News | 6 November 2019

Radical excellence: UC Santa Cruz joins Association of American Universities


Membership in the association underscores the impact and influence of the university’s research

The University of California, Santa Cruz, has joined the Association of American Universities, an achievement that underscores the impact and quality of the campus’s research and graduate and undergraduate education. Membership in the AAU provides UC Santa Cruz greater opportunity to shape and advocate for the future of higher education.

The association, founded in 1900, has 65 members, including six other UCs, flagship public universities such as Ohio State University, land-grant universities like Purdue University, and private institutions, such as Harvard. This is the first time the association has invited new members since 2012.

“UC Santa Cruz has long been known for the pioneering and transformational research of its faculty, students and staff across and between disciplines. Election to the AAU is a formal acknowledgment of the power that comes from applying diverse perspectives to the world’s biggest challenges” said UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia Larive. “Our research and commitment to student success are united and animated by our social justice mission and I am proud that AAU membership follows our recent recognition for contributions to student social mobility. That this is an honor conferred by our peers makes it especially rewarding.”

In deciding whether to invite a university to join, the association evaluates a range of indicators, such as research funding, faculty awards and honors, citations, doctoral education, undergraduate education and more. Dartmouth College and the University of Utah are being welcomed to the AAU along with UC Santa Cruz.

“AAU’s membership is limited to institutions at the forefront of scientific inquiry and educational excellence,” said AAU President Mary Sue Coleman. “These world-class institutions are a welcome addition, and we look forward to working with them as we continue to shape policy for higher education, science, and innovation.”

UC Santa Cruz is known for radical excellence in groundbreaking research and creative scholarship that challenges conventional thinking. The strong commitment to progressive higher education, social justice, and sustainability pervades the academic work of the campus and daily life.

Among its many high impact accomplishments, the campus published online the first working draft of the human genome and made key contributions to the discovery of the Higgs Boson. The agroecology program remains a leader in the organic food movement, and every summer, hundreds of people visit the residential campus for the Dickens Universe.

Eleven faculty members are members of the National Academy of Sciences, 24 are members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and 35 have been elected as fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The high impact research conducted at UC Santa Cruz complements the campus’s guiding commitment to access and student success. U.S. News and World Report ranks UC Santa Cruz No. 2 among universities in the nation for promoting social mobility. The ranking is determined by how well a university enrolls and graduates low-income students.

UC Santa Cruz was designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution in 2015 and since then has worked to develop programs to support students from all backgrounds and has been awarded more than $11 million in federal grants that support student success and equity initiatives.

The campus continues to work hard to ensure equitable access to quality higher education. Roughly a third of UC Santa Cruz undergraduates will be among the first in their families to earn a four-year degree.

In 2018-19, UC Santa Cruz secured more than $165 million in research funding and more than half a billion dollars over the past five years. More than 200 students earned doctorates in the arts, engineering, humanities, physical and biological sciences, and social sciences in the previous academic year.

Securing membership in the AAU was a long-term goal for Chancellor Emeritus George Blumenthal, who stepped down in June. Under Blumenthal, the campus established 16 new endowed faculty chairs during its comprehensive fundraising campaign. Endowed chairs are essential to recruiting and retaining the best faculty members, and providing them with the resources and freedom to test new ideas, Blumenthal said.

“For well over a decade, UC Santa Cruz has aspired to have its outstanding work recognized through an invitation to join the AAU,” Blumenthal said. “I am so pleased and excited by today’s news, which recognized that the quality of our campus academic activities places us among the nation’s elite universities.”

AAU’s 65 research universities transform lives through education, research, and innovation. The association notes that the universities earn the majority of competitively awarded federal funding for academic research and are educating tomorrow’s visionary leaders and global citizens.

“This well-deserved recognition underscores UC Santa Cruz’s standing as a premier research institution, furthering education, advancing science, and contributing to American society and beyond,” said UC President Janet Napolitano. “With Santa Cruz’s election, seven of the 65 AAU universities are UC – an unparalleled distinction in which all Californians can take extraordinary pride.”

Along with UC Irvine, UC Santa Cruz is the youngest university to gain admittance to the AAU. This early invitation recognizes the radical excellence of a new kind of university serving a new generation of students.