Discussion Questions

The exchange and exploration of ideas and objectives has been integral to the evolution of ASU as a New American University. The discussion questions below are provided to help support a deeper understanding of the the concepts discussed in Designing the New American University and hopefully, to inspire additional constructive dialogue on the subject of university design and higher education innovation.


  1. Institutions of higher education in our society have a complex set of mandates. They generate knowledge, educate our workforce, and serve the common good, among other pursuits. Do these goals need to be prioritized? How should universities balance these mandates?
  2. What are the most important contributions of institutions of higher education to our society?
  3. Does the collective public have a responsibility to worry about income inequality in society? Does it have a responsibility to worry about inequality of opportunity? Should universities be considered tools that work to enhance equality of opportunity in society? Why or Why not?
  4. President Crow describes ASU’s objective to move away from institutional bureaucratic entrenchment toward a boundary-spanning enterprise model. What are the risks and benefits of such an objective?
  5. To what extent do public research institutions have an obligation to admit all capable residents?
  6. How can we shape the public dialogue to focus on attending to the needs of the 96% of high school students who do not enroll at highly-exclusive universities?
  7. President Crow discusses a delicate balance between tradition and innovation. What do you consider to be the appropriate balance between tradition and innovation?
  8. Does success in today’s society require college? Why or why not?
  9. How can we create an environment that inspires our most at-risk youth to feel supported and capable of continued learning, regardless of the form or institution in which they acquire this learning?
  10. During the recession, state governments drastically cut funding to public universities. ASU managed to increase total revenue, cut costs, and still maintain outcomes during the recession. In light of this information, should states restore the funding? Why or why not?
  11. One of ASU’s design aspirations is to conduct use-inspired research—modeled on Pasteur’s quadrant—to bridge the gap between pure, basic research and pure, applied research. Should more universities take this approach? What are your thoughts on the concept of use-inspired research?
  12. To what extent should we direct faculty research to be use-inspired? How should universities balance academic autonomy with their obligation to serve society? Do some disciplines bear a heavier obligation than others?
  13. Do you believe tenured faculty have a professional responsibility to be excellent teachers, by enhancing the common good, engaging globally and being socially embedded? If so, how should these prerogatives be integrated into their classes?
  14. President Crow claims exclusive universities, public and private, are perpetuating inter-generational class privilege by serving such a limited number of young people. What are the implications of this model for the future of our society?
  15. The New American University has sought to fuse academic disciplines and departments. What are some of the risks and benefits of this approach?
  16. What can exclusive universities, public and private, learn from the New American University model? What can ASU learn from these exclusive institutions while still maintaining its commitment to its unique design?
  17. How can society strike a balance between valuing an institution based on reputation or prestige and valuing an institution based on individual student outcomes and use-inspired research? Why would pursuing this be a worthwhile effort?
  18. R&D budgets of both the public and private sector have diminished rapidly over the past few decades. Do we need to turn back this trend? If so, why?
  19. President Crow posits that function follows form -- meaning that universities need to design themselves in a way that helps achieve their self-determined goals -- as opposed to form follows function, which limits the design of universities and thus limits their potential. Are there other sectors of the economy that would benefit from a redesign like the one proposed in the book? Or are these lessons uniquely applicable to higher education?
  20. What would it take to make sustainability a core aspiration of the same significance to the American people as liberty, justice, and equality?
  21. How relevant and important is diversity in the student and faculty body at an institution of higher education? To what extent should institutions continue to make a commitment to diversity, including race, socioeconomic factors, etc.?
  22. To what extent is it appropriate for universities to react quickly to trends and shifts in society? How should a university disperse its energy between taking the role of a catalyst for change and serving as a cautious regulator?