Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

October 1, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

ASU President Michael Crow


  • ASU President Michael Crow discusses some of the challenges facing the university.
Guests:
  • Michael Crow - President, Arizona State University
Category: Education

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. With increasing enrollment and declining state revenue, ASU has plenty of its own challenges to overcome. Now it's taking on some of society's most pressing issues. "Challenges Before Us" is a new university initiative that addresses concerns in public health, education and the environment. Here with more on the initiative is ASU president Dr. Michael Crow. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

Michael Crow: Good to see you, Ted.

Ted Simons: The challenges before us, tell us more.

Michael Crow: We're seven into a systematic redesign of ASU, moving ourselves in the direction of being a very accessible, deeply public university with an outstanding faculty and now that we've achieved a lot of progress toward that objective, one would say what would an university with that unique public purpose, mission do? And for us it's got to be a lot more than just the normal things. We're going do all of those, creative learning and great instruction for our students and we want to take the power and the know-how and the capability of the university and begin a series of challenges essential for our state and nation to address.

Ted Simons: Starting with the idea of defending and extending human rights, what can a university do to that end?

Michael Crow: In terms of these challenge, including human rights, we're focused on laying down the intellectual framework through which human rights can continue to evolve. Like anything, the challenges are not what you have achieved but how much further you have to go. We still live on a planet where human rights are not evenly offered and there are huge levels of suffering and you can attack problems like that with technology and with new types of learning and teachings that you can -- teaching technologies and how might we contribute to that.

Ted Simons: Is this an academic exercise or actual reaching out to different parts of the world?

Michael Crow: It's not an academic exercise. We have lots of academic exercises. We think that's an insufficient robust learning environment for many of our students. We think we need the academic exercises of theory and rhetoric and all other things that help to build critical thinking and problem solving and we think our faculty and students should devote their energy to the significant problems out there, in the sense that some universities need to focus on smaller or narrower questions only, some on a range of questions, some need to have a broadly focused position lie ASU where they're focusing both on the reductionistic and we're working on both.

Ted Simons: The challenge, how to lead healthier, more fulfilling lives, these are the things that the university can do this community right now.

Michael Crow: When we talk about the challenges, to his not just challenges overseas or other parts of the United States. Our principle duty is not people that own the institution. The residents of Arizona, the citizens. How do you build more vibrant communities in Arizona? There's aspects related to sustainability and related to social discourse and aspects related to education and community enhancement and new ways to physically enhance communities and new ideas to move the community forward and so it's all of those things.

Ted Simons: In terms of things like how we can promote shared economic prosperity and a sustainable way of life. Give us tangible ideas on how you see this going about. Addressing those issues right in town, in terms of community interaction.

Michael Crow: Let's look at shared economic prosperity. Arizona is last among the 50 states in the United States, the gap between the rich and poor. I'm not a believer that income redistribution nor is the institution a big believer in income redistribution as the pathway to deal with that. One has to focus on how do you make certain you have access to high-quality education and how do you have citizens learn the natural entrepreneurial skills and innovation and make sure that's evenly available to everyone. In terms of enhancing community and dealing with income disparities, it's about pushing the entire community up by providing new ideas and knowledge and opportunities and access to those things that make the most difference which are related to innovation and competitiveness.

Ted Simons: And it helps for the Arizona State University to inculcate itself in the community in this way to show how valuable a university is.

Michael Crow: Not just valuable. We think the only institution ever established by a direct vote of the people. We have an allegiance to the people and a focus on the people and what all of the people need in the present state we're in is they need the kinds of commitment that we're offering to the community to being commit to the community's ultimate success, its economic success, social success and cultural success.

Ted Simons: I can hear a parent saying, maybe some students saying this is all fine and dandy. I have just don't want the curriculum to change too much.

