US Universities pursue ties with schools in Mexico
By JEANNIE KEVER
The leaders of the nation's most prestigious universities are reaching out to their counterparts in Mexico, saying more partnerships between the two countries could help with some of the border's most intractable problems.
The relationship was one of the topics discussed during a three-day meeting of the Association of American Universities, which concluded Tuesday in Houston.
The group, an invitation-only association representing 63 research universities, meets twice a year; the fall meeting was hosted by Rice University, one of just three members from Texas.
Other topics under discussion included energy policy, improving K-12 education and how research universities might use new educational technologies.
Members also talked about the battering their budgets have taken from the economy.
"We're concerned, obviously, with issues related to funding," said association president Bob Berdahl, who previously served as president of the University of Texas at Austin and chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley.
No rush to expand
The AAU represents the elite of American universities, and an invitation is coveted by up-and-coming schools. The Georgia Institute of Technology was admitted last spring; before that, the most recent expansion was in 2001, when Texas A&M University was admitted.
UT-Austin is also a member.
Seven other Texas universities, including the University of Houston, are trying to reach the top tier of research universities, but Berdahl said AAU members are in no hurry to expand.
They want to represent research universities and review potential members every year, he said when he and other leaders met with a reporter after the meeting concluded.
But members also value the opportunity for personal interaction offered by a relatively small group, he said.
A better understanding
Many Texas universities already have relationships with schools in Mexico, but Rice University President David Leebron said the association could provide a framework for addressing the border's complexities.
Rice has agreements with the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores in Monterrey, Universidad de Monterrey, and the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México in Mexico City; it also belongs to a consortium of U.S. and Mexican universities dealing with border issues.
The relationships have been complicated by violence in northern Mexico, and a number of schools canceled study-abroad programs in Mexico last spring after the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for the border.
But Leebron, noting that international student exchanges and other activities help connect the United States to the rest of the world, said the perception of violence isn't always accurate.
"When Americans look at Mexico, we look at it as one thing," he said. "When we look at ourselves, we see 50 states."
Mexican officials meeting with U.S. university leaders during the AAU meeting said that diversity is also true of their country, he said.
"If you want to study in Cuidad Juarez, probably not," Leebron said. "If you want to study in Puebla, there's no reason not to."
Mexico sends students to the United States, but he said the numbers don't reflect the country's importance.
Almost 15,000 students from Mexico attended a U.S. university in 2008-09, according to the Institute of International Exchange. It ranked No. 7, just below Taiwan and only slightly above Turkey.
"It's wonderful that we get so many students from Turkey, but Mexico shouldn't be providing only a small number more," Leebron said.