New American University plan ahead of schedule

11-06-08 Crow
ASU President Michael Crow speaks to The State Press editorial board about upcoming plans for ASU and how the University is three-quarters of the way to becoming what he calls a New American University. (Kaitlin Ochenrider/The State Press)
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Thursday, November 6, 2008
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As ASU moves into the homestretch of becoming a New American University, the man behind the plan says he is on task and on time, despite the sudden economic downturn.

Although the New American University is a constantly evolving concept, the next four years could paint a picture of ASU’s place, both in the Valley and in academia, in the decades to come. They could also paint a picture of President Michael Crow’s legacy.

Crow said he’d like to look back on his tenure at ASU as helping to build the public duty of the institution — to be accessible, to make a difference, and ultimately, to help Phoenix thrive economically.

“If we fail as a city, I think there’s some chance our country will be in jeopardy because if a new city that’s just emerging can’t make it, what does that mean for our country?” Crow said.

In 2002, Crow said it would take about 10 years to reposition ASU as a unique public university. Six years later, he says he is three-quarters of the way to reaching that mark.

Crow said ASU is now one of fewer than 100 Research I universities in the country as classified by the Carnegie Corp.

“This is the biggest one, the only still growing and the youngest one on that list,” Crow said. “This University will keep its research status and not change the admissions standards.”

The University will have top-notch research capabilities with an elite faculty and not become an elitist school, he said.

“This New American University thing creates all kinds of angst,” Crow said. “But the real purpose is [to] take now the youngest and very capable research university, ASU, and not allow it to turn into what the others have turned into, which in my view are elitist, separatist institutions.”

Jim Zaharis, vice president for education at Greater Phoenix Leadership, said Crow’s vision is no small task, but he hasn’t seen a major university move as quickly as ASU has.

“This notion of access for all is something that hasn’t really happened,” Zaharis said. “Usually research universities have a high exclusivity.”

Current economic troubles will affect ASU, but he said a university has to be thought of over time.

“It’s just a bump in the road,” Zaharis said.

Predicting the future

It’s hard to see the bigger picture and predict exactly what the future holds for ASU as a New American University, but Crow is changing the scope of education and hasn’t veered from his vision, said Kimberly Loui, executive director of the Office of University Initiatives. She said many universities have contacted ASU, inquiring about Crow’s ambitious plans.

“In the short time Michael Crow has been president at ASU, he has brought a new form of leadership and a way of thinking and doing things that has not only changed ASU, but changed the trajectory and will change the face of higher education over time,” Loui said.
However, she said the current economic climate challenges ASU to be more creative and more resourceful.

“Rather than thinking about survival, we need to think about success,” Loui said. “If we think about success, we will survive.”

She said ASU’s dedication to research, involvement in the community and its entrepreneurial spirit are aspects of a New American University that can pave the way for a promising future for ASU. Projects like the Downtown Phoenix campus and the SkySong research center in Scottsdale are good examples of this, she said.

Prime the Pipeline

The School of Educational Innovation and Teacher Preparation at the Polytechnic campus is looking for new ways to educate, targeting the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. The school recently received a $1.35 million grant from the National Science Foundation to fund its Prime the Pipeline Project, which hopes to increase high school students’ interest in STEM. The funding started in September and will continue over the next three years.

Prime the Pipeline will involve students, parents, math and science teachers, administrators and guidance counselors from the Chandler, Gilbert, Higley and Mesa school districts. It aims to engage students from these high schools to develop critical thinking, technology, computer and communication skills.

The program will be good for the economy, said Carole Greenes, dean of the School of Educational Innovation and Teacher Preparation. She said the economy is dependent on STEM for various industries to be productive in business.

“There are fewer students interested in math, science and engineering. We need to educate the community on the importance of math and science,” she said.

Getting more people involved in the educational process and understanding its value covers two New American University cornerstones: access and local impact.

Despite the current economic situation, Crow has always found the means to support education at ASU, she said. The economic downturn will have an effect, but, she said, less will not be offered. Her college may, for example, reduce the amount of courses but double the amount of content rather than sacrifice or reduce the quality of programs.

“We’re tightening our belts,” Greenes said.

“We’re working harder. Everybody has to work harder.”


In March, SkySong, the ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center, opened at McDowell and Scottsdale roads as a means for entrepreneurism to stimulate economic growth, SkySong Marketing Manager Alison Bendler said. It was created to serve as an international hub of innovation, a platform for ASU to engage more easily with the business community and to revitalize southern Scottsdale.

By 2012 the majority of SkySong will have been constructed. Bendler said the 1.2 million-square-foot center — built where a long-vacant shopping mall in the late 1990s once stood — is expected to create $300 million in new capital investment and 4,000 jobs to aid in the redevelopment of the McDowell corridor, leading to new services, housing and retail demand.

“It’s a win for everybody,” Bendler said.


Looking forward, Crow said he wants to continue building the reputation and quality of the University. One project he wants to work on is to build the University’s brand — to move ASU’s image into the pantheon occupied by schools like UCLA and Stanford University.

“Our brand is very good, but we’d like it to be much better and unique so people say, ‘Oh ASU is the place where they have fantastic programs,’” he said.

When Crow thought about his effect on ASU in the greater scheme of things, he hearkened back to his time at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, where he received his doctorate degree in public administration.

He said everyone who attends the Maxwell School, including himself, is committed and dedicated to the notion of building the public good, building the public trust and advancing the public institutions. Crow said those are the notions he hopes are branded into people’s minds when they think of ASU.

“We have kept this institution accessible, advanced its reputation, enhanced its impact and embedded it in the city,” Crow said. “I hope that people will remember that whoever was running this place in the early 21st century moved the institution into that unique meaningful status.”

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