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ASU: What do we need to become?

i. Aspirational peers: public metropolitan research universities

ASU is a public metropolitan research university, and, as such, the profile of our student body, the character of our research enterprise, and the scope of our community engagement must differ from that of other institutions. Peer institutions in the United States—large public metropolitan research universities—represent a unique institutional type, distinct from most land grant universities and other comprehensive academic institutions, as well as technical institutes, medical schools, and state colleges. Prominent among this category of institution are the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); the University of Washington; the University of Texas, Austin; the University of Minnesota; and Ohio State University. Each draws on the unique advantages of being situated in the heart of a diverse urban environment, and each contributes to the prosperity and advancement of their regions.

ASU is striving to become competitive as a national university. Its success in attracting the best faculty and students, competitive research funding, and greater levels of private investment would be enhanced by attaining recognition as a national research university. The national standing ASU seeks can only be attained by improving our ranking in comparative categories, such as those utilized by the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the National Research Council (NRC). We must measure progress not against our past performance, but against the objective standard of the accomplishments of national research universities.

The Lombardi Program on Measuring University Performance, commonly referred to as The Center, is a respected institutional research group based at the University of Florida. In their annual report, The Top American Research Universities, the group gathers and compares objective data about the top private and public American research universities in nine categories: total research support, federal research support, endowment assets, annual giving, faculty membership in the national academies, faculty awards, doctorates granted, postdoctoral appointees, and median SAT scores. Among public research universities in the second tier (26-50) that receive over $20 million in federal research funding, ASU ranked in only three categories: faculty awards, private support, and the number of doctorates granted.9 ASU did not achieve a single superior ranking in the most recent evaluation of graduate programs produced by the National Research Council (1993), and in categories established by the AAU, ASU is recognized only for the quality of its faculty.

Increased potential for ASU to attain national status comes from dramatically increasing research infrastructure in all fields, from the arts to the humanities to the sciences to engineering. With current plans to add over one million square feet of research space within the next few years, space on the crowded Tempe campus is at a premium. With projected enrollment increases, ASU can only accommodate additional students at the other campus locations. Greater research productivity will also be facilitated by a flexible university design that encourages the formation of interdisciplinary research groups. ASU will also attract better faculty and students with new facilities that can be built at sites other than the Tempe campus.

But as the only major research university in the heart of one of the most rapidly urbanizing metropolitan areas in the nation, a region marked by explosive population growth, unprecedented demographic change, rapid development, and environmental trends that threaten its sustainability, ASU bears the additional responsibility of providing leadership for a region that lags far behind comparable metropolitan areas in several leading indicators. Numerous measures of educational performance and outcomes in metropolitan Phoenix and Arizona are not only below average, but rank near the bottom nationally. Arizona ranks last for the rate of high school completion, for example. And in terms of the educational attainment of its adult population, Arizona lags far behind most metropolitan regions. The regional economy has yet to evolve to an appreciable degree from one that is resource-based and service oriented to one that is knowledge-driven and competitive. And the long-term environmental sustainability of the region remains in serious jeopardy.

As a consequence of investment in research infrastructure, a dramatic acceleration of the research enterprise, and the recruitment of prominent faculty, the contributions of ASU are expected to receive increasing national and international recognition in the coming decades. The attainment of such recognition is sought because it increases access to federal funding and private investment, possibilities for collaboration with top tier institutional partners, as well as the ability of the university to attract and retain the best students and faculty. Along with other honors, the consummate institutional recognition that comes with election to membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU), the prestigious association of 62 leading North American research universities, is therefore an explicit institutional goal.

ii. Aspirational Goals: Design Imperatives for a New American University

ASU is one of our nation’s youngest major research institutions, and is positioning itself to emerge as a prominent national university. The transformation of ASU from an important regional university to one of our nation’s leading public metropolitan research universities is guided by the vision of 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,” guide an effort to spur the evolution of an institutional form rooted in the past.10

In response to a new era marked by unprecedented demographic change, and quantum leaps in scientific discovery and technological innovation, ASU will endeavor to create a unique institutional profile and serve as a model for other large research universities. The concept of the New American University serves as a new model for the American research university, one that breaks the mold that has constrained these institutions. The reconceptualization of ASU will be consistent with the vision of the institution as a prototype for the New American University

The eight “design imperatives” of the inaugural policy paper represent new standards—or guiding principles—by which to measure the progress of the institution (Appendix A). The reconceptualization of the university must be consistent with the design imperatives of the New American University, intended to advance the status of the institution to the ranks of research universities of national standing.

As more fully set out in Appendix A, the design process of the university will serve to foster teaching, research, and public service that

  1. leverages the location of the university in a burgeoning metropolitan region in the American Southwest (“ASU must embrace its cultural, socioeconomic, and physical setting”);
  2. underscores the role of ASU as a preeminent catalyst for societal change to transform society, improve the human condition, foster sustained social advancement and economic growth, and promote responsible planetary stewardship (“ASU must become a force, and not only a place”);
  3. promotes the intellectual capital of ASU as both the source of the institution’s potential to transform society and its economic prosperity through the commercialization of its research (“a culture of academic enterprise”);
  4. balances the need for, and importance of, continuing basic research, i.e., fundamental discovery, with a research agenda focused on addressing actual and immediate problems (“Pasteur’s Principle”);
  5. focuses on outcome-determined excellence (“a focus on the individual”);
  6. advances knowledge through interdisciplinary scholarship (“intellectual fusion”);
  7. assumes major responsibility for the economic, social, and cultural vitality of the region (“social embeddedness”);
  8. promotes international collaboration, exploration, and understanding (“global engagement”).

As a New American University, ASU will be an institution that offers openness and access to as broad a segment of the populace as possible. ASU will foster creativity and generate new knowledge, and disseminate that knowledge as widely as possible, serving students, the local community, and the larger national and global communities. ASU will be an institution that is inclusive rather than exclusive, and its success will be measured not by who the university excludes, but rather by who the university includes.

The objective of the reconceptualization of the university is to build a world-class institution here in the American Southwest, one that will prove of lasting value to the state and nation in the centuries ahead. In seeking to become a major research institution of national rank, ASU will serve as a prototype for the New American University.

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