In a recent interview with the New York Times, Arizona State University president Michael Crow discussed the steps that ASU has taken to improve the quality of education offered.
President Crow outlined ASU’s approach, emphasizing its inclusivity, from the use of technology—like the “eAdvisor” program for online learners—to a partnership with Starbucks. But, behind the tech-heavy offerings, was an even more promising phenomenon—a president who understands that inclusivity is not achieved through ever-expanding enrollment and the erosion of admissions standards. Said President Crow of state funding for higher ed: “Our argument to the state has been that you fund us for the wrong thing; it shouldn’t be our enrollment but what we produce.”
That’s a rare outlook among today’s higher ed executives—or so the excuses offered by University of Texas at Austin president Bill Powers would have led us to believe. President Powers defended himself this past February, against allegations that he had admitted unqualified applicants to UT-Austin, by claiming that “everyone else does it.” But we should not allow the revelations of a cozy system of privilege that rewarded the politically connected at the expense of academic standards, more deserving students, and a basic sense of integrity, to be brushed off so lightly. Here’s what President Crow had to say when asked about the dealings of his counterpart in Texas:
A.S.U. is not one of the great land-grant universities with highly selective admissions requirements. We’re an institution that appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the desert. Here, people who meet the qualifications are admitted. I’ve never made an exception for someone who doesn’t meet the requirements. If I’m asked to help someone who doesn’t meet the qualifications, I’ll tell them the pathway to get here.
It’s time for more university presidents to follow President Crow’s firm principle, that admitting unqualified students serves no one. Least of all the unprepared kids who will struggle to keep up with classwork above their preparation level. We need more leaders who are willing to put their students first. We need presidents who recognize that they—and the governing boards to which they answer—are all entrusted by taxpayers, parents, and students to faithfully serve the needs of the state and the nation.
Tellingly, a brave member of the UT Board of Regents played a major role in uncovering President Powers’ secret admissions scheme. The alarm was first sounded by Wallace Hall, a regent who faced censure and criminal charges for his dedication and concern. His unwavering pursuit of the matter is another important example of the execution of fiduciary responsibility in higher education.
Keeping costs in control, improving academic standards, and preventing the kind of rampant fraud uncovered in the UT admissions office, requires presidents and governing boards who accept clear standards of accountability. President Crow’s deep integrity has articulated an important model for national leadership.
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