From the way the University of Texas at Austin’s boosters latch on to a bit of marketing jargon, bragging about their school’s invented standing as a “nationally recognized tier one research institution,” you’d almost think the term meant something. The truth is that the state’s best attempt at a public university ranks fifty-second in the nation.
So the school effaces its conspicuous mediocrity by talking up its research, the hundreds of millions of dollars spent each year supporting its globe-spanning research projects and world-class research libraries filled with millions of volumes (of research, for researchers). In one five-minute promotional video, I heard the word research 33 times.
The university’s president, Bill Powers, is the chair of the nation’s largest association of research universities, and his supporters hold him out as a champion of free inquiry. So it’s no small irony that this cult of research has waged a brutal campaign against a reform-minded university regent named Wallace Hall with this accusation: He has been doing too much research.