A New American University: The New Gold Standard Next



When Louis Pasteur, the eminent French chemist and microbiologist, conducted his varied research, his concern was always to solve a particular problem. Having discovered that germs were the cause of fermentation, he realized that they could also cause contagious diseases. Pasteur devoted his late career to the development of vaccines that have protected millions from disease. This approach to scholarship has been termed use-inspired.

Disinterested inquiry—research free from vested interest—has always been a hallmark of the academy, and many of the advances in research that are the touchstones of scientific and technological accomplishment are the result of serendipity. But I envision a community of scholars also guided by a focus on purpose. Prestige attaches to the creation of new knowledge, but is it knowledge that can be harnessed to a purpose?

The social outcome of research is not always considered in an academic culture that regards knowledge as an end in itself. Our concern is to contribute to our disciplines, but rarely do we consider what larger contribution we may be making to society. As one of the founders of the Center for Science, Policy, and Outcomes in Washington, D.C., one of my particular academic interests is the purposes of our research.

A research university is inherently committed to the principle that teaching is most effectively carried out in a context that encourages the creation of new knowledge—teaching and research are intrinsically aligned. But our scientific, technical, artistic, theoretical, and philosophical sophistication far outstrips our knowledge of the relationship between research and its outcomes. What we must begin to do—and what our current academic culture sometimes fails to consider—is the purpose behind our work.

It is not the role of university administrators to inquire whether or not research serves some purpose. I am simply saying that academic culture must broaden its view to consider the social implications of research, and I am saying that at ASU we might begin to set an example.

Tomatos on the vineI could cite many examples of use-inspired scholarship taking place at ASU, but since I have alluded to Louis Pasteur and his work on vaccination, I will single out research currently underway in our department of plant biology. The leaders of this project realized that poverty and the limits of distribution technologies prevent the vaccination of much of the world’s population. As a consequence, the team is developing mechanisms for the delivery of vaccines for hepatitis B, smallpox, and other large-scale killers through genetically-altered tomatoes. Basic science that will lead to high social impact in a few short years. I call this approach to scholarship use-inspired.


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