Dear ASU Community:
So, here we are in 2020, painfully and acutely realizing that the long-held ideals of our nation, as embodied in the Constitution’s aspirations of the right to equal justice, the right to pursue happiness and the right to individual liberty, are, in fact, unfairly and inequitably distributed across our society. This, of course, has been a reality since the founding of our Republic and, although we have made progress through our struggles and our changes, it is nonetheless jolting to see these inequalities manifested through the unfair treatment of individuals based on their race and ethnicity by the very government designed to protect and defend their rights as citizens.
The blatant abuse of power by the police as exhibited in the case of George Floyd, and many others, is in many ways akin to the actual abuses of power perpetrated against Americans in ways that led to the revolution against Great Britain. The very founding of our nation was a result of these mistreatments by the ruling government itself at the time.
Individuals have rights, the government must protect those rights, and the government must not be involved in injuring or diminishing those rights, particularly in its exertion of power towards its people.
The Constitution of the United States is perhaps the most important aspirational document ever written and codified by humans to govern themselves, particularly in the sense that it leaves very little to doubt about its goals of equality, justice, liberty, and the ability to pursue happiness by the individual as its purpose. That document, the Constitution, is in and of itself our collective aspirational goal, the society we wish we could be as a people. Can we find ways in all that we do, including policing, education, and social welfare, to meet the ideals of that Constitution and all that it stands for? The answer is no, unless we are willing to face our failings, call out our injustices, and drive towards the changes needed to achieve the common goals America was built to achieve.
In August 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King in his globally noted and socially profound “I Have A Dream” speech, outlined exactly this concept of aspiration. Dr. King used the “dream” concept to describe a world in the future in which the actual articulation of the aspirations of the Constitution could be realized in every person’s life regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, or social class. He did this with a level of eloquent intensity that set the stage for the pursuit of further attainment of the American constitutional aspirations. He knew the aspirations; he knew the intent of the words and the concepts; he knew the philosophies on which they were based and that they were substantial and powerful in terms of what is a human being; he knew the struggles that preceded in the evolution of the United States; and he knew the struggle that he was a part of as a leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, which ultimately cost him his own life.
The key point here by Dr. King, and I think the key point of the Constitution itself, goes well beyond any interpretation of the Constitution by a particular sitting Supreme Court, for as we know many of those interpretations from the past would be found today to be appalling, but rather towards the idea of fighting for and driving toward and working toward our national aspirational goals, particularly of equality and justice.
We, the university community broadly and Arizona State University specifically, are, in fact, an aspirational institution and we have, in fact, been woefully inadequate, up to this point, in our own efforts to facilitate the means by which higher aspirational attainment might be achieved for these central goals to our society. This is particularly true as we have grown and diversified as a society.
At ASU, we have taken to heart the notion of designing and building the “New American University,” a university built on the notion of maximum social inclusion, maximum academic excellence, and maximum impact on serving our communities all from the same institution. In the last 15–20 years, Arizona State University students have become representative of the totality of the diversity of our society, and we have altered the functional way in which we operate to help bring about this “New America,” this aspirational attainment of our core values, as stated through the U.S. Constitution. But, even with that, we have been too slow in the concept of redesigning, reconceptualizing, restaffing, re-empowering and enabling the institutions that we, the university more broadly and ASU more specifically, have helped to design, create, staff, and assess. Our institutions are not living up to our hopes. They are not yet as capable as they need to be to reach our collective dream.
Why is it that we still have systems and institutions that can carry out and often justify injustices in the name of the people? Why is it that we have inadequate learning and empowerment opportunities in so many areas of our society? Why do we have police officers so inadequately trained that groups of them can stand by while a person is murdered in a public display of abuse of authority? Why do we not have enough new tools for enhancing the outcomes of our criminal justice system or enough new ideas and solutions about how to address drug addiction and other powerfully negative forces at work in our society? Why have universities become increasingly elitist organizations drawing only from the cream of the cream of our society or from families producing “learning elites” from significant amounts of personal wealth and personal networks? These and many other questions are questions that we can and should not only address but attack and begin to resolve.
But, in spite of all of our efforts, we still have insufficient ideas for social transformation where it might make the most positive difference in terms of accelerating the rate of change and accelerating the rate of enhanced social justice and accelerating the rate of enhanced pursuit of happiness across as much of our society as is possible. We need to do more.
To do more, I am asking our deans and faculty and students of all of our ASU colleges to outline new initiatives, new programs, and new designs that we can initiate with our own resources and then pursue additional partners in creating and deploying new solutions. Our Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, our Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, our School of Social Transformation, our Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, and other critical ASU academic communities can outline new efforts, new concepts, and new strategies to devise new models for protecting and defending the rights of individuals; new methods, new concepts, and new tools for policing; models for justice and the law that are, in fact, implementable throughout the process and not only after injustices have occurred.
All of our schools and all of our programs, as well as all of our faculty, can engage in this process of new ideas, new designs, and new concepts, while we, as Arizona State University, continue to strive towards our aspirational goal of being the highest quality, highest performing, most egalitarian university operating across the breadth of our society that we possibly can be.
To do this, I am asking that the deans engage in a college-by-college process and that the student leaders also engage in a process for specific new initiatives that we can undertake. I would like to be able to review these aspirational attainment ideas before the opening of the fall semester so that we might get some new energy focused here as faculty and students reassemble.
If, in the interim, there are immediate ideas or immediate actions, get those to me straightaway.
My hope is that we can take a good hard look at our own intellectual underpinnings here and ask ourselves, “are there things that we can do differently or designs that we can produce or teaching and learning that we can alter that can help produce new and better aspirational attainment for the goals of our country?”
I look forward to our moving forward as soon as possible with new efforts.
Michael M. Crow
Arizona State University