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The New American University: A New Gold Standard


The inauguration of a new president is a symbolic event in the life of a university. The ancient regalia—the caps and gowns and hoods—serve to remind us that universities are enduring institutions. These emblems of scholarship have served to mark moments in the lives of academic institutions since the Middle Ages. It is a time for considering accomplishments, taking stock, and looking ahead.

At the same time that we look ahead, we must pause to consider the efforts and contributions of those who came before us. To express that sense of indebtedness, Sir Isaac Newton likened himself to a dwarf standing on the shoulders of giants, a metaphor he borrowed from a twelfth-century humanist and philosopher, Bernard of Chartres. As we look ahead, I must look back and acknowledge the contributions of all those who over the course of more than a century have worked to build a great university here in metropolitan Phoenix.

I must look back and acknowledge the contributions of my predecessors in the office of the president, beginning with those who guided the evolution of a territorial teachers’ college to a state college, and those who led a state college to become a university. I must express the appreciation of the entire university community to President Lattie Coor, the dynamic leader who dramatically accelerated the development of ASU as a major research institution, and articulated its vital significance to the city and state. Not the least of his contributions over the course of twelve years has been the fostering of a close-knit ASU family. Arizona State University would not be the institution it is today without his inspiration and commitment.

Nor would Arizona State University be what it is today without the dedication and effort of more individuals than can possibly be named. Many here today have been partners in building this great institution. On behalf of the entire university community, I must express my appreciation to those many individuals who have given generously of their time, wisdom, and means to advance Arizona State University: civic leaders and state legislators, leaders in business and industry, directors of foundations and benefactors, and our colleagues from institutions worldwide. There are the students and faculty of the university today, and the alumni and emeriti for whom Arizona State University will always play an essential role. There are many whose lives have been shaped by this institution, and all of you have played a part in this noble endeavor. We are all a part of this journey.

Arizona State University has been integral to the social and cultural fabric of Arizona since 1885, and will play an even more important role in the development of our state as it assumes an increasingly important national and international role. Today Arizona State University is poised to become a world-class institution in what is emerging as a dynamic and vibrant world city—the two are inextricably intertwined. Arizona State University has established the capacity to become the leading public metropolitan research university for the twenty-first century, known for its excellence in teaching and research, its innovative interdisciplinary programs, and its direct social engagement.

As we begin a new chapter in the history of this institution, I would like to look beyond its current success. I would like to talk to you about transformation, and the further evolution of the American research university—what I want to call the new American university—and why Arizona State University is uniquely positioned to become such an institution.