Rant alert; had to get it out of my system. I would have posted it on my blog, but it's perhaps a useful conversation to have here, so decided to post it.
In these and other academic internet forums and face-to-face discussions, I see the term R1, R2, etc. used as if we all know what this means. In fact, it has no real meaning; it's a classification system that has been obsolete for several years. I find this strange behavior for scientists: we are trained to not use vague terminology to refer to things that we classify.
(In case you're not familiar with the history, the R1/R2/etc. is a classification system that was abandoned by Carnegie and replaced by their RU/Masters/Baccalaureate/Associates basic classifications. See this page for descriptions.)
I think I know what kinds of institutions I mean by R1, but that might be different than what you mean by R1. There is no list of such places, unlike the Carnegie system that provides a useful list.
Why aren't we just using the Carnegie basic classification systems? RU/VH, RU/H, etc?
Perhaps one reason lies in the nomenclature we use for R1. In my subjective view, our parlance of "R1" refers to places where my existence (and big salary) needs to be justified by the grant money I bring in; if I don't want to (or can't) be a grant churning machine, I'd not be happy at these places. "R2" means places where my existence and (relatively low) salary are justified by my teaching and mentoring students, and grant writing is secondary. Who knows what you mean by R1/R2. This does not help us have very productive discussions.
Not to mention that an "R1" or "RU/VH" in one discipline might be an "R2" or "RU/H" in another discipline… Don't get me started on what the S means in SLAC (small? selective?)