I want to take this opportunity to make some observations about the nature and mission of the University of St. Thomas — about what we are today and where we are going in the years ahead.
There has been a good deal of discussion about this issue recently, and some confusion, prompted by the Carnegie Foundation’s reclassification of St. Thomas last year.
In a recent meeting, the academic deans raised the question in this way: "Now that we are in the second tier of Doctoral/Research-Intensive Universities, what do you see as our next step? Is our reclassification going to shift expectations for faculty? What is it going to take for us to move up in the rankings? Are we going to be able to accomplish this move, and at what cost?"
In responding to this set of questions, it is important first to distinguish between the Carnegie Foundation’s classification and the U.S. News and World Report rankings.
Last year, Carnegie revised its classification, dividing its doctoral/research category into two categories — Doctoral/Research-Extensive and Doctoral/Research-Intensive. In the course of making these changes, Carnegie reclassified St. Thomas from a "Master’s Comprehensive University" to a "Doctoral/ Research-Intensive University." It did so because we confer sufficient doctoral degrees each year (more than 30) to qualify as a "doctoral" university. At the same time, the number of doctoral programs offered (less than 15) puts us in the Doctoral/Research-Intensive category, not the Doctoral/Research-Extensive category. (Institutions with a wide range of doctoral programs, like the University of Minnesota, are in the extensive category.)
The Carnegie Foundation classifies institutions, but it doesn’t make any attempt to rank them. U.S. News and World Report ranks institutions on the basis of a complicated (and, I might say, controversial) scoring system.
In the past, U.S. News and World Report has used the Carnegie classification as a way of separating different types of institutions, putting all the doctoral/research institutions (such as the University of Minnesota) into a "national" category and master’s comprehensive institutions (such as St. Thomas) into one of several regional comprehensive categories. Liberal arts colleges (such as Carleton) are placed in national or regional categories based on of their selectivity and scope of student recruitment.
When the Carnegie Foundation changed its classification, U.S. News and World Report did not adjust its categories to take account of it (and we do not know if it will do so in the future). As a result, St. Thomas, by virtue of the addition of the Doctoral/Research-Intensive category to the Carnegie classification and our placement in it, ended up in U.S. News’ "national university" category. Our "move" to a national category was not something we sought — nor did it result from any agency’s objective evaluation of how well we are doing what we do. Having been placed in the national university category by U.S. News, we were fortunate enough to land in the second of four tiers.
This reclassification has resulted in two misperceptions.
First, there is the misperception that we aspire to be a "national" university in our scope of service. This is not the case. We remain an urban university. This means that we are not only "in" the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, but "of" the cities. This metropolitan area and the Upper Midwest region it serves continue to be our primary service area. This means that our agenda is set by the needs of this region. It also means that, unlike Macalester and Carleton (two "national liberal arts colleges") we will not direct our programming or our recruiting of students toward the nation as a whole. On the other hand, we do aspire to have a national reputation for quality, and we already have some programs — in entrepreneurship, Catholic studies and software engineering — that are national leaders.
The second misperception is that we are evolving from a comprehensive university into a research university. This is not the case. Yes, we have been placed in the "Doctoral/ Research-Intensive" category in Carnegie’s classification. But we are not becoming a "research" university in terms of our mission. As mentioned above, our change in classification came about because we confer 30 or more doctoral degrees a year, but only in three disciplines — education, professional psychology and ministry.
Our Carnegie classification may have changed, but certain things remain the same:
First, our graduate degrees are mostly professional in nature, and our doctoral degrees are exclusively professional. We do not offer the Ph.D. — and there are no plans to do so.
Second, teaching is still our priority, although faculty are encouraged to engage the profession through scholarship. There is solid support among our faculty for a broad definition of what constitutes research and scholarship.
Third, the kind of scholarship done by faculty and students in our graduate programs is typically more applied research than basic research.
Fourth, our library collections will continue to be designed for the needs of a comprehensive university — not a research or Ph.D.-granting institution.
Our mission remains the same. It rests on four pillars:
- Comprehensive (not research) and urban (not national)
- Liberal arts foundation
- Career education
Our Carnegie classification and our U.S. News and World Report category changed because the Carnegie Foundation decided to redesign its classification system. It would be most inappropriate for us to change our mission because of the decisions of an outside group, even one as prestigious as the Carnegie Foundation. I want to assure you that we have not done so.
I noted above that U.S. News and World Report placed us in the second tier of the national university category, and the question has been raised about our plans for improving our ranking. I am happy to tell you that no such plans are necessary. In the first tier of national universities, the institutions are ranked numerically. However, in the second, third and fourth tiers, schools are listed alphabetically. I see no need, therefore, to strive to move up in our ranking (unless we want to change our name so that it starts with A instead of U). Neither do I see a need to make the first tier at this point in our history.
Instead, our efforts in the years ahead will focus on:
- Preparing strategically for the demographic changes expected in the next two decades;
- Continuing to develop endowed and annual resources for student financial aid;
- Continuing to focus on strengthening programs and improving quality, especially through increasing our endowment;
- Positioning ourselves to respond quickly to opportunities for growth and evolution — particularly at the graduate level — as the needs of the community change.