The Association of American Universities announced Thursday that Robert M. Berdahl would become the group's new president, taking office in the spring.
Berdahl has already led two of the group's members: the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Texas at Austin. The AAU consists of 62 leading research universities and its efforts in Washington have been influential on federal research policy and other issues, such as visas for foreign students and intellectual property issues.
His top agenda item, Berdahl said, would be "raising the level of consciousness in the country and in Washington about the role that research universities play in the competitiveness and capacity of the United States to sustain a vibrant economy and a position of leadership. If you look at what is happening in China or Singapore or anywhere, you see that the countries have recognized that their futures depend on an educated populace and a real capacity in terms of research, and we are going to face more competition, and going to find ourselves struggling in the years ahead to sustain the levels of research capacity in this country."
Some problems facing research universities don't come from Washington. Berdahl's entire career has been at public universities and he has spoken out numerous times about the concern that inadequate funding is putting top public universities at risk of losing some of their quality. Berdahl said that while this is a "state by state issue," he hoped AAU could demonstrate to lawmakers the importance of maintaining top research institutions.
Many universities that are not in AAU view membership in the association as a goal to aspire to. Berdahl said that he expected there to be some growth over time in membership, but he also said that the membership criteria were focused on "the very strongest in terms of research profile and graduate education."
Berdahl will succeed Nils Hasselmo, who announced his retirement in September. Hasselmo has been president of AAU since 1998.