rights entitled to pregnant students on college campuses.” She noted that the bill “operates on the assumption that pregnant women, especially those facing the daunting uncertainty of an unexpected college pregnancy, should know all options available to them to help carry the baby to term.”

Democrats opposed the bill and argued that it limits rather than enhances access to information for students. “By requiring institutions of higher education to only share information that encourages students to carry a pregnancy to term, they are potentially unduly influencing a woman’s choice by keeping her in the dark about all options available to her,” said Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) in his opening statement during the mark-up.

News of Interest

AP News: Cardona Praises Dartmouth Culture in Allowing Freedom of Expression, Keeping Students Safe – U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona recently visited Dartmouth College and participated in a conversation with students about how universities can foster civil discourse on difficult topics, including the Israel-Hamas war. Secretary Cardona praised the university for creating a campus culture that empowers students and held it up as an example for others to follow. “Culture matters. Student voice matters and freedom of speech and safe campuses are not mutually exclusive,” he said.

BizJournals: Rice University Launches Synthetic Biology Institute, Aims to Partner with Health Care, Energy Companies – Rice University recently launched the Rice Synthetic Biology Institute to bolster its research in synthetic biology, a field that focuses on engineering living systems and organisms to give them new abilities or characteristics. The institute “demonstrates how everyone benefits when the top minds in natural sciences and engineering collaborate at a leading research university,” said Rice President Reginald DesRoches.

Forbes: Lilly Endowment Grants $100 Million to Purdue University, Its Largest Gift Ever – Purdue University announced last week that it has received $100 million – the largest gift ever in the university’s history – from the Lilly Endowment. The gift will support the Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr. School of Business and Purdue Computes, “an initiative that focuses on computing, artificial intelligence, and semiconductors.”

Inside Higher Ed: Survey: How AI Is Impacting Students’ Career Choices – A recent survey found that artificial intelligence is influencing what students plan to study in college, as well as what careers they plan to pursue. According to the survey, 14% of students say AI has “influenced them a lot” and 34% say AI has “influenced them somewhat” when it comes to “what they’re studying or plan to study in college.”

USA Today: After Soft Launch Challenges, FAFSA 2024-25 Form Is Now Available 24/7, Dept of Ed Says – The Department of Education announced last week that the “soft launch” period for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is over and that the form is now officially available 24/7. According to Secretary Cardona, “over one million students and families” filled out the revised FAFSA during the “soft launch” period.

Politico: NASA’s Next Moonshot: Ending Cancer – Astronauts on the International Space Station are taking advantage of the fact that “cells age faster in the absence of gravity” to conduct experiments on board that could “speed development” of cancer treatments. But the effort requires Congress to support NASA, which is facing funding cuts in FY24.

Featured Research

Siblings sitting on a couch looking away from each other

More Siblings Mean Poorer Mental Health for Teens

A new study led by The Ohio State University has found that, in both China and the United States, “teens from larger families have poorer mental health than those with fewer siblings.” According to the study’s lead author, the biggest reason for this is diminished “resources and attention from the parents.”

close up of half the face of an older man with wrinkles and white hair

Researchers Discover Potential Microbiome Links to Skin Aging

A new study carried out by researchers at the University of California, San Diego and the cosmetics company L’Oréal shows that skin aging may be connected to “the skin microbiome, the collection of microorganisms that inhabits our skin.” The research could lead to “novel and highly targeted recommendations for skin health.”

Stat of the Week


A graphic displaying a stat that says 19 out 20 US universities with the highest R&D spending are AAU institutions

AAU Members Lead Nation’s Universities in R&D Spending

AAU members are the biggest investors in research and development among all colleges and universities in the United States, according to a report released last November by the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. Nineteen of the 20 universities with the highest R&D spending, per the FY22 Higher Education Research and Development survey, are AAU institutions. Johns Hopkins University was the number-one spender, with $3.42 billion in R&D expenditures; the University of Pennsylvania was third, with $1.79 billion in spending; and the University of Michigan was close behind, with $1.77 billion in spending.