Association of American Universities

The University of Texas is planning on conducting a survey through the Association of American Universities in order to learn more about the nature of sexual assault on campus. UT is one of 28 other schools distributing the survey after the other 32 American universities in the AAU decided not to participate. In addition to the AAU survey, which will cost the University approximately $87,500, UT will be conducting its own survey later in the year, the price of which has yet to be determined. While some are critiquing the surveys for their hefty cost, the move should also be praised for making UT a safer campus, especially for the female students. 

College campuses are frequently cited as dangerous places for women, and with the recent indictment of two ex-UT football players on charges of sexual assault, Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander, this issue of safety on campus is becoming all the more important. According to a 2001 report from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, women on college campuses are more likely to be assaulted than women in the general population. And Katherine Hirsch’s study titled “Fraternities of Fear: Gang Rape, Male Bonding, and the Silencing of Women” estimated that one in four college women will be assaulted during their academic career. While this reality is sobering, UT is taking the first steps toward addressing the issue through the surveys.  

By conducting the survey, the University is aiming to create a more secure campus by determining the nature of sexual assault on campus as well as possible preventive measures. While immediate change cannot be expected, the move is a step in the right direction for UT, especially with many other school deciding to forgo the survey.  

So far, the move has been met with general positivity from women on campus.  

“I like that they’re doing it!” neuroscience and psychology senior Dax Fisher-Garibay said. “I appreciate that they are trying to make the campus safer...and looking for answers.”  

Neuroscience junior Tasmin Akhtar also seemed optimistic, saying “[the surveys] should make the campus safer and more comfortable for not only victims and sexual assault survivors but also people vulnerable to assault.”  

However, the survey has also been received with some apprehension. “I don’t know if a survey would make me feel safer,” advertising senior Kate Dickerson said. “It would depend on what they did with the results.” 

Some students are critical because they think the survey will not produce tangible results. Fisher-Garibay couldn’t help worrying the survey “won’t change anything.” She worries that the University of Texas may not be willing to go through everything necessary in order to properly prevent sexual assault.  

“[The answers to ending assault] are too broad. I’m nervous UT won’t know what to do with the answers,” Fisher-Garibay said.  

Akhtar expressed concerns as well. “I do feel better that the campus is focusing on prevention,” she said, “as long as they’re educating about rape culture and avoiding victim-blaming.”  

According to Paul E. Pezza and Ann Bellotti in their study entitled “College Campus Violence: Origins, Impacts, and Responses,” the best way to prevent violence is through developed and strong communities and thorough educational programs. Other suggestions to prevent assault have included a more present police force. Each of these things will no doubt be expensive, and, if the survey concludes UT needs them, some students aren’t sure that the University will follow through if the cost is deemed excessive.  

While the survey is a good step in the right direction, it will only make a difference if UT is willing to follow up on the results. If UT is willing to spend so much to discover solutions to the issue of on campus violence, it should also be willing to spend in order to follow through with these solutions. While a step in the right direction, the surveys are not the be-all and end-all to solving the issue of safety on campus.  

“UT needs to own up to the level of safety on campus,” Dickerson said. Depending on how UT handles the results of the surveys, perhaps it will. Hopefully, once it receives the results of the survey, UT will keep in mind that it can’t put a price on the safety of its female students.  

Ferguson is an English and art history junior from Austin. Follow Ferguson on Twitter @LaurenFerg2

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

On Monday, the Texan reported that the University will participate in a comprehensive study by the Association of American Universities (AAU) to measure the prevalence of sexual assault on campus. On principle, this decision is a good one, as those of us on campus should know the extent of this horrendous epidemic predominantly affecting young women. Last year, when the federal government released a bombshell report indicting 85 colleges for doing far too little about this issue, UT Austin was not included (though UT Pan American, one of our sister schools, did make the list). Still, the extent of this problem on the 40 Acres needs to be measured in an accurate and comprehensive way.

