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The Blue Collar Leader of America’s Most Innovative University

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
January 2, 2023 3:01 am

The Blue Collar Leader of America’s Most Innovative University

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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January 2, 2023 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, the remarkable story of Arizona State University and its President Michael Crow.

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For cleaning tips and exclusive offers, visit slash BonaClean. And we continue with our American stories and with someone who's been named one of the world's 50 greatest leaders. Michael Crow is the president of Arizona State University and has one of the most fascinating and unusual backgrounds for an academic, although he thinks that he shouldn't be such a rare bird. Here's Michael with his story. I had teenage parents who had run away to get married and ended up being a product of that early love, I guess. And so my dad was in the Navy.

My mother just graduated from high school. My dad was 19. My mother was 18. Lived in a public housing apartment building. So we were what was called Section 8 families, you know, so we lived on public assistance, public housing, because even though my dad was in the Navy, you know, they didn't pay people in the Navy very much. And so was able as a kid to grow up in a loving, caring family. But we moved constantly, lots of stresses and strains, constant moving, 21 times before I graduated from high school when I was 17.

We lived in Imperial Beach, California, and my dad was at the time in Asia on the USS Constellation. And then she starts getting sick and I come home from school in the third grade and she has passed out. She's actually bled out on the floor from her cancer that had cut some artery or something. She wasn't dead, but she had stage four cancer that you come to learn later.

And so then eventually my dad comes back from Japan. My mother's in the hospital, she's unconscious, she can't really talk to anybody. There's just ladies in the neighborhood, these Mexican-American families that just took us in and a thing called Community Chest, which is what the United Way became, they took care of us and eventually they flew my mother's sister out from Chicago and then she sort of organized everything, moved my mother to Chicago where she ultimately died in the Rush Presbyterian Hospital from her cancer in an experimental treatment that killed her.

She would have died anyway, but it killed her and left behind four children. We got all split up in that particular setting, got sent out to her sisters, lived in different places. And so then a few months after that my dad and I are on a bench right on Lake Michigan and he's crying and upset and doesn't know what to do, doesn't know how to take care of us. We're all split up. I'm living in Chicago, two siblings are living in Long Beach, another sibling is living in Iowa.

We're moving around. I'm living in a Ukrainian-Russian neighborhood in the city of Chicago, going to Chicago Public Schools and my dad is sitting here and he doesn't know what to do. I remember vividly saying to myself, if you don't know what to do, I sure don't know what to do, but apparently I'm going to have to figure out what to do.

I love my dad. He's passed 18 years ago, but I never experienced anything like that. I didn't know what that meant, so I didn't have any realization. I think at that age I didn't have a complete realization that I was this independent creature. And so it was like a switch in my brain that went off relative to now trying to find some way to go ahead, trying to find some way to move my life ahead. There was even some chance that we weren't even going to be able to stay with my aunt, and that he was going to get shipped off to sea, so he was uncertain about where we were going and so he did say, you're just going to have to figure this out. He used to call me Bud, that was my name, Bud. He says, Bud, you're just going to have to figure this out. You're going to figure this out for yourself.

There's just you. Basically it was a childhood from my perspective wherein I experienced the country at lots of different levels in basically working class neighborhoods. So when we lived in San Diego more than once several times, working class neighborhoods that were largely Mexican-American. North Chicago, Illinois, which was largely African-American.

So very seldom were we the majority in terms of white families. And so I experienced lots of different things, lots of diversity, lots of arguments, lots of fighting, lots of bias, every direction that you could possibly imagine. Oh, here's the new kid, so what are we going to do with him?

Well, let's just beat him into the ground. As we moved around, I was in this old-fashioned organization. I don't think they are what they were in the past, but I was in this thing called the Boy Scouts. And we were living in Lexington Park, Maryland, which is in St. Mary's County, Maryland.

A beautiful place. We learned how to crab for blue crabs. We learned all the Chesapeake Bay stuff. And I was working on my Eagle Scout project, which turned out to be, so we were working class family, eligible for public assistance, eligible for food, not food stamps, but eligible for actual food. The government would give you food. So we got cheese, we got powdered milk, we got cans of peanut butter that were green, said property of the United States government, Department of Agriculture on there. All that kind of stuff, everything. And that was just normal. We just thought of that as normal. So I'm doing this project with this other kid named Randy Rupp. And I'm 13 years old. I was a hard charger.

I'd gone through my badges really, really quickly, so I'm not very mature. And so Randy and I decided that we were going to collect enough food for one family for one year. So we went to the St. Mary's County, Maryland welfare department, and we got the name of a family. And then we were going to take them the food on Christmas Eve.

