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ASU is developing a new model for the American research university, creating an institution that measures its academic quality by the education that its graduates have received rather than the academic credentials of its incoming freshman class; one at which researchers, while pursuing their scholarly interests, also consider the public good; one that does not just engage in community service, but rather takes on major responsibility for the economic, social, and cultural vitality of its community. These tenets, first proposed in the inaugural policy paper, “A New American University: The New Gold Standard” (November 2002), represent a new way of thinking about the fundamental objectives of a university—teaching, research, and public service.
The eight “design imperatives” represent new standards—or guiding principles—by which to measure our progress. The design imperatives were never intended to represent hard-and-fast categories—most of the accomplishments of the university do not correspond neatly to a single design imperative, but rather cut across many. And because the research interests of ASU scholars are so diverse, not all design imperatives could possibly be relevant to any given individual or team. The objective of the design imperatives is to spur new thinking, suggest new possibilities, and unleash the creative potential of our academic community. The overarching objective is to transform ASU into one of the nation’s leading public metropolitan research universities.
Academic institutions leverage place by embracing their cultural, socioeconomic, and physical settings. Colleges and universities are situated in regions with particular heritages, cultures, and aspirations, and scholars at these institutions are uniquely positioned to address the problems of their regions, and to offer perspective on the distinct historical, cultural, social, demographic, political, economic, and environmental forces shaping these regions. A focus on place means learning from local knowledge, as well as considering the local relevance of research. If an institution is socially embedded, meaningful and productive relationships between the university and its surrounding community, region, and state will flourish. Not least among these is the role of the research university as a primary driver for regional social change, social and cultural learning, and appropriate economic development.
Research universities are the preeminent catalysts for societal change—no institution possesses more potential to transform society, improving the human condition, fostering sustained social advancement and economic growth, and providing us with the tools we need for better planetary stewardship. No corporation, no industry, no government agency can rival their scope and impact, because universities alone exist solely to produce and disseminate knowledge. Never before has the impact of knowledge been greater, and no academic institution has had, or continues to have, more influence than the research university. ASU is one of only 300 major research institutions in the world, and, as such, has the potential to generate new knowledge that may influence almost every aspect of our future.
Enterprise takes many forms in the academy—it is the signal characteristic of the drive and passion that informs all groundbreaking scholarly and creative endeavor. Enterprise inspires inquiry, and fosters the originality and independence of mind that make new knowledge possible. Intellectual capital is the wellspring of a great university, and the source of its potential to transform our world. It is also the source of an institution’s prosperity—those who conduct groundbreaking research, developing new knowledge and new products with commercial application, have the capacity to generate significant revenues for the university, and to encourage investment in our product. To the extent that we make an original contribution to our disciplines, or, indeed, break free from conventional disciplinary or organizational constraints, our work may be said to exhibit enterprise.
The complexity of the challenges for global success that are ahead of us makes it mandatory to balance the need for, and importance of, continuing basic research (fundamental discovery) with a research agenda focused on addressing actual and immediate problems. Much university research is necessarily esoteric because we are involved in the discovery of fundamental knowledge, but we must integrate the advancement of knowledge with the transformation of society. If academic research is to be a force for societal transformation—if we are to improve the human condition—we must consider the social implications of our research, and harness our knowledge for maximum societal benefit. This is an approach to scholarship that could be termed use-inspired, and will increasingly guide the ASU research enterprise.
Our nation’s research universities are concerned with a certain academic profile in their student body. They have defined their academic excellence by the academic qualifications of their incoming students—an input-driven model. ASU focuses instead on outcome-determined excellence—that is, we admit students with differing interests and indicators of intelligence and creativity, even different levels of high school preparation. There is no single profile to which a student seeking admission to ASU must conform. The university will not be limited exclusively to the verbally and mathematically gifted, nor the most intelligent children of the most successful families. We welcome these gifted students, but seek greater diversity in our student body. And we will judge the success of our university by the success of each student on a case-by-case basis. Implicit in our focus on the individual is a commitment to intellectual and cultural diversity.
If we are to advance knowledge in the face of its rapidly changing nature, and come to terms with the explosion of new knowledge that characterizes the academy in recent decades, a new and more fluid organization is urgently needed. Intellectual fusion is the cognitive norm in scholarship, whereas the fragmentation imposed by disciplinary categories is an historical social construct, however useful. Knowledge does not fall within strict disciplinary categories, yet we cling to an institutional organization that derives from the medieval academy. It is no longer sufficient to neatly categorize knowledge into disciplinary-based academic departments—the core disciplines are but one element of our intellectual identity. Accordingly, the New American University encourages teaching and research that is interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, transdisciplinary, and post-disciplinary, leading, where appropriate to a convergence of disciplines, an approach that might more accurately be described as intellectual fusion.
Public service—or community outreach—is intrinsic to ASU’s mission as a public metropolitan research university, and central to the vision of a New American University that is linked to its region and the needs of its day; that balances its commitment to teaching with world-class research conducted for the public good; and that takes on major responsibility for the economic, social, and cultural vitality of its region. Public service has long been a defining characteristic of ASU, and we expect that commitment to grow with each coming year. Because our approach to public service is comprehensive, and because we conceive of public service in such broad terms, the extent of our commitment to the community and region is perhaps best conveyed by the concept of social embeddedness.
Because research universities bear partial responsibility for the future of our planet, there is no aspect of our teaching, research, or public service that does not possess global implication. ASU faculty are members of an international community of scholars, and through our scholarship and creative endeavor we implicitly address a global audience. Even service to the communities immediately surrounding our campuses can have worldwide application—through the development of innovative approaches to universal societal problems, ASU can establish programs and practices with application anywhere in the world. If we are to position the institution as a leading public metropolitan research university, we must forge partnerships with peer institutions around the world, and make an institutional commitment to global engagement that is thoroughgoing.