Chroncile of Higher Ed November 18, 2005
Is Michael Crow's remaking of a state university a model, or a mirage?
By JOHN L. PULLEY
...Upon his arrival from Columbia University, in 2002, Mr. Crow stirred up the dust by announcing plans to transform Arizona State into the country's premier urban research institution. Repudiating the university's reputation as a party school of modest ambition, he vowed to "blow up the status quo" and reassemble the pieces into a model for higher education in the 21st century — what he calls "a new American university."
Three years into his 10-year plan, he is laboring to achieve the twin goals of expanding the size and scope of Arizona State and raising its quality. Eager to abandon the ivory-tower model of higher education that has shaped many American colleges, he wants to transform Arizona State into a university embedded in its community, one that will serve as a powerful force for social, cultural, economic, and environmental progress throughout the state.
He says Arizona State will measure its success not by the proportion of students it rejects but by the educational attainment of the students it accepts. To accommodate the state's fast-growing population of college-age men and women — many of whom are minority-group members from low-income backgrounds — he plans to increase enrollment, already the nation's fourth-largest, from 61,000 to 95,000 by 2020, a 15-year growth of 56 percent.
...Arizona State will be "the new gold standard" for American research universities, Mr. Crow says.
Fool's gold, detractors say. It's not that excellence and bigness are mutually exclusive, they argue. Ohio State University at Columbus, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and the University of Texas at Austin are excellent institutions, of considerable size. No American university, though, has become both bigger and better on the scale and the timeline envisioned by Arizona State's 16th president. No American university has tried.
...The typical university evolves slowly, Mr. Crow says, but "if we evolve slowly, we're dead."
Even without an improvement in Arizona's dismal high-school-graduation rate, the state's public system of higher education will require an estimated 180,000 seats in all by 2017 to accommodate demand. The state's three major public institutions — Arizona State, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Arizona — now have combined enrollments of about 120,000 students.
"We're struggling to deal with diversification of a region on a large scale," says Mr. Crow. "The changes affecting all of America are happening here extremely rapidly."
Whether or not Mr. Crow's vision will succeed is not yet clear. That he is off to a fast start is without dispute.
He has rejuvenated Arizona State's efforts to increase support from private donors and legislators. He brought in the largest gifts ever to Arizona State, a pair of $50-million donations, and he scored a legislative coup early in his tenure, successfully lobbying state lawmakers to appropriate $440-million to bolster research at state institutions, of which $188-million went to Arizona State. He told lawmakers that if they provided the money now, the university would become more self-sufficient and need less state money later.
Mr. Longanecker, of the interstate higher-education commission, who describes himself as "quite a fan of Michael Crow's," says "the big challenge is getting the employees to buy into the vision and getting the stakeholders to buy into the vision."
Supporters of Mr. Crow say that they are not put off by resistance, that reaching an oasis can require a long slog in the sand. "You can never be bold and visionary," says the State Senate's Mr. Bennett, "without stirring up some resistance."