A state university needs to focus less on becoming a national rising star and more on developing local enterprises which combine research and teaching, University of Utah President Chase N. Peterson says.
The public is increasingly asking what its local university has been doing for it lately, and answers about national contributions and reputations fall on half-deaf ears, Peterson recently told colleagues at the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges convention held in Washington, D.C."We cannot be greater than we are local," said Peterson, who is serving as the association's president this year.
The U. president urged the college presidents to remember the humble origins of the state and land-grant universities in 1862. He said they were established by the Lund Act "with provisions for extension in our localities."
The tremendous growth at state universities in the last decades could collapse if educators fail to recognize discrepancies between local and national agendas and between perceptions and reality.
In the past, the association's members were small regional or local colleges with a secure local base and a modest or non-existent national reputation. Peterson said many state universities, with multiple areas of nationally recognized excellence, may now have clearer and stronger reputations in national centers of academia than in their nearby neighborhoods.
"If our research is nationally respected, but our local teaching and local contributions are in disarray, it is not difficult to predict the (academic) beanstalk will collapse," he said.
Peterson said that to strengthen a university's local base, its administrators ought to invest more in the institution's occupants - faculty, students, researchers and teachers - than in the institution per se.
A university focused singly on a rising national reputation will hire faculty by their scholarly reputation, but one building a national reputation on a broad community base will look for collegiate nurturers as well as scholars.
"Maybe our level of national greatness is something to be appreciated but not hypnotically pursued. There are indeed a few great universities, but greatness increasingly may be measured by the quality of a single member of the faculty or a small circle of his or her colleagues," he said.