And so we started this project in August, and then we collected a 24-foot U-Haul truck filled with food. There were several children in the family. We knew their ages, not their names. I think there were four kids, two adults. And so Christmas Eve 1968, that's the year.

So 1968, I turned 13 in October 1968, so in the middle of this project. So you may not know that there was a simultaneous event that day. So one of the simultaneous events that day was that was the day of the first broadcast of the first humans that had flown over to the moon.

They didn't land, but they were orbiting, orbiting the moon, sending back live messages. I knew that this was going on, and I knew that that night, Christmas Eve night, we were going to be able to see all this stuff. And so Randy and my dad and I and a bunch of other people, we have this address, this map to go find this family. So we're driving, and I don't know if you've ever been to Southern Maryland, but it's not like D.C. Maryland, and it's not like Baltimore, Maryland. It's a very, very old-fashioned kind of place.

So we eventually weave our way down a paved road to a dirt road to a two-lane track road to a tar paper shack in the woods south of Lexington Park towards St. Mary's City, towards Point Lookout was the name of this place where the Patuxent and the Potomac River comes together going into the Chesapeake Bay. And there's this family living in a tar paper shack that we then later saw had a dirt floor, no running water, and a potbelly stove. And I remember being shocked that one of the kids in the family was a kid that I knew of.

He was one of my classmates. And I remember just being shocked that there was George, you know, from school and we didn't have that much, but these guys had like nothing. And I remember how happy they were.

We gave them all this food, and it was really fantastic, and I felt good about that. And then I go home, and there's like this lightning bolt. So for some reason in my little 13-year-old brain, I saw this tar paper shack.

This is no joke. I saw this tar paper shack, and then I watched Apollo 8 orbiting the moon, sending back live messages. And I said, I think I asked my dad or my stepmother, I said, how is this?

How do these two things go on at the same time? I didn't know anybody who lived like that. I mean, you know, we'd been around. We'd lived in every kind of neighborhood. We never had much property or anything, but we had water. You know, we had heat.

We didn't have a dirt floor. And from that moment, that very moment, December 24th, 1968, I started thinking a lot about this, what later became manifested in me, this radical architect. I became almost obsessed with all notions of architecture and design. I don't mean physical design. I mean institutional design. So the United States is a design. It's a design that varies from all previous designs, and it has strengths and weaknesses and flaws, but net-net is an unbelievably powerful design. I forgot who it was. It might have been Buckminster Fuller or somebody who said that even Einstein had some quotes like this, which were, if you don't change the design, you're not going to change anything.

The machine will only do what the machine is designed to do. So right now, we have terrible outcomes coming from K-12 in general on a national level, particularly for students in lower half of family incomes. We have terrible, more than half the kids that have ever gone to college never graduated. Half the kids, more than half, that have taken Pell Grants have no degree. And so clearly we have unbelievable design flaws, but people don't see them because at the pinnacle of the design are these institutions which are unbelievably high performing because they use selectivity as their measure of success. You know, they take only the finest students from high school and they call that a day.

And so that turns out not to be sufficient to allow us to continue to evolve socially or culturally or economically. And you're listening to Michael Crow tell his life story. When we come back, more of this educator's story, more of this disruptor's story, more of this innovator's story here on Our American Stories. And we continue with Our American Stories and with Arizona State University President Michael Crow. Before he gets to Arizona State University, Michael takes us back to his time as a blue collar leader in an Ivy League school, Columbia University.

Let's return to Michael. Ultimately I designed this thing called the Earth Institute at Columbia University. And then ultimately I needed somebody to run it after I had started. And so we hired this guy named Peter Eisenberger.

And so Peter later was not going to be the director any longer. And one of the things that he was not very happy about was somehow me being involved in him moving out of that job and did comment that he wasn't quite sure where us blue collar PhD guys really came from. And I said, well, you know, Peter, they come from libraries, public libraries that we're allowed to go in and read. And so what I learned at Columbia, I mean, was that there was this unbelievable intellectual powerhouse of an institution which was only going to be available to a few people. And that there was some bias even built into it.

And I don't mean religious bias, but class bias. And that's probably true in almost every institution. And so you get into UVA. So UVA calls itself a public Ivy.

