I am heading to Ann Arbor, Michigan to visit the University of Michigan. I just completed Jonathan Cole's The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, and Why It Must Be Protected (2010). Cole reinforces the point that the American research university is arguably the world's most powerful engine of innovation and discovery. If you would add up all the companies started by MIT alumni (something like 4,000 companies) - - they would rank as the 24th largest country in terms of economic power.
Cole points out several elements and traits that make for a great research university:
- Faculty Research Productivity - - Great universities, almost by definition, require highly productive faculty members.
- Quality and Impact of Research - - Without sheer talent and a critical mass of it, a research university by definition cannot achieve greatness.
- Grant and Contract Support - - The total annual amount of grant and contract support, especially in the sciences and engineering, is a good indicator of the intensity and level of research at a university.
- Access to Highly Qualified Students - - This factor represents one of the comparative advantages that private elite universities have over otherwise equally impressive state universities.
- Excellence in Teaching - - Excellence in teaching and excellence in research are compatible and mutually reinforcing.
- Honorific Awards - - Faculty recognition by peers is an important benchmark for the quality of work that is conducted at a university and receipt of prestigious awards is an indicator of this recognition.
- Physical Facilities and Advanced Information Technologies - - Talented academics need facilities in order to reach their research potential.
- Large Endowments and Plentiful Resources - - Money talks in higher education, as everywhere else.
- Large Academic Departments - - The sheer number of faculty members in a program correlates strongly with reputation of the program.
- Free Inquiry and Academic Freedom - - A research university cannot thrive without a deeply ingrained culture of free inquiry and academic freedom.
- Location - - Location, Location, Location.
- Contributions to the Public Good - - Research universities that are trying to deal with global problems of great magnitude are gaining recognition for their efforts.
- Excellent Leadership - - Bold, decisive, entrepreneurial, and indefatigable leadership is an essential ingredient for a preeminent university.