Michael Crow: Well, in a place as big and diverse as ASU, you have lots of ways you can plug in. There's plenty of traditional programs. Plenty of very creative and avant-garde programs and a parent or student doesn't have to worry that a child or adult learner isn't well-prepared to what lies ahead. We make that a part of our core mission. Students will be prepared for the challenges that lie ahead which is a function not so much of the details they learn in the classroom. It's really the learning how to learn function. The learning how to solve complex problems. It’s learning how to think critically. Those are the things we teach across all of our disciplines and the disciplines are the foundations from which we're able to work on certain problems, but we really learn the higher order functions and teach them.

Ted Simons: Not necessarily replacing certain curriculum and ideas but enhancing the study?

Michael Crow: Right, this is not in lieu of. This is -- in the sense the way to look at this, if we want to succeed in anything we're doing, if we're running an auto company, a bank, a real estate enterprise, a tourist oriented business or university, they're all the same. If you don't innovate, continue to evolve, advance, then you won't be successful. Our innovations are in creating enhanced teaching, learning and discovery environments. We do that not by abandoning the past or the way we've done things, but by enhancing how we've done things. How do you learn quickly, across more subjects and tackle more complex things? One of the things we're seeing in our present economic situation we did a poor job of managing complexity. You have to take on challenging things that are complex, that's how you learn how to deal with them.

Ted Simons: The ideal of entrepreneurship is big. Give us more of a definition or example of how that might work especially in these challenges.

Michael Crow: So entrepreneurship -- what is it? It's basically taking creative ideas a person might come up with, be they for a social or business enterprise or a solution for a problem in a school district or whatever it happens to be and knowing how to take that idea forward to fruition. What we've done in the last few years is worked to find ways to teach entrepreneurship or make it available to all of our students in all of our colleges and take on things, like in our journalism school we have technology and new media centers focusing on new ways to communicate and reporting and new ways for reaching out and linking people together so they can learn from each other and those are examples of entrepreneurship at work.

Ted Simons: What about funding, where is it coming from, how much is it going to cost?

Michael Crow: Funding comes from people that agree with us that these are important challenges and so we have been receiving large amounts of private philanthropy to advance our agenda. And we expect that to increase and our research and project funding has gone up over 10 fold. We expect that to continue to move forward because we're advancing an agenda and ideas that people are interested in. Federal funding has been increasing, and so a range of sources of funding have been increasing.

Ted Simons: Critics say these are grand ideas and good ideas, but those ideas at a time when tuition costs are increasing for everyday students need to take a back seat to other pressing issues. How would you respond?

Michael Crow: I would want to speak to the person who thought that because that's not how all of this works. Our tuition costs is a small fraction of the overall cost of the instructional activities. Right now the state and tuition cover the cost of instructional activities with some private philanthropy being supportive. We're efficient at ASU. In Arizona, overall. We produce dollars in from the state, in the top three of all states in terms of degrees produced per dollar put into the system. That means we're very efficient. We believe in being as effective as possible, but at the same time, a high-quality, world-class college degree, either undergraduate or graduate does have an expense to it-- we work to keep our tuition at a low comparative level and evolved elaborate financial aid mechanisms from the university, matched with the federal government and with private philanthropy that allows our students to have access to the institution at a level that's costed appropriately to the family income. We’ve implemented that program in ways that are very successful.

Ted Simons: Is that message getting across, though, to parents who are looking at tuition costs and in-state parents looking at tuition costs and saying, I don't know where I'm going to get the money? I don't know why they're charging so much. Are they getting that message?

Michael Crow: We certainly know there's more students attending the university in year and last year and more last year than the year before and we have high demand for the services and at the same time, we're trying to reach out to families so they know we have a range of financial tool that allow -- we don't think of tuition as a cost. We think of it as an investment, because there's a measurable return from the investment. You buy a car, that's a cost. An air conditioner, that's a cost. A college education is an investment. And so we've kept the initial investment requirements to attend ASU modest relative to family income. And we hope that we’re getting as many people to understand that as possible.

