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In March, Johns Hopkins University Press will release Arizona State University president Michael Crow’s book (co-authored with William Dabars), Designing the New American University[1].

JHUP’s marketing copy tells us that: “Following a comprehensive reconceptualization spanning more than a decade, ASU has emerged as an international academic and research powerhouse that serves as the foundational prototype for the new model. Crow has led the transformation of ASU into an egalitarian institution committed to academic excellence, inclusiveness to a broad demographic, and maximum societal impact.”

The book has glowing blurbs from both Bill Clinton and Jeb Bush.

Daniel Greenstein, the Gates Foundation director of Education, Postsecondary Success says, “This book is a route map, rationale, and guide for the few and the bold who dare to step forward to build the universities we need for the twenty-first century.”

I’ve been thinking about where this “guide” will take us.

It will take us to a place where introductory college-level math is primarily taught by software, rather than people.

It will take us to a place where writing instructors are tasked to teach more than twice as many students as recommended by disciplinary experts[2].

It will take us to a place that relentlessly mines student data to feed into algorithms that advise students on what courses to take, or what they should major in, a path that may differ depending on things like the student’s ethnic background or family structure.

It will take us to a place where enrollment increases by 8% - a “record” 82,000 students - even as state funding is reduced.

It will take us to a place with something called the “Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development[3]” that lists ten staff at various levels of “Vice President” along with three “Directors,” all of whom make six-figure salaries[4].

It will take us to a place where the president of a public university makes $900,000 per year.

It will take us to a place where the tenured faculty are more than content - either because of cowardice or indifference or base callousness - to use their non-tenurable colleagues as generators of surplus in order to protect their own privilege


I’m going to have to differ with former president Clinton and possible future president Bush. To me, Arizona State looks like a dystopia, rather than a model for the future.

ASU is pretty clearly set up as a factory of credentialing, and any lip-service to educational excellence, particularly in the undergraduate sphere, is exactly that. I’m certain there are legions of non-tenurable faculty laboring heroically to do the best they can, but it is impossible to look at the available evidence and see quality undergraduate instruction as any kind of institutional priority.

They are increasing enrollment and cutting deals with Starbucks in an effort to hoover up “market share,” which to my knowledge is not a recognized trait of quality education.

They are a corporation where non-tenurable labor functions as engines of surplus in order to support a corporate hierarchy.

Arizona State is indistinguishable from Amazon.

I’m certain that there are people who view this as a good thing, who agree with Bill Clinton and Jeb Bush.

But I’m also confident that very few of the tenured faculty in English (or the humanities as a whole) agree with President Crow’s vision. I bet that they feel besieged by these changes, and there is much grumbling and handwringing.

And yet there is no action. There isn’t even a public outcry of any kind. The Arizona State English department chair Mark Lussier refers all inquiries to a university spokesperson, who – judging from his comment -  is quite possibly an algorithm himself.

The protections of tenure are designed for these very contingencies.

What are these tenured faculty afraid of?

My only conclusion is that the tenured faculty in Arizona State’s English department are content to maintain the privilege of their personal gravy trains as long as possible, and they don’t particularly care if it comes at the cost of others.

Of course, their reprieve is temporary. The "New American University" is coming for them next. It’s just a matter of time.

I wish I could say I’ll feel for them when that time comes, but I have a hunch schadenfreude is a more likely emotion.


[1] I’ve requested a review copy, but as of yet have not heard whether or not I’ll be receiving one.

[2] I’m teaching three sections of first-year-writing this semester, 20 students each, and even as an instructor with 15+ years of experience, I am already stretched to breaking. I cannot imagine double this load. It is not possible without a ridiculous amount of personal sacrifice by the instructor, or significantly compromising the quality of instruction.

[3] They didn’t actually get the name from Orwell’s 1984, but it would fit nicely.

[4] You can, as I did, search this database for salaries. Note that the database is only current as of 2010, and in some cases don’t reflect the current positions of the individuals within the office, so the salaries are likely higher.


I've been scouring Twitter for even statements of solidarity from TT faculty at ASU, as of yet, it's undetectable.