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BU Faculty Get High Marks

New research ranks profs’ productivity

Guido Salvucci, the chair of the earth sciences department, says the faculty’s passion for science led to the department’s ranking as the country’s ninth most productive.

The computer science program at BU is smaller than most of the field’s major players — in 2005 it had 21 faculty, compared to Stanford’s 53 and the University of Minnesota’s 90. But new research published in the Chronicle of Higher Education reveals that CS is one of many BU departments holding its own among the elite.

Early this month, the Chronicle released its first Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index, which ranks research universities according to the productivity — publications, grants, and awards — of their faculty in different disciplines. And in the 2005 academic year, BU was ranked among the top 10 institutions in eight disciplines: cognitive science, American studies, Hispanic studies, computer science, geosciences, mathematics, social work, and geography.

“It’s rewarding to me, personally,” says Azer Bestavros, the chair of the seventh-ranked computer science department. “What it really says is that our focus on balancing our faculty was very important and that the decision to invest in the kind of applied computer science that we decided to go after was right on the mark.”

The index, compiled by the company Academic Analytics, includes 354 research universities and ranks 7,294 individual doctoral programs. The productivity of each faculty member is measured by publications, federal grant dollars awarded, and honors and awards. Academic Analytics assigns varying weights to each variable — a Fulbright award, for example, counts only if it was awarded between 2001 and 2006, but a Nobel Prize is eligible if it was awarded within the past 50 years.

The index numbers reflect the program’s performance compared to the national mean. A score of zero would indicate that a discipline was at the national mean; BU’s score of 1.49 in geosciences means that the department’s performance is 1.49 standard deviation units higher than the national mean.

“We have an excellent faculty, both regular professors and research professors, who are simply addicted to their science,” says Guido Salvucci, a professor of hydrology and the chair of the earth sciences department, which received the geosciences ranking. “When you are passionate about what you do, work isn’t ‘work,’ and productivity ends up high.”

BU joins an elite group in each discipline. The University’s third-place ranking in geography — the highest received by a BU department — is higher than that of Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland. The fourth-place ranking in cognitive science places BU behind research powerhouses Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and the University of Rochester. In computer science, BU’s seventh-place ranking is flanked by Carnegie Mellon’s and CalTech’s. And in American studies, BU is two spots behind Harvard and one ahead of Yale.

While the ranking system does not offer an all-around analysis of the University like that of the Best Colleges reports published by U.S. News & World Report, Bestavros says the Chronicle index is more meaningful because it uses very specific metrics.

“Oftentimes, people disagree about what matters — is it the diversity of the courses offered, the number of Ph.D. students you graduate, the facilities, the labs?” Bestavros says. “This one is very specific. It only concerns itself with the scholarship and productivity of faculty, and that’s something we believe in very strongly.”

To view the complete index, click here.

Jessica Ullian can be reached at jullian@bu.edu.