Well, that to me is, that's like an oxymoron. Why would you be a public Ivy? A public university is supposed to be an institution. And I'm not going to, you know, lambast the University of Virginia, which is a fine university with fine faculty and fine students and so forth. But the notion that somehow it's better because it only lets in A plus students from St. Ignatius in Chicago, or I think they're down now to so many kids from Fairfax and so many kids from Alexandria and so forth and so on, in the minds of so many people, that's perceived to be, well, that's excellence. When in fact, it's my view that then that leads to this perversion in the rankings.

And so the rankings are almost all about inputs. And so they're about how much money do you have per student? Well, if we'd like to control the cost of a degree, then you may want to have less money and do more with less money and be more efficient and more effective and produce more efficacious outcomes. It's how many students did you admit versus how many applied? What's your percentage of applicants admitted? And then it's also, what's your graduation rate? Well, graduation rate is heavily dependent on who you admit. So if you admit only A plus students from high school, guess what?

They all graduate. If you admit B students and large numbers of B students from high school from low income families, that's a harder pathway. And so what you have now in the ranking system is the ranking system is biased to selectivity and biased to extra resources.

And so that's not a good outcome. I just felt that we needed to help create a new kind of a design, what I ultimately called the new American university model. We should have a university that is at the same time in one egalitarian in its access in the truly democratic way, admitting every student that's qualified and then unbelievably excellent, not suggesting that you could have universities that were one or the other, only excellent or only egalitarian, which was is basically the system as it exists today. So we started with a vision that then has later become our charter. The charter has three core elements. One element is that we'll measure our success based on who we include versus who we exclude and how they succeed. The second is that we'll do research that benefits the public, not just benefits the academy. And third is that we'll take responsibility for the outcomes of our community. So a lot of faculty are concerned about underperformance in K-12, elements of justice. And I say, well, that's what we're here for.

We're here to take responsibility for these outcomes. So for us, it's been all about a full recognition that a person qualified to do university level which is who we admit. We have the admission standards of the University of California from the summer of 1950. So if you admit those students and you create an environment for them to be successful and you have tools and assets and resources and a dedicated faculty, you don't want a faculty that says, well, who's this riffraff? You're sending me B students from high school? I'm not going to waste my life teaching B students from high school. I'm here to teach students that are just like me.

I was always an A student, so I only want to teach A students. So we don't have that faculty. So what we found is that if you're dedicated to innovation, if you're dedicated to the student, if you create a research and scholarly environment, if you have tremendous resources, tremendous technologies, tremendous assets, tremendous advising, if you have all those things, it's unbelievable what you can do. So we have 75,000 students on campus with us, and we will probably grow that to around 100,000. We have an entire campus that we believe can be very applied and very practical, what we call the polytechnic campus. So we're going to be growing on campus, full immersion enrollment, but what we say, technology enhanced.

So we're using technology everywhere. Then online, which is our second realm of education, online for us this year is 83,000 discrete students over the year time frame, and it's accelerating rapidly. We think that there's lots of momentum for growth in that because it turns out that once you have a high quality university faculty led real degree, we don't say ASU online degree, we say ASU history degree, ASU philosophy degree, you're with our faculty taking our courses.

So we see that growing robustly. We now have a third learning realm that we call ASU sync. We've taken all of our classrooms, we've zoom-ized them all, we spent millions of dollars allowing anyone to zoom in and zoom out of everything.

We think there's whole degrees that could be taught that way for people that can't be physically here with us, but they don't want to do online. They want to talk to the students live, they want to talk to the faculty live, they want to be in the lab, they want to work on different kinds of things, so that's a new realm for us. We have ASU Prep Digital with 40,000 high school students in it now, which is a massive increase even over last semester. So then now you have this much broader set of perspectives. You've created a much more socially complex and therefore robust sort of this boullia base of a university and then that then begins to work to everybody's advantage because they're learning from the other students, they're making things happen in ways that are unique to a very diverse student body and it turns out that in the right setting you can make all that work and it becomes tremendous in terms of all outcomes. So we have increased the number of graduates by about a factor of four.

We've increased our research activity by a factor of five. So we now do more non-medical research than Stanford or USC, more total research than Carnegie Mellon or Caltech or any of those schools. Yes, we have a big faculty, so we've greatly expanded research, greatly expanded graduation. We've built the largest engineering school in the country with 25,000 engineering students, up from 6,000 just a few years ago. We have a socioeconomically diverse student body matching the socioeconomic diversity of the state and the country.