Ted Simons: And again, you have had your critics regarding your ideas for the new American university and there are those who would say lots of great ideas expanding too much, there's too much going on as opposed to the traditional disciplines of a college education. Your response.

Michael Crow: What's interesting, look at the world. The world is not getting simpler, it's getting increasingly complex. Our competitors are arising around us. The American economy has gone through a jolt. Which has been a function of ourselves retreating too much. I'm not one who thinks that institutions should retreat to be successful. Institutions have to adapt. They have to move forward and innovate. We're not doing anything other than innovating and I believe strongly we're producing a better educational product, a better opportunity for our graduates to be successful and a better overall environment for the university to have high impact in Arizona.

Ted Simons; Those ideas, do you think the state shares those ideas or again, because we hear this all the time. We have lawmakers on and lots of people talking about education, higher education in particular, saying we just want reading, writing and arithmetic. A stable traditional education. And over at ASU, they've got these highfalutin ideas overlooking the traditional.

Michael Crow: We do the reading and writing and arithmetic and our students have those abilities and then some. The complexities that lie ahead will require more than those fundamental skills. We teach the fundamental skills with the best of them. Our students al leave with them, but leave with more than just the fundamental skills. The fundamental skills that were adequate in 1950 or 1930 or 1900 are no longer by themselves adequate. We have to have them and teach them, we do teach them but we have to go so much further and we've figured out how to go so much further in ways that we have a creative set of schools and colleges doing a fantastic job offering great programs.

Ted Simons: Back to the initiative, what kind of accountability goes on here?

Michael Crow: We are having an impact. Let's look at greater Phoenix, we still have continued heat index. We have faculty working on not just studying nighttime heat increases but taking accountability about how to move things lower. Teacher preparation. We believe that the K-12, I believe that the K-12 educational enterprise has not suffered only because of financial issues not suffered only because of governance issues or cultural and social complexity. But also because we have not yet done an adequate job in preparing our teachers for the environment they're going in. We're restructuring how we produce teachers and how we move them through the program and into the K-12 environment and we have to take responsibility. So the accountability here is, are we for instance on the challenge of enhancing K-12 education, if the numbers don't improve, we failed. If there aren't more students graduating from high school, we've failed. If there aren't more students doing better in terms of numbers and skills, we fail. That's how you measure the accountability.

Ted Simons: Tangible results at the end of the day. Board of regents approved the initiative?

Michael Crow: They've given us a focused set of objectives for the next 10 years. We're being asked to increase our production of baccalaureate degrees by 50% and increase our funded research activity by 120% in the next 10 years, those are two massive objectives for us. These challenges will become a part of our process to attain those objectives.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about money issues and those objectives and the overall running of the university. How much is the budget situation affecting day-to-day operations at ASU?

Michael Crow: Right now we have stabilized after dramatic cuts from the state. Those cuts came quickly because of the state's financial crisis and we had to implement them quickly. All in, about $130 million in reductions. If you add the dollars we've lost from the proposition 301 revenue. Called TRIF, that supports our research activities. Closer to $150 million. We've made permanent cuts. More than $50 million. We're using federal stimulus dollars to help us and we have a tuition surcharge and roughly one-third, one-third, one-third.

Ted Simons: Where does the university go from here so far as future budget requests and what you're likely to get from the state?

Michael Crow: The board of regents made the decision at the most recent meeting to ask the universities to submit -- and this is unusual and I think representative of the financial and political situation the state is in to put our full need on the table. So there's no need what it is we need to be successful. The state will have a difficult decision whether or not it can fund that full need. In all likelihood, that's not very probable. But nonetheless, that's the need. If that's the need, so basically people see where we are. And then from this point forward, we have to negotiate where we are. With the leaders of the state relative to their investment in the universities.

Ted Simons: You're saying that's unusual, in the past has the board discounted as far as the request is concerned?

