THE NEW GOLD STANDARD: DESIGN IMPERATIVES OF A NEW AMERICAN UNIVERSITY
DESIGN IMPERATIVE 7: SOCIAL EMBEDDEDNESS
As we seek to cultivate the excellence of our academic programs, I believe it is incumbent on us to examine their relevance to society—especially to our region—and to structure our programs in ways that not only advance knowledge, but wherever practicable, directly serve the needs of the people of Arizona, as well as the larger national and international communities.
Universities must meet the needs of their local communities. To pick just one example at the local level, ASU should take the lead in addressing problems in our K-12 educational system. Beginning here in Phoenix, ASU needs to find out what our local communities need, and ASU should be structured to meet those needs.
But there is a much broader social obligation that must be met. As members of an academic community, I believe we must share our expertise globally to help alleviate the host of problems that beset our increasingly complex world. We have a responsibility to consider not only the value and relevance of our research, but also its outcome. We must seek to make certain that the technologies we develop become available to the disadvantaged, and not just the wealthiest corporations and nations.
Much university research is necessarily esoteric because we are involved in the discovery of fundamental knowledge, a process that is arduous regardless of the field. ASU must be a university in which scholars consider the impact—the transformational effect—of their work on society. ASU must be a community of scholars—scientists, engineers, philosophers, artists, poets, historians—concerned with the impact of their work, giving thought to its possible role in a better society. We must integrate the advancement of knowledge with the transformation of society.
As members of an academic community, we must set an example of what it means to be a community. If we do not set an example of what it means to be a community, and lead the way to open discourse and the free exchange of ideas, then who will? We must be a place that is open to diversity of thought and culture and expression. In a sense, academic institutions reflect society in a utopian microcosm—certainly we are as varied and diverse, if not more so. And if we are not, we should be.
The university is a social incubator. We must engage the society evolving before our eyes. We must find new ways to embrace difference, and move ahead of social and intellectual currents. We must think through new ways to govern, and promote evolution in democracy and all our institutions. We must foster new conceptions in the arts and all spheres of culture, and all these things must be done in an environment of openness and free discourse.
What this means, then, is finding the mechanisms to think through the
issues and complexities associated with problems as seemingly intractable
as religious-based conflict, and fostering a social and intellectual environment
which would allow a subject of that complexity to be addressed. In this
sense, the university is a social incubator where all are free to speak,
and all are free to learn, and all are free to speak and learn together
in ways that could not elsewhere be imagined.