Accordingly, we believe the AAU survey is not the correct way to do just that. Already, a majority of the member universities of this organization have opted out of the survey, which cost an enormous $87,500, because of concerns over its implementation. These have mainly included the alleged lack of experience in dealing with sexual assault assessment on the part of those who designed the survey. The Texan article noted that critics point to only two experienced members of the advisory committee.

However, perhaps more importantly, we have concerns with the lack of individuality required in the AAU survey. The organization will allow for very limited customization from university to university when it comes to the actual content of the survey. Accordingly, in response to criticisms, the University announced that — most likely by the end of this year — it would commission their own comprehensive survey. This one, with a price tag to be determined, would focus far more substantially on the complex nuances of this campus in particular. We think this survey will provide far more helpful and eye-opening data on the plague of sexual assault around campus.

All this begs the question of, in that case, why the AAU survey is needed in the first place. UT spokesman Gary Susswein was confident, however, that there was “no downside in doing the [AAU] survey.” We disagree.

The University should take the small fortune required to implement the AAU survey and instead invest that money in its own survey. That way, instead of two watered-down products that only tell part of the story, perhaps the University will be able to gauge a more comprehensive and accurate overview of the prevalence of sexual assault here.

Sexual assault is a terrible problem at universities across this country, including this one. A great deal of action needs to be taken to address it, including accurately gauging its prevalence on campus. The best way to do that is by a unique, comprehensive study, not a derided cookie-cutter method being implemented around the country.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this editorial was unclear about the expertise of those who designed the AAU survey. This has been corrected above.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

UT will participate in a nationwide campus sexual assault survey that many of its peer institutions rejected, followed by a second, in-house survey later this year, to gather information about the prevalence of sexual assault on campus.  

The survey, conducted by the Association of American Universities, will be designed to help university officials better understand sexual assault on college campuses. Some institutions have expressed concern that the survey, which will cost each university $87,500, will not be specific enough to address the needs of each individual campus.

UT is one of 60 members of the AAU, and President William Powers Jr. serves as the group’s former chairman. Of the 60 member institutions in the United States, only 27 members — and one non-member university — agreed to distribute the survey. Powers announced UT’s participation during a faculty council meeting last week.

16 policy researchers from 13 universities expressed their problems with the AAU survey in a Nov. 17 letter, alleging that only two members of the advisory committee that designed the survey have experience in sexual assault assessment. 

“We are writing to you to ask urgently that each of you not commit to signing an $85,000 contract on a sexual assault and campus climate survey with a consultant for the [AAU],” the letter read. “Accuracy of data regarding sexual violence has been known for years to be very sensitive to the way it is measured … we have [concerns] about the not-yet-designed AAU survey, which neither academic experts nor university presidents have seen.”

Barry Toiv, vice president of public affairs at AAU, said each participating university will receive its own institutional data, while aggregate data about all 27 participating universities will be made public.

Toiv said each university will be allowed to include a few institution-specific questions in the survey their students receive.

“Except in one respect, the survey will be identical to all institutions,” Toiv said. “Each university will be able to individualize five questions, so they can focus on specific programs, offices, policies at their own institutions that may have certain needs.”

Beyond the AAU survey, the University will conduct its own sexual assault climate survey that will provide more campus-specific results, according to UT spokesman Gary Susswein. Susswein said UT officials hope to conduct the campus-specific survey next fall and said the second survey’s cost is still unknown.

“The AAU questions will be used across universities as part of [their] own survey,” Susswein said. “But by doing our own survey, we’re hoping to get a fuller picture of what’s going on around campus.”

Steve Kloehn, associate vice president of news and public affairs at the University of Chicago, said UChicago chose to develop its own survey in place of the AAU survey. Kloehn said the university would prefer to use techniques developed by their own staff.

“University of Chicago has announced plans to undertake its own climate survey, which will be shaped in part by a committee of our own faculty members who have a particular expertise and understanding of our culture and the needs of this campus,” Kloehn said.

Toiv acknowledged the cost of performing a large survey between dozens of universities, but said the $87,500 operating cost is justified. 

“The truth is that quality research of this kind, particularly research involving this many potential participants, is expensive,” Toiv said. “One of the things that makes it expensive is the effort that goes into notifying, encouraging students to participate.”

