A new american university – embracing complexity, though none too clearly

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

Thanks to Geoff Rose for pointing me towards Arizona State University's ambitions to be a new american university.  ASU's website says this about its objectives ...

ASU is a force that creates meaningful change.

ASU has changed the objectives for the university as a whole and for individuals within the institution. ASU seeks to create meaningful change by producing knowledge that translates to action. On the individual level, that means listening to the needs that communities express and working together on solutions

ASU embraces complexity

"It’s all about networks. As a big university, ASU can offer a network of approaches to a network of problems.  ASU tackles large challenges with multiple, coordinated solutions.  ASU recognizes sustainability as one of the most important issues facing society today.  In fact, sustainability involves a host of problems, solutions, stakeholders, values, policies, geographies and people.  It’s an enormous topic.  And that’s our objective: deal with the difficult issue. Create multiple, differentiated solutions to a thorny, multifaceted problem.

ASU confronts sustainability questions through a global interdisciplinary institute, a school (the first school of sustainability in the United States) and a wide variety of initiatives undertaken by individuals across the university.  Among these is an array of approaches to producing renewable energy sources.

One of ASU’s biofuel projects uses algae to produce kerosene-based jet fuel in collaboration with Boeing.  Algal oil is surprisingly similar to vegetable oils, but algae produce a significantly higher oil yield, making the bacteria a perfect potential fuel source.  Creating jet fuel out of algae has major implications for human consumption of fossil fuels, but its potential won’t be fully realized without simultaneous social changes.  So other teams of ASU researchers and entrepreneurs are figuring out how to address the policy, ethics and social intricacies that go along with this new technology.  One group looks at how science and technology policy might be improved.  Another team has started a nonprofit organization that advocates for biofuels in the region.


Fine words; I'm told there are objectives lurking in here somewhere, though I couldn't find them.  It was the same with ASU's vision.  Far too many words; far too little clarity.  Here's an example:

Already, ASU has built a new physical and intellectual environment for learning and discovery.  ASU has changed the community of people who inhabit that environment.  And ASU has rewritten the objectives for the people in that environment as well as for the institution as a whole. By breaking the mold, ASU has become a place where local solutions have global impact.

ASU has clearly invested heavily in rhetorical futures.  UBC can breathe again.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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