What I'm Reading: 'Designing the New American University'

Raftermen Photography

May 26, 2015

Richard A. DeMillo, a professor of computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology and director of its Center for 21st Century Universities

There are two kinds of books about higher education. The first kind offer prescriptions for the various ills facing colleges and universities. In that genre, it is common to not only bash the current system but to recommend that it be swept aside and replaced by something else entirely. Then there are books by college presidents. With few exceptions — William Bowen’s prodigious bibliography comes to mind — these tend to be of the valedictory and memoir variety.

It is rare that a sitting president publishes a statement of intent, but that’s exactly what Arizona State University’s president, Michael M. Crow, and his collaborator, the historian William B. Dabars, have done in Designing the New American University. Like Clark Kerr’s The Uses of the University, which defined American research universities for the last half of the 20th century, it is a road map for the future.

I began interviewing Mr. Crow about his vision for higher education in 2009 when I was writing Abelard to Apple, my book on the challenges facing most universities. Our discussions continued for my forthcoming book Revolution in Higher Education. Every conversation with Michael starts in midsentence, and the ideas come in such profusion that piecing them together seems hopeless. I tore into his book, hoping that it would paint a coherent picture. I was not disappointed. For those like me who want to see Mr. Crow’s gold standard for egalitarian, inclusive research universities realized, this is a hard book to put down.

What have you read lately that is insightful and useful to you as you think about higher education? Send submissions of 100 to 200 words to