Despite the criticism the survey has generated, Susswein said the UT administration felt it was a good investment toward understanding sexual assault on campus.

“We understand that there was a robust conversation, but we do believe that participating is the best option for our university,” Susswein said. “There’s really no downside in doing this survey.”

Clarification: This article has been amended from its original version. There are 62 member instutitions of the AAU, including two Canadian institutions. The survey was only offered to U.S. members. Further, each university will receive institution-specific survey results, while aggregate data will be released publicly. 

Today, President William Powers Jr. was elected chair of the Association of American Universities. His term begins immediately and lasts for one year. Powers will continue to serve in his capacity as UT’s president.

Powers just finished his term as vice chair for the association, a collective of 62 research institutions, which includes both private and public universities.

As chair of the association, Powers will advocate for higher education and research initiatives at the top schools across the nation and explain the value of such issues to the public, said Hunter Rawlings, president of the AAU in a statement.

Powers will continue to lead the AAU in discussing issues facing these institutions’ graduate and undergraduate programs, working to create policy for effective change and emphasizing the role of research in higher education conversations.

“It’s a great honor and opportunity to lead the AAU at a time when higher education is confronting tremendous transformation in everything from funding to technology,” Powers said in a statement. “AAU schools are working to embrace changes while always remaining true to their core values of providing a world-class education and cultivating world-class research.”

UT President William Powers Jr. was elected vice-chair of the Association of American Universities, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of higher education institutions.

Powers will serve for a year on the association’s executive committee, which oversees policies the association supports, and will serve as the association’s chair next year. The Association of American Universities is a group of 61 public and private research universities that focuses on issues important to research-intensive universities, including funding and policy.

Powers was appointed to the position last week during the association’s semiannual meeting.

“It’s important that America’s top research universities speak with a united voice in matters of national higher education policy, and the AAU provides that voice in Washington and across the country,” Powers wrote in a post on his Tower Talk blog. “I hope my two years as vice-chair and chair of this, our nation’s most prestigious group of universities, continues to raise the profile of UT-Austin on the national and world stage.”

The association’s 59 U.S. universities confer 17 percent of the nation’s undergraduate degrees and more than half of all doctoral degrees. Two of the member universities are in Canada.

The University joined the invitation-only association in 1929, making it Texas’ longest-serving member. Two other Texas colleges, Rice University and Texas A&M University, are also members of the association and were admitted in 1985 and 2001, respectively.

In a statement released Friday, the association’s president, Hunter Rawlings, said Powers is a strong advocate for public research universities and will help push increased public support for these institutions this year.

Members of the association and university representatives regularly meet with members of U.S. Congress and members of the executive branch to discuss the effects of federal policies on higher education.

Barry Toiv, the association’s vice president for public affairs, said national and state politicians look to the organization as one of government’s main resources for issues affecting research institutions, including research regulations. Powers will also continue to advocate on behalf of UT at the local level.

“We seek to explain the impacts of legislation could have on our institutions,” Toiv said. “President Powers will work with members of the Texas congressional delegation to explain the impact of research at the University and on the local economy.”

UT spokesperson Gary Susswein said the association is invaluable in its efforts to work with the federal government on issues of higher education and research.

“Many universities are facing diminished funding and a vigorous debate over the role of higher ed and research universities,” Susswein said. “In that environment, we constantly try to demonstrate our innovation and efficiency on the one hand and our excellence on the other.”

Tulane University president Scott Cowen will serve as the association’s chair this year.

Printed on Tuesday, October 30, 2012 as: Powers to chair organization next year

Updated: Nov. 4, 11:04 p.m.


Powers voted chair in the Association of American Universities

UT president William Powers Jr. was elected vice chair of the Association of American Universities, a nonprofit association of 59 research universities, during their semiannual meeting this week.

The association's duties include oversight and policy direction for AAU universities. They also provide funding for research and education policy.

Powers will serve a three-year term as vice-chair and will serve on the AAU's executive committee.