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. . . OR LAST LAUGH? U. OFFICIALS SAY FACTS CONFIRM SCHOOL’S CREDENTIALS

SHARE . . . OR LAST LAUGH? U. OFFICIALS SAY FACTS CONFIRM SCHOOL’S CREDENTIALS

If you're a Utahn who gets no respect, don't take it personally. It could be because you are from Utah.

A "Perry Como kind of place," hopelessly stuck in the 50s, where the streets and attitudes are squeaky clean, and provincial views prevail, is how some out-of-staters view the Beehive State.Utahns oftentimes aren't taken seriously. Thus, the stature of their research institutions sometimes suffers.

Ask researchers at the University of Utah whose scientific discoveries - such as the artificial heart and cold nuclear fusion - have risen faster than the institution's public reputation.

Although naysayers have had a heyday poking jokes at hicks from Utah, officials say the facts tell the real story about the institution and its researchers.

(BU) The Carnegie Foundation ranks the U. as one of 50 "comprehensive research universities" out of about 3,400 U.S. institutions of higher education.

(BU) Since 1980, the U. has consistently ranked between 30th and 35th in the nation - and around 20th among state universities - in "total federal obligations," as reported by the National Science Foundation.

(BU) On a per-capita basis, Utah easily leads the region in federal obligations, attracting $86 per state resident, compared to New Mexico, $74; Colorado, $63; and Arizona, $46.

(BU) With 13 percent of the region's population, Utah does 20 percent of the federal research.

Officials offer more evidence.

Some U. departments outpace institution-wide rankings. Chemistry, the department in which fusion researcher and electrochemist B. Stanley Pons is a professor, is a good example.

The American Chemical Society recently reported that the department ranks first in the nation among state university chemistry departments in federal research funding per faculty member. The U.'s 29 chemistry professors have an average of $165,000 each in federal grants.

The U., like all research universities, wears two hats, says Peter F. Smith, public affairs director for the Association of American Universities. "It performs research and it teaches. It's unfair to measure productivity by the number of hours faculty spend teaching because they spend many hours doing research. But they don't do research to amuse themselves."

As the apparent fusion discovery shows, research "has enormous societal benefit and economic spinoff," Smith says.

But Hugo Rossi, former dean of the College of Science, said there are down sides to research. Many freshman and sophomore classes are large. A University study showed the majority of freshmen have no outside-class contact with faculty. But a research institution also has its benefits: the faculty is more specialized; learning is up-to-date; future researchers receive invaluable education; and many get on-the-job training at firms in Research Park.

Officials say that all Utahns, not just students, reap benefits from research.

While total federal and private research on Utah campuses comes to perhaps $200 million, the activity has helped spawn a larger, private "research corridor," stretching from Utah State University in Logan to Brigham Young University in Provo.

Total research and development in Utah (including the campuses) generates about $800 million and employs about 35,000, says R. Thayne Robson, director of the U's Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

"It is not inappropriate to view the research, science and technical capability embedded in our research institutions as Utah's biggest economic asset," he says. "And among those institutions, the University of Utah is the crown jewel."