WASHINGTON -- In its early days, the Association of American Universities tended to turn to presidents and provosts of private universities for its leaders. For its last two presidents, the association of 61 U.S. and 2 Canadian research universities has raided the ranks of leading public institutions, which make up a majority of its members. Monday, for its sixth chief executive, AAU turned to one of the small but growing cadre of campus presidents who have led institutions on both sides of the line.
Hunter R. Rawlings III will replace Robert M. Berdahl as the association's president on June 1, AAU announced Monday.  The classicist retired from campus administration in 2006 after his second stint as Cornell University's president (the main one from 1995 to 2003, and a second filling in after the sudden resignation  of his successor, Jeffrey Lehman); previously he had headed the University of Iowa and held several administrative posts at the University of Colorado at Boulder. (Note: This article has been updated from an earlier version to correct an error.)
Rawlings "understands from experience the relationships between both public and private universities and their communities and government at the state and national level," said Jared L. Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University and chair of AAU's board.
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In an interview Monday, Rawlings said he had decided to leave the comfortable world of scholarship and the classroom in which he's been largely entrenched for the last five years because he wanted to "give back" to AAU and to higher education -- and because he was concerned that lawmakers and the public have lost some of their appreciation for the importance of the country's research universities.
Rawlings, a member of the National Research Council’s Committee on Research Universities,  was careful not to overstate the severity of the situation. "The word 'crisis' gets overused, and I don't think it's accurate" in this instance, "but it is a difficult time, and budgets are extremely challenged right now, particularly for state institutions," Rawlings said. "We have great, great public universities in this country. Great institutions take a long time to build, and they remain very strong even in tough times. But there is a lot of anxiety that some of our great publics could begin to lose some of their stature."
He added: "We need to make very clear, not only to the Congress and the [Obama] administration, but to the public, that these are jewels, great jewels.... We have to get this message out in a very forceful way, and in a transparent way -- a way that everybody understands. We're not always best at that; we are capable of academia-speech."