Assessing Landscape Architectural Research Universities

According to Google Scholar, MSU was 7th in North America and 10th in the world for landscape research.

Two women posing next to their research posters.
Figure 1: An image of two posters featured at the 2018 Michigan Chapter ASLA conference acknowledging award-winning research and publications by Associate Professor Burley collaboratively with MSU students, and colleagues. In attendance were Xiaoying Li (Ph.D.) and Shuyue He (Ph.D.) from Nanjing Forestry University. Photo courtesy of ©2018 Jon Bryan Burley.

For the myself and Associate Professor Zheng Chen, research in landscape architecture is a passion (Chen et al. 2017 and Burley et al. 2009), see Figure 1.

We both conduct research because we are compelled to discover. I earned my PhD at the University of Michigan and Chen earned hers at Virginia Tech University. We share an interest in landscape planning, visual quality and the study of landscape research.  

Last year’s edition of LandTEXTURE, I (Burley 2019) presented a short paper about the perception by practitioners in which landscape architectural universities excel producing research and the quantitative measure of research as reported by Google Scholar

The two were not in concordance. Only Texas A&M was identified as a university where practitioners perceived the school as a good research school as also measured and indicated by Google Scholar.

It was the second most cited group by researchers, a quantitative measure of research activity and was perceived by practitioners as being the 5th best. No other perception and measure concurred. Something seemed askew.

Last year in DesginIntelligence, the Michigan State University (MSU) Landscape Architecture program was not perceived as a top research school. But, actually according to Google Scholar, MSU was 7th in North America and 10th in the world for landscape research. The same Google Scholar analysis was conducted in 2019 (Table 1). MSU scored 10th best in North American and 17th in the world and ranked MSU 9th in the nation for its landscape research at an undergraduate school. 

I say that that is good news. It means that practitioners are recognizing MSU for its quality landscape research activities.

Table 1: Presentation of the top 25 Landscape Architectural citations in Google Scholar per University in North America and across the World in 2019 and 2018, plus DesignItelligence Perception Rankings for LA Undergraduate and Graduate Programs 2019-2020. 

University Citations North America 2019 World 2018 World Perception Undergrad Schools 2019-2020 Graduate Schools 2019-2020
Illinois 10209 1 2 - - -
MIT 8147 2 2 1 - -
Texas A&M 7626 3 3 2 10 -
Davis 5081 4 4 3 - -
UPenn 4725 5 5 - - 2
Copenhagen 4329 - 6 - - -
Rutgers 4215 6 7 4 - -
Liege 4040 - 8 5 - -
Melbourne 2790 - 9 6 - -
Maryland 2454 7 10 9 - -
Guelph 2433 8 11 7 - -
Sheffield 2406 - 12 8 - -
Tufts 2044 - 13 10 - -
Arizona State 1921 9 14 13 10 -
UNITEC 1817 - 15 12 - -
Algarve U 1547 - 16 - - -
MSU 1423 10 17 11 9 -
Suny 1396 - 18 - - -
Minnesota 927 11 19 14 - -
Queensland 845 - 20 - - -
Portelegre 822 - 21 - - -
WUR.NL 768 - 22 15 - -
Bogor 665 - 23 17 - -
Trisackti 659 - 24 16 - -
Malaysia 623 - 25 19 - -

Source: Google Scholar. Note: MSU dropped a little bit, because one of our landscape architectural researchers moved to South Dakota State University, dropping MSU’s output totals.

In addition, several noted researchers entered Google Scholar’s database, including: William Sullivan, Ph.D., at the University of Illinois (10,209 citations) and Frederick Steiner, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania (4,725 citations), pushing other schools such as MSU lower.

When I asked Chen about this she said, “My perception of the top 10 research schools included: Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Texas A&M, Minnesota, SUNY, Cornell, MSU, UBC and Sheffield.”

“When I was at Virginia Tech, it was quite apparent that the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), Berkeley and Harvard were not the top landscape architectural research schools. For 2019, I was surprised that the University of British Columbia, the University of Michigan (U-M), and the University of Wisconsin were not in the mix, as it appears their faculty are not participating as of yet in Google Scholar,” she observed. 

I knew Bill Sullivan when he was earning his Ph.D. at U-M, as we were good friends. He went on to a school with an active graduate program for landscape architecture faculty. 

Coming to MSU I was quite handicapped because no such graduate program existed. I knew that my goal was to establish and build such a program at MSU – it has been an up-hill struggle.

My citations numbers are certainly not as great at Steiner’s and Sullivan’s. Still my numbers alone are better than the collective efforts of many landscape architectural schools around the world. 

I consider myself just an unknown academic pursing my research studies, but over the past decade some people have begun to take notice. I have enjoyed my time at MSU.

Sullivan generated his citations numbers at the University of Illinois. However, UPenn earned their numbers by “hiring-away” a faculty member who produced his citations while in Washington, Arizona and Texas. 

MSU’s numbers have been enhanced too by hiring individuals from other universities. It is one reason schools recruit faculty from other schools.

Eventually, I imagine that there will be a more reasonable alignment of the rankings of the landscape architecture schools that produce research and the perceptions of practitioners concerning which schools are the new knowledge producers.

It is just going to take a little time for the alignment to happen. I am curious how they are going to compare next year? 

It surprises me a little that Illinois, MIT, Davis, Rutgers, and Maryland are not perceived by practitioners as great landscape architecture research institutions, as I know the faculty at these places are far more productive than some of the schools identified in the 2019-2020 DesignIntelligence list. 

It makes me a little suspicious and I have low confidence in the practitioner perceptions, but there is always hope. I feel a little better and thankful to the practitioners who recognized the quality landscape research that we do at MSU.

Recently a team form Texas A&M took a cursory look at landscape architectural citation scholarship (2020). Their results placed MSU first in faculty median (224) and mean (288) citations for December 2018.

In addition, MSU was first in Median h-index too, with a score of nine, meaning each faculty member had nine articles cited at least nine times. Such an approach looks at the averaged productivity of faculty. Some schools have a highly productive faculty member with many contributing little.

We [MSU] are relatively small, but apparently compared to other landscape architectural schools, as a collective group, we are quite productive.”

In addition, such information is quite ephemeral. Once productive faculty member left to another institution. In addition, there are new hires, just beginning to build their record.

I suspect that in 2020 we will have fallen in faculty averages. Still, MSU’s reputation for landscape scholarship is growing and on par with many fine schools of higher education.

Literature Cited

Brown, R.D., T. Tasnum, and Y. Kim. 2020. “Assessing U.S. Landscape Architectural Faculty Research Contribution.” Land 9(64):1-7. doi:10.3390/land9030064

Burley, J.B. 2019. “Who are the actual landscape research universities?LandTEXTURE

Burley, J.B., V.B.P. Singhal, C.J. Burley, D. Fasser, C. Churchward, D. Hellekson, and I. Raharizafy.  2009.  “Citation Analysis of Transportation Research Literature: A Multi-dimensional Map of the Roadside Universe. Landscape Research 34(4):481–495.

Chen, Z., P.A Miller, T.L. Clements, and M. Kim. 2017. “Mapping Research in Landscape Architecture: Balancing Supply of Academic Knowledge and Demand of Professional Practice. EURASIA Journal of Mathematics Science and Technology Education 13:1–21.

DesignIntelligence. 2019. “Landscape Architecture Focus Areas. DesignIntelligence Rankings.” 

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