“The New American University.”  To the outsider, or to the leader of another higher education institution, it may sound like a brash and arrogant boast.  On the inside, for a person associated with Arizona State University (ASU), it can be an aspirational expression of pride and the opportunity to take a leadership role in U.S. higher education.  ASU’s president, Michael Crow, envisions the “new American university” as one “measured not by who we exclude, but rather by who we include and how they succeed.”  At base, ASU’s experience under Crow’s leadership poses two crucial questions: Is it possible to get a large public university with a $2 billion budget to change, to innovate, and embrace a new direction?  And if so, what does it take to make that happen?

To begin to answer these questions, we interviewed senior administrators, deans, and faculty at ASU and reviewed institutional data and materials. In our judgment, the organizational culture at ASU has changed dramatically.  The vision of the institution has been clearly communicated, is well understood, and has been embraced by the senior leadership.  There is a shared sense of urgency and enthusiasm for innovation, in general, as well as the specific changes introduced by Crow.  The data on institutional performance indicate that ASU is growing and becoming more productive on a variety of measures, and is making progress on becoming a more inclusive institution.  Guided by a stable and compelling vision, straightforward but ambitious targets, and an openness to risk-taking and innovation, the university appears to be moving in a new direction, a direction focused on maintaining or improving educational and research quality while educating an ever-increasing number of students.

Our report, In Pursuit of Excellence: Managing Change at Arizona State University, also includes extensive notes from our interviews with Crow, the provost, deans, department chairs, and other administrators at ASU. We hope that these candid accounts help readers gauge for themselves the extent of change at ASU.