An Interview with Michael Crow,
President, Arizona State University
Since being named president of Arizona State University in 2002, Michael Crow has worked to transform the school into a more responsive, risk-taking, and entrepreneurial institution. An educator/entrepreneur and founding director of several technology companies, Crow has instilled a burgeoning research culture at Arizona State while making sure that the university has had an impact on the Phoenix area and the state of Arizona.
Crow's belief that universities benefit when varied disciplines converge upon an idea and develop it as rapidly and completely as possible mirrors the Kauffman Foundation's efforts to instill a spirit of entrepreneurship across campuses. Below, Crow talks about his experiences and his vision for our country's universities.
How have your experiences as an entrepreneur molded your actions as a college president?
They have made me understand things that universities usually don't understand, especially in regard to speed. Universities usually err on the side of being too deliberative, which means they often miss out on opportunities. From the business world, you learn about the need for adaptability, rigor, and quick but intelligent decision-making.
You've come up with the term "the New American University." What does it mean?
The essence of America is that it is an open, inclusive, welcoming, freewheeling, free-enterprise country that values diversity and moving ideas forward. At Arizona State, we're looking at knowledge advancement, openness, and inclusiveness, and asking ourselves, "Can we build a university with all these things in it?" Most universities want to deliver a critique of what they see in society instead of really getting involved in it. Traditionally, they have been sequestered, sometimes elitist. What we're asking is, "Can't we make this a more open, entrepreneurial process?" Universities don't all have to be the same thing. Some can be built on the European model, which is more aloof. I'm arguing for more differentiation. Many universities are envious of Harvard or Stanford right now-and certainly those universities do great things. But how many universities can be that? We have 300 million people in this country. The rules that were in place when those universities were founded and grew don't apply. We have to build a university that can embrace the full diversity of a society as it evolves.
You have said that universities should become better at responding to the needs of their regions. What have you done to make Arizona State more responsive?
We've decided that, in order to be as diverse as we need to be to serve the people of the Phoenix region and those in Arizona, we will be big. We're going to grow from fewer than 60,000 students to 95,000. Our goal is to provide high-quality, research-grade education for 95,000 students in a top-flight university. We've also begun a number of initiatives to respond to the needs of the region, including one called the Stardust Center for Affordable Homes and the Family, which will help create 40,000 affordable housing units in the greater Phoenix area. We're attacking a regional problem while giving our students and faculty a chance to work on a great project. In order to make it work, they have to engage private investors and unravel all of the complexities surrounding social relationships and design. My belief is that the people of Arizona owe us nothing more than the opportunity to engage with them. In return, we need to outline what we want to do. Then, we'll report on our returns.
What programs have you introduced to make Arizona State a more entrepreneurial institution?
We've started a student entrepreneurship center, where we help to fund students' business ideas. We've also formed a center for nonprofit leadership that will help students think of new ways to be social entrepreneurs. We've also started what we call the ASU Technopolis, a consortium of 250 entrepreneurially oriented companies that interact with our faculty and discuss how to advance companies. The purpose of all this is to instill entrepreneurial energy and encourage discussion at every level of the institution.
Although Arizona State is not one of the eight Kauffman Campuses that have received multi-million-dollar grants to encourage entrepreneurial thinking, have you been able to glean whether the program has had any value for the campuses involved?
The Kauffman Foundation is working to advance ways for campuses to become more entrepreneurial and to replicate the knowledge that comes from their efforts. A knowledge-driven economy needs financial and knowledge capital, both of which are underleveraged by universities. That's because universities and their cultures are confused about their roles in a knowledge-based economy. The Kauffman Foundation is helping to change that culture-by bringing legitimacy, funding, and a network other campuses can learn from. The Kauffman Foundation is also helping universities become more competitive as the global knowledge competition intensifies.
Editor's Note: At the time of this article, Arizona State University was not a Kauffman Campus. However, in the second round of grants, awarded in December 2006, ASU was awarded $5 million to support its efforts to become the "New American University." Find out more