Recognition for Research

DU joins the ranks of the nation’s top research institutions

In December 2021, the University of Denver learned that it had succeeded in its quest to achieve a Research 1 (R1) classification. This designation signals that, among U.S. doctoral universities, DU engages in the highest levels of research activity, as measured by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

What does this mean for DU and its students? Mary Clark, provost and executive vice chancellor, and Corinne Lengsfeld, senior vice provost for research and graduate education, offer the inside scoop on DU’s latest claim to fame.

How will an R1 classification affect DU?

Mary Clark: The classification isn’t as important as the recognition that comes with it—recognition of the volume and quality of the research already ongoing at DU. Recognition will raise our rankings and streamline faculty efforts by enhancing the probability of federal funding. 

That means we’ll be able to attract higher quality graduate students and faculty, as well as provide new avenues of student access to DU through grant funding of student stipends and tuition. We’ll also be able to expand the number of research opportunities for students looking for transformative co-curricular activities.

How will the R1 classification complement DU’s vision of being a great private university dedicated to the public good?

Clark: Our philosophy and approach have been to develop a balanced portfolio of research that reflects the quality and strengths of all our schools and colleges. That’s in contrast to the traditional approach of building a major research program by constructing giant science and engineering clusters. Our priority has been on research, scholarship and creative work that positively affects our community, our city, our region and the world. We emphasize building faculty careers that truly reflect the iconic teacher-scholar-practitioner model, placing thought-leaders in the classroom with students to inspire, mentor and train the next generation. 

DU seems to have achieved its R1 goal very quickly. How did that happen?

Corinne Lengsfeld: We achieved R1 largely thanks to strong hiring practices coupled with inspiring the faculty to believe in themselves. That propelled our impressive climb in awards and expenditures.

But it’s important to note that achieving R1 was not solely about growth in research dollars. Our university is 50% graduate programs, so the number of doctorates graduating every year is an important criterion to this achievement. Our strong faculty-to-student ratio means that, at our student body size, we can train and mentor the next generation of scholars and innovators. That’s an important role for a research university. 

DU has a mixture of faculty—professors of the practice, teaching faculty, research professors—which allows the University to have research prominence while providing an effective classroom experience. What kind of impact will R1 have on the teaching environment?

Lengsfeld: From the very beginning, our faculty members stressed that R1 would only be worthwhile if we maintain our deep student-faculty connections. They rightfully worried that, if not properly structured, a transition to R1 could have a devastating impact on teaching. For example, incentives for grant dollars could rapidly overshadow
the importance of student persistence and success. 

As we move forward, each investment in research must be accompanied by investments in the teaching mission. I have suggested that as funded research grows, a fraction of the revenue should be allocated to support the teaching environment and mission. Raising the bar in research and teaching will center our focus and allow us to create a multidimensional student experience.

Just as important, achieving R1 status means committing to diversity, equity and inclusion. Our current demographics in each of the faculty lines do not yet reflect society’s demographics. But DU is committed to meeting our faculty where their passion lives and helping them develop careers of purpose. 

What comes next? 

Lengsfeld: Now that we have a stable, diverse portfolio and a faculty rich with thought leaders in their respective fields, it is time to invest so that faculty can live the teacher-scholar model we deeply embrace. We want to enable the greatest minds to create knowledge and boost discovery, all while remaining in the classroom mentoring our students. We also need to evolve programs for training beyond the PhD, dedicate ourselves to instilling this mindset in the next generation of faculty, and create postdoctoral training programs that reflect the values of our academic mission and vision.

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