Michael Wells
by Michael Wells
Tue Dec 1st 2009 at 4:06pm UTC

Bragging Rights in Academia

School and study on a laptop

This Thursday, the University of Oregon and Oregon State will play the “Civil War” game with the highest stakes ever – the winner goes to the Rose Bowl. But for non-jocks there’s a more interesting competition, which a story in last week’s Oregonian covered: the bragging rights in academia.

For 100 years until about 10-15 years ago, this was a settled question. The U of O was the academic flagship and OSU was the backwater agriculture school. But things have changed and now it depends on who you ask. U of O is still the state’s leading humanities, arts, and science institution. But OSU brought in twice the research funding that U of O did last year.

OSU got stronger in engineering, attracting high-tech companies like HP to Corvallis. OSU built the Hatfield Marine Science Center to do research in Newport on the Oregon Coast. Oregon State became a Sea Grant University to match its Land Grant status and hit the jackpot last summer when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced it’s moving its Pacific Marine Operations Center to Newport – potentially making it “Woods Hole West.”

What makes this interesting is the shift that may be taking place in academia. While the “old school” schools like U of O rested on their laurels, other public institutions like OSU went off in new directions.

Or in my hometown, Portland State University was long held down by the rural-dominated legislature which, encouraged by U of O and OSU, set enrollment caps and forbid campus housing to keep PSU a commuter school. One of the results was that, in the 1960s, faced with state rules that no public university could duplicate programs offered by another, PSU launched its first Ph.D. programs in areas like Systems Science and Urban Studies. These were the dregs the other schools didn’t want at the time, but that are now hot.

Here’s a bit from the Oregonian story. Unfortunately they didn’t put the chart that was in the print version online:

While neither university is considered among the world’s best, they’re both good schools with plenty of bragging rights, says David Longanecker, president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, which works to improve college access and success in 15 states.

“In most states, the ‘university of’ school is considered the uppity institution, and the ’state university’ is considered the institution of the people,” Longanecker says. “It’s less clear in Oregon. They really seem to be head-to-head competitors.”

What sets OSU apart is its more than $250 million in research funding in 2008-09. It was No. 87 in the nation for research funding in 2006, according to the National Science Foundation. UO came in at No. 157.

Still, UO outranks OSU on the annual U.S. News & World Report rankings and has the edge on some other measures, such as fund-raising and graduation rate.

OSU is known for its marine science, agriculture, engineering and geoscience programs, among others. UO’s distinguishing programs include natural sciences, architecture, business and education.

Do others notice this happening elsewhere? Consider UC Davis, long the poor country cousin of Berkeley and UCLA but now gaining respect academically. Are the big traditional universities staying stodgy and losing out  to more nimble schools?

6 Responses to “Bragging Rights in Academia”

  1. Mr. Me Says:

    Arizona State and Florida State are catching up to their respective U-of schools, though the gap isn’t as narrow as it’s become in Oregon.

  2. stuart mease Says:

    I have studied this in the past. Comparing Virginia Tech and Virginia, VT leads and has a commitment to being a Top 30 research school in funding… It’s really hard to break into that group without a medical school, which VT does not have. However, they are now forming more and more partnerships with others to obtain that piece of the sponsored research pie.

    Great post and it is indeed an important topic of conversation in academia.

  3. Michael Wells Says:

    Here’s a bit more on OSU in Newport. The impact on a sleepy fishing and former lumber town is immense.

    http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2009/09/woods_hole_of_the_west_thats_w.html

  4. 091203 In The Know | johnsumser.com Says:

    [...] Bragging Rights In Academia Is there a change coming in the status of US Universities? There’s at least some research that suggests that the old school strong reputation institutions have been resting on their laurels while more agile competitors (formerly the second class citizens) have been more agile in their development of programs andd research. Are you validating the quality of your talent supply line? [...]

  5. Sean Creighton Says:

    Portland State has certainly become a leading urban research university. With the motto-Let Knowledge Serve the City-it deserves bragging rights, not to mention the Miller Fnd challenge gift of $25 million it received; perhaps the largest single gift to sustainability in American higher education history. I imagine the addition of President Wiewel will propel the university further as a national leader in urban engagement.

  6. 091203 In The Know v1.04 | HR Examiner with John Sumser Says:

    [...] Bragging Rights In Academia Is there a change coming in the status of US Universities? There’s at least some research that suggests that the old school strong reputation institutions have been resting on their laurels while more agile competitors (formerly the second class citizens) have been more agile in their development of programs andd research. Are you validating the quality of your talent supply line? [...]