There are many published "rankings" of universities, most of which are highly flawed in their methodology. Many use reputational surveys, which are subject to "halo" effects. That is, if given the opportunity, people will rank Harvard's agriculture program highly, despite the fact that Harvard has no such program. The perception of Harvard's high quality thus provides a "halo" that includes anything associated with the name of such a prestigious institution. But reputations are sometimes out of sync with reality, and such rankings tend to favor older private universities. The much-cited U.S. News ranking, for instance, relies on reputational rankings for many of its listings. It also focuses exclusively on undergraduate numbers.
The University at Buffalo, on the other hand, is a major public research institution, with a strong emphasis on research and graduate and professional education, in addition to a comprehensive undergraduate program. So what measures can we consult to know just how good we are? The Center (http://TheCenter.ufl.edu/research_data.html), is an independent body that studies quality in major research universities. It defines a major research university as one that spent at least $20 million of federal research dollars last year. There are 154 major research universities in the United States: 106 public universities and 48 private. Being in this group puts a university in the big leagues, and UB is in this group.
Competition for the federal research dollars at the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense and other federal agencies is intense, with the very best scientists competing against one another for grants. Thus, receiving these grants is a measure of quality, as well as a measure of research activity. Last year the University at Buffalo ranked 35th among public research universities with $85,490,000 in federal research dollars expended. We are focusing intense effort on increasing these dollars, which will allow us to do more research, one of our main missions.
In total research dollars last year, we ranked 32nd among the major public research universities with $166,823,000 expended. Total research includes investigations funded by the federal government, plus those funded by corporations, foundations, state and local government and the institution itself. Research funding by corporations and foundations is also highly competitive and a measure of quality. These numbers show we are in the top third of the major public research universities in total research dollars. The numbers are impressive, especially if we take into account size. While New Yorkers think of UB as a large public university, in actuality we are small compared to the major publics. We are about half the size of the biggest public universities in this country (such as the University of Texas, University of Minnesota and Ohio State). One of our aims is to increase our faculty numbers to allow us to compete at the highest level. We plan on increasing faculty size without increasing the undergraduate student body.
Looking at research dollars per faculty is difficult because there is no good national data on numbers of faculty. However, the association that accredits medical schools provides accurate comparative data, and UB is eighth in the nation in research dollars per faculty in the medical school. With a smaller medical school faculty, we are at a disadvantage when total research dollars per medical school are compared, but our high quality faculty is extremely productive as shown by the research dollars per faculty and also by the results of their investigations. Significant biomedical advances by UB professors include the PSA test, Avonex (interferon treatment for multiple sclerosis), artificial blood, Nicorette gum and timed-release insulin therapy.
Measured in part by research activity, faculty quality can also be measured by awards faculty receive. There are national competitions for certain awards, for example, NSF CAREER awards, National Endowment for the Humanities fellows, and Guggenheim fellows. UB ranked 22nd among the major public research universities in the number of these awards received last year, which is particularly impressive given our smaller size.
One area where we have much room to improve is annual giving. We ranked 79th among public research universities, and 148th among all research universities in annual giving last year. Currently, in the midst of a capital campaign, we are hoping to increase private support. The very best public universities achieved their quality not through state support, but by generating income from non-state sources.
While we are particularly small at the undergraduate level, we are relatively large in numbers of graduate and professional students, ranking 38th in number of graduate students and 26th in number of professional students of all major research universities. Last year we ranked 27th among public research universities in number of Ph.D.s granted. The number of Ph.D. degrees awarded is used nationally as a measure of research productivity and quality because the Ph.D. is a research degree, requiring original research with a dissertation subject to strict review.
Our strength also lies in the breadth of our programs, allowing us to excel in the interdisciplinary programs where the cutting edge of science currently moves fastest. We have bioinformatics, biomedical engineering, photonics and many interdisciplinary degree programs. Only a third of the major research universities have both a medical and engineering school, two schools that are key to much of modern biotechnology. In the future we will capitalize on these strengths and build on the excellence that is here at UB already.
Elizabeth D. Capaldi
Provost, University at Buffalo