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Designing the New American University

, 360 pages

18 line drawings

February 2015



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Designing the New American University


America’s research universities consistently dominate global rankings but may be entrenched in a model that no longer accomplishes their purposes. With their multiple roles of discovery, teaching, and public service, these institutions represent the gold standard in American higher education, but their evolution since the nineteenth century has been only incremental. The need for a new and complementary model that offers accessibility to an academic platform underpinned by knowledge production is critical to our well-being and economic competitiveness.

Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University and an outspoken advocate for reinventing the public research university, conceived the New American University model when he moved from Columbia University to Arizona State in 2002. Following a comprehensive reconceptualization spanning more than a decade, ASU has emerged as an international academic and research powerhouse that serves as the foundational prototype for the new model. Crow has led the transformation of ASU into an egalitarian institution committed to academic excellence, inclusiveness to a broad demographic, and maximum societal impact.

In Designing the New American University, Crow and coauthor William B. Dabars—a historian whose research focus is the American research university—examine the emergence of this set of institutions and the imperative for the new model, the tenets of which may be adapted by colleges and universities, both public and private. Through institutional innovation, say Crow and Dabars, universities are apt to realize unique and differentiated identities, which maximize their potential to generate the ideas, products, and processes that impact quality of life, standard of living, and national economic competitiveness. Designing the New American University will ignite a national discussion about the future evolution of the American research university.

Michael M. Crow has served as the president of Arizona State University since 2002. He was formerly executive vice provost at Columbia University and a professor of science and technology policy. William B. Dabars is a senior research fellow in the Office of the President and a research professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies at Arizona State University.

"Crow and Dabars offer a close analysis of the history and values that spawned our world-renowned research facilities and present a fresh model characterized by a pragmatic research structure and transdisciplinary organization... The authors present a dense and extensively investigated explanation of the strengths and limitations of our contemporary higher education environment and the possibilities of a new model."

"We must remember that the connection of excellence and access is not just a slogan but a necessity for all of us in higher education. That was the special genius of California's master plan: attempting to forge and maintain connections at every level between teaching and research. The plan requires updating, with more emphasis on serving diverse populations of students, and continued expansion and innovations. Crow and Dabars may not have reinvented the master plan, but they have made an important intervention in the debate about which models work best, for which purposes and constituencies, and how we can support those models at the scale they require, all while maintaining academic rigor and autonomy."

"An engaging and readable justification for and account of the New American University project... Crow is unlikely to disappear from view for quite some time."

"Crow and Dabars are right to want new public universities to replace the Harvard standard. Their book is worth reading just for that discussion."

"Crow... continues to be at the cutting edge of these and other challenges, opportunities, and initiatives for public research universities in general and his own institution in particular... Well written and laden with notes and bibliography, this is a solid complement to William G. Bowen and Eugene M. Tobin's Locus of Authority (2015) and Robert Lacroix and Louis Maheu's Leading Research Universities in a Competitive World (2015)."

"Over the past twelve years, Michael Crow has transformed ASU into one of America’s proudest research universities. Now, he and his colleague, William Dabars, share this model of success and the efforts of the university to bring it to scale—presenting untapped opportunities to boost our economic and global competitiveness and to further invest in our next generation of leaders."

"Michael Crow is one of the leading college presidents in America precisely because he understands how we must innovate at the collegiate level if we want to continue to lead in today’s global knowledge economy, while at the same time expanding access and affordability to ensure more students have the opportunity to achieve the American Dream. This book is an important and insightful read."

"Instead of dwelling on the past glories of American higher education alone, this book centers on reinvention and the dynamic nature of American universities. At a time when higher education is in flux—some would say in crisis—the clarity of Crow’s vision and proposed solutions make  Designing the New American University essential reading."

"A brilliant, innovative, lucid, and path-breaking book—arguably the most significant book on higher learning since Clark Kerr’s The Uses of the University, published more than a half-century ago."

"This book deserves close reading since it sets the context and need for the design of a new type of research university and then presents the project of ASU as a case study that has already achieved goals that far surpass expectations. While not strictly a model it does show us the way to a significantly more optimistic and inclusive future for higher education."

"America has been blessed with the world's best universities, but it won't stay that way without wise change.  Michael Crow has been inventing the new university for years; friends of higher education should go to school on his innovations, with this as their textbook."

"This book is a route map, rationale, and guide for the few and the bold who dare to step forward to build the universities we need for the twenty-first century."

"Both this book and the model it demonstrates should be of great interest to all those concerned with the future of American higher education."

"Michael Crow and William Dabars combine analytic social science, policy studies, and a humanistic understanding of how institutions have changed over time, to illuminate how the nation has shaped its institutions of higher learning and how they in turn have shaped, and must continue to shape, the nation."

"At a time when knowledge is the key resource for a robust and prosperous society, Crow and Dabars argue persuasively that we must design a New American University rededicated to the public good and recast to meet present and future challenges.  They offer a compelling vision of universities with students of diverse backgrounds and faculty energized to serve society and their communities.  This book will inspire us to re-think the way we support discovery, creativity, and education – from artistic engagement and humanistic insight to scientific understanding and technological innovation."

"It is impeccably referenced and thoughtfully paced with detailed chapters building the model they support. Within the book is a trove of information on the trajectory for and challenges facing higher education. Whether one chooses to follow the prescription they suggest, or simply wants to better understand higher education, this book provides a most compelling read."

"... Dabars’ rich historical contextualization and Crow’s policy and managerial experience provide design principles encouraging institutions to leverage their own place in a locally appropriate way."

"The New American University is the latest bold and meticulously argued model to reclaim what is distinctively American in higher education."

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