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Feb 17, 2023

To R2 or not to R2: Facts first, debate later

It's so much fun to argue without understanding the basic facts! Yep, it's fun and pointless. Consider discussions around classifying universities based on their research output, such as the R1, R2, and R3 designations. When these discussions arise, people immediately object or raise concerns about potential consequences without first understanding whether or not their university actually meets the criteria for the proposed classification, and what costs and benefits the potential new classification entail. Only rarely does anyone say, “I need to know more before I can weigh in.” And those voices usually drown in the excitement of the debate.

For example, let's say someone suggests classifying an R3 university as an R2 institution. Many people may object, raising concerns about potential negative consequences such as diminishing the quality of teaching and suddenly changing expectations of faculty. Still, others might say, "Yes, but here's what we need in terms of resources to get it and to maintain it.” Without first establishing the basic facts, these objections may be based on misunderstandings or incorrect assumptions.

If we take the time to gather the basic facts before beginning a debate, we can avoid these misunderstandings and have a more productive discussion. In the scenario above, a fact-finding committee could be established to determine whether the university in question already meets the criteria for the R2 designation. If it does, then there's no need for a debate at all - the university simply is an R2 institution; it's a matter of correcting the record by providing current information to the Carnegie Foundation. If it's close to meeting the criteria, then the debate can focus on how the university can make the necessary improvements. If major investment is needed to obtain the R2 designation, then the debate can focus on whether or not that investment is justified. But a debate where participants assume different facts is simply hot air, or an excuse to vent other grievances and anxieties. " It is like debating a movie you have not yet seen.

In general, it's always more productive to establish the basic facts before beginning a debate or raising objections. This allows for a more informed and productive discussion and ensures that any objections or concerns are based on a clear understanding of the situation. So the next time you find yourself in a discussion or debate, remember to start with the facts first, and make sure all involved agree on the facts - it will lead to a more productive and informed conversation.

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