Michael Crow: In the past, the request was more a request which did not reflect the full need. It reflected what the calculation was that the universities and the board might be able to get from the state and then you'd go into a negotiation mode. This is a request for the full need. Now, the board's logic for that is -- let's put it all on the table. Now, a situation we're facing now is that the universities reduction on a per student basis at ASU is not the three or four reduction in budget that might be reflected in the present economic downturn. Our funding level has been reduced over 25 fiscal years. We're back to 1982 levels of funding in dollars. And so it's a huge issue for us in terms of moving the institution forward.

Ted Simons: And yet, Richard Boyce was quoted as saying such a request, $459 million was what the board came up for true cost was inappropriate at this time considering the state's budget situation how do you respond?

Michael Crow: I think the regents that voted to instruct the presidents to advance this request, hoping we would put the request of the resources we need to maintain the quality of the university, the programs of the university on track. I don't believe that there was an analysis of its political viability. There was, please put the entire need on the table. That's reflective of the fact if the state doesn't fund that request, the regents will have to look at that same request from a tuition perspective. They ask the universities to put the full need on the table. In our case, there's -- there's needs, and then there's wants. We didn't put any wants on table. We put only the needs and in our case, need dollars replacement of revenue that's already been lost.

Ted Simons: Is it your understanding -- and I know you want to be an optimist. But is it your understanding that lawmakers are getting that particular picture of how ASU is financed-- going back to 1982. Are they getting that message or is the budget situation such a cloudy day you can't see very much very far?

Michael Crow: This is a citizen's legislature and all of these folks have other jobs and so this is an unique situation and in decades we have not gone through these financial stresses and this is tough for everyone. And do legislators understand the impact of dramatic cuts on university? I think the answer is probably not. These are unusual times and so from our perspective, the issue is aggravated by the fact that the university in the last 25 years has grown dramatically because of the demand for what we have to offer has grown by the citizens of Arizona and the point is those two things together put us in the situation we're in.

Ted Simons: I know at the meeting you were quoted as saying or suggested that lawmakers were abdicating their constitutional duty in this regard.

Michael Crow: The Arizona constitution is clear. It only gives a few highly specific duties to the legislature. One of those duties is to provide for free access to public K-12 education for every child between the age of six and 21. And with the universities, it's their assigned duty to improve and enhance the universities so we might provide access it higher he had at the lowest possible cost and they're actually asked to consider their taxing structure on an annual basis so they might be able to do that. So the analogy for me, if that's what assigned to do by the constitution, to provide for education in that way, you need to give that a lot of attention. And it's not too dissimilar from the president of the United States and the congress being assigned to defend the country—the states don’t defend the country, the states educated the population. it's a principle duty assigned by the constitution. When you see that in Arizona, we've gone from $15 per thousand dollars of income in 1965 or so, going into higher education, to less than $5 in 2009. One would say, well, what was the decision along the way that the state would no longer invest in higher education in the way that it had 40 years ago?

Ted Simons: Last question, and kind of takes everything into account. I asked it in a different way earlier. But Arizona, we are what we are. Young, growing, we've got three major universities. Some smaller colleges but it's mostly concentrated. Very different than back east and other parts of the country. Is this state ready for the vision you see for a new American university, or do you need to take smaller steps to reach that goal?

Michael Crow: Well, I mean, Arizona is a fantastic place. There's a population is high ambition about what it sees for its children and what it sees for its future. The Arizona that lots of Arizonans want is one that is successful in terms of the natural environment. Successful in terms of economic opportunity. Successful in terms of quality of life. Those are all things that require some level of public investment. This is a small government state. That's fine. You can make it work. But it's a state that has not yet figured out how to deal with the fact that it's presently larger in population than Massachusetts, presently larger in population than Wisconsin, Washington or Missouri. And we need to think about the social infrastructures in the areas of education, areas like public amenity in terms of aesthetics and parks and so forth which gives Arizonans what they want, which is a high quality of life. Most people moved here, including myself, for a high quality of life to raise one's family, and that’s what people want.

Ted Simons: Good to see you again.

Michael Crow: Thank you.

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