We have half of our student body coming into the university from Arizona are not white. We have 40% Pell give or take, which is a very large percentage, large numbers of first generation students and we're almost to a 90% retention rate across all students, freshman retention rate, first year retention rate, that's everybody. We've been able to drive up all graduation rates across all groups. We've been able to drive up everything associated with success and outcomes. We've got tremendous Fulbright awards, tremendous Marshall awards, tremendous Rhodes scholarships, Truman scholarships. So we are basically as competitive as any other school in the country in all the things that universities do with as diverse and as broadly scoped and as representative a student body as has ever been constructed. And you're listening to Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State University, working on his plan to make a college more egalitarian and also hold on to excellence.

And these were either or propositions at colleges before that was the paradigm, but picking kids who aren't A students and teaching them up and bringing up students who, well, it's harder for them to get through based on socioeconomics, based on class status. Michael's working on all these things simultaneously. And when we come back, more of this remarkable story and education innovator in the end, what a thing they're building at Arizona State University, a new way of thinking about college. Michael Crow's story continues. Arizona State University story continues here on Our American Story.

And we continue with Our American Stories and with the final portion of Michael Crow's remarkable story. The Arizona State president has led the university in almost tripling enrollment. Let's return to Michael on how Arizona State University used to be thought of.

There's all kinds of jokes, including in The Simpsons and all kinds of television shows about issue. And and so at one point we were, you know, a very rapidly evolving, fast moving palm tree laden swimming pool empowered, also known as being the world's largest and best party school. A parent is the one person who is supposed to make their kid think they can do anything says they're beautiful even when they're ugly things. They're smart even when they go to Arizona State. But the rest of the world tear your kid down.

Your job is to support him no matter what. Maude, it's a miracle. The Lord has drowned the wicked and spared the righteous.

Isn't that Homer Simpson? Looks like heaven's easier to get into than Arizona State. And so now we are a palm tree laden, swimming pool empowered, great university that's no longer viewed as a party school because we're serious and we have serious students. That doesn't mean we don't have parties, but we have serious students and serious programs and serious ambitions for our students. So we've done away with the silly notion, I don't even know if it was deserved at the time, of quote unquote party school. We're an empowering school, whatever you want to call it.

I could come up with all kinds of catchy little phrases. We're not that anymore. And so I remember when I first got here there was a lot of rhetoric about party schools and I think Playboy Magazine had called us, you know, the best party school. And so I didn't know the publisher of the Arizona Republic at the time, but I got a meeting with her. And I said, are you kidding me? I don't know you.

She later became my friend. I said, I don't know you, but you just ran an article that we were the number one party school on the front page of your paper. One, you don't even know what that means.

Two, it's basically by vote. Therefore, bigger schools do better than smaller schools. And so it's a self-assessment. There's no method to it.

There's no rigor to the analysis. And I worked really hard to convince her to, you know, at least take the time to learn a little bit about what we had done, what we were doing and what we were going to do. And eventually we worked our way out of that classification. The thing that I really liked about the innovation ranking that we've been ranked the most innovative in the country for six years in a row, for whatever that's worth. But I was at the Stanford football game a couple of years ago and there were ASU kids at the Stanford football game wearing white t-shirts with red letters that said number two in innovation, Stanford.

And so I was just really impressed by their creativity. We have to figure out this cost. You can't make colleges and universities cost more than anyone can hope to pay except the most rich families.

I mean, it's just not going to work. I was in a conference years ago with the former president of Harvard, the former president of Princeton at the time, the sitting president of Tulane. And we got into this conversation about the cost of education and Derek Bok, the former president of Harvard told me that people that talk about cost containment in higher education don't really understand the importance of higher education.

I'm like, I don't think so. And so we've worked on, you know, making our institution accessible. You know, we're producing four times the graduates, doing five times the research, have 20 times the learners. Our faculty is about the same size.

So we've also greatly changed the economic efficiency and effectiveness of the institution. We kept our out-of-state and international student tuition at sort of the average level. And we basically say for in-state students, we'll make it work for you. And we have massive financial aid to help people to be able to attend the institution. So our net tuition after grants, no loans for in-state students is under $4,000 for a year. And we think that is, you know, to use a phrase common here in Arizona, as close to free as possible.

And so we've worked really hard at that to make that work. And then if you come from a family with no income and you have no way to pay to go to college, well, we're going to find a way for you to go to college. So 40% of our undergraduates graduate with no debt. Our average debt is less than the cost of a Honda Civic. And the Honda Civic is not an investment the way that a degree from ASU is an investment. We get a lot of, I don't know what to call them, other than, you know, skeptics or naysayers.

And they say, well, you can't be any good if you're big. Okay, how do you know that? So our graduates in the marketplace have no market outcome differentiation from UCLA, Texas, University of Washington, USC, any of the big research universities, none. There's no income difference.

There's no lifespan difference. You know, we participated in the big survey that was done of the Gallup Purdue survey of students. We participated in that. So we did, you know, thousands and thousands and thousands of our graduates and compared it against their graduates. And we know life outcomes and so forth and so on. We also know the financial outcomes of our students. So we've done elaborate ROI, return on investment studies, of our graduates who have unbelievable returns on the investment, 12% average return on investment year, per year, year over year over year. We've also done learning outcome assessments. We also have the income tax returns, not by name, but we have all the income tax returns of every graduate that's in Arizona and we also have them already in the U.S. And what we know then is life outcomes. So we have a lot of information on income tax return.

When does somebody die? What's their philanthropy? You know, are people more philanthropic, less philanthropic?

Do they have higher wages, lower wages? And so what we have found is that not only are our graduates doing extremely well in the market, which is proof, substantial proof of our concept, but also in rankings by companies hiring our graduates, we do unbelievably well. In fact, it's where we are like off the charts. People love our graduates. They love the team experience and the transdisciplinary experience and the grit and the drive and the pluck and the ambition that a lot of our graduates come with.

So we're seeing great outcomes. So a lot of the kids, by the way, that aren't employed within just a few months of graduation, well, they're off to graduate school. So we're also a huge producer of graduate school outcomes, you know, medical school, law school, science school, other kinds of things. And so on the product side of the institution, we're exceedingly proud to be a part of helping, you know, these lives to be empowered. So one day I'm with a group of students and we're over at the union, student union and we're having lunch and we're talking about these students and I'm talking to this one young woman and she says, I got a 4.0 average. I'm double majoring in nursing and biochemistry.

That's great. And she says, and I've got a full scholarship and so forth and so on, but it's really hard for me. I also work 40 hours a week. I'm like, well, why do you work 40 hours a week? He says, well, I'm the main breadwinner for my mother's family.

I'm like, oh my God. And so I have been floored over and over and over and over by all these kids that are at this school and where they come from and where they're going. And it's not just about kids that come from families of meager means. It's just that we have become so wrecked by thinking that all the smart kids are at these other schools and everybody else, they're just, you know, lesser humans.

It may be human nature to think that way, but it's one of the most destructive things imaginable. There's nothing lesser about anything here. There's nothing lesser about the students that are here.

I was a faculty member, tenured faculty member at Columbia University. There's nothing lesser about the faculty here. There's nothing lesser at all except that we're a public university serving this broad demographic of students. And that in our present system in the eyes of some makes us lesser. I think my background makes me more determined to not be defeated.

I think that's the main thing that comes out of my background. I think the main drive for me relative to our focus on diversity and our focus on completion is that our society is not fulfilling its potential. Our democracy is not rising to its potential. We have all these problems and we think that what we see is the problem.

It's not the problem. The problem is we've got millions of high school dropouts who are unprepared for the economy in which we're living. The problem is that we've got all these people that went to college and got disappointed and now are angry. The problem is that we've got lots and lots of really upset and angry people who want to be a part of the new economy as it's evolving and feel that they're being left behind. The problem is we've got all these people who feel that they're being disadvantaged or that others are getting advantage over them. The problem that we have is we've got educated people who are snobs, who are looking down their noses at other people. And my background won't allow me to look down my nose at somebody else because I know what it's like to be a normal, regular human being in a regular job doing regular things.

And I hate academic elitism. And so that's one thing my background I think empowers me with. I think my background allows me to understand what it's like to feel that you just want a little bit of help. Just a little bit of help.

Just let me have access to that class at a time when I can take it. You know, my stepmother had like two jobs. My father had three jobs. We all worked.

Every kid in the family worked multiple jobs all the time. Paid for everything. I didn't get one penny to go to college from anyone.

No one. Not one cent. And so being able to be flexible and adaptable and engageable, I think that's what my background helps me to see. And great job to Alex and Greg for bringing us that piece.

The story of Michael Crow, his family's story, deeply embedded in his, and Arizona State University's story, here on Our American Stories. Geico asks, how would you love a chance to save some money on insurance? Of course you would. And when it comes to great rates on insurance, Geico can help. Like with insurance for your car, truck, motorcycle, boat, and RV. Even help with homeowners or renters coverage. Plus add an easy to use mobile app, available 24 hour roadside assistance, and more. And Geico is an easy choice. Switch today and see all the ways you could save. It's easy.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-02 10:00:38 / 2023-01-02 10:13:35 / 13

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