November 2, 2015

A New Model for the American Research University

Equity and excellence: William Dabars presents a new institutional design  

BERKELEY, CA, Nov. 2, 2015 – William Dabars will discuss his new book, Designing the New American University, which he co-authored with Arizona State University president Michael M. Crow, in a talk on Nov. 5th at Berkeley.  The book examines the American research university in its contemporary societal context and posits the imperative for a new institutional model.

America’s research universities consistently dominate global rankings but may be entrenched in a model that no longer accomplishes their purposes. With their multiple roles of discovery, teaching, and public service, these institutions represent the gold standard in American higher education, but their evolution since the nineteenth century has been only incremental.  America’s leading institutions have become increasingly exclusive and define – indeed, precisely quantify – their excellence through admissions practices based on the exclusion of the majority of academically qualified applicants.  Limited access- ibility to research-grade institutions is out of proportion with workforce projections that indicate a shortfall by 2018 of three million educated workers.

 In Designing the New American University (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015), Crow and Dabars argue that institutions themselves must re-conceptualize their design, especially in terms of scale and accessibility.  They present a new institutional model intended for a subset of public research universities to complement the highly successful existing model. As they have written, their model combines three foundational design components:

1) anacademic platform committed to discovery and knowledge production, as with the standard model, linking pedagogy with research;

2) broad accessibility to students from highly diverse demographic and socioeconomic backgrounds and;

3) through its breadth of activities and functions, an institutional commitment to maximizing societal impact commensurate with the scale of enrollment demand and the needs of our nation.

The objective of the new model is to produce not only knowledge and innovation, but also students who are adaptive master-learners, empowered to integrate a broad array of interrelated disciplines and negotiate over their lifetimes the changing workforce demands and shifts in the knowledge economy driven by continual innovation.

In their book, Crow and Dabars observe that equity and excellence are complementary because talent is distributed throughout the socioeconomic spectrum; national competitiveness in educational attainment depends on extending opportunities to sufficient numbers from all demographic strata. The authors state, “Society at large can build the educational scale that it requires only if its institutions of higher education tap every pool of talent.”

“The issue of broad accessibility to research-grade academic platforms is far more urgent than policymakers realize.  The imperative is to ensure that far more students have access to academic platforms that deliver advanced skills commensurate with the demands of the knowledge economy.” In their book, the authors assert that the nation must build a higher education infrastructure for not only the top five percent but for the most capable 25 percent of academically qualified students from all segments of our society.  The authors state:

 “The demand for advanced teaching and research and for the production of new ideas, products, and processes that are its outputs is at a fever pitch that far exceeds the current supply.”

 “As de facto national policy, excluding the majority of academically qualified students from the excellence of a research-grade university education is counterproductive and ethically unacceptable. To accelerate the evolution of our research universities, we must develop new models that insist upon and leverage the complementaries and synergies between discovery and accessibility.”

Carol Christ, Director of Center for Studies in Higher Education, will moderate the presentation by William Dabars at Barrows Hall, 8th Floor, Social Science Matrix, from 4-5pm on Thursday, 11/5

Sponsored by: The Center for Studies in Higher Education and the Social Science Matrix


William Dabars is Senior Research Fellow for University Design and Director of Research for the New American University in the Office of the President, Arizona State University. Dabars is also an associate research professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies, and an affiliate scholar in the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes (CSPO).  Dabars has served in various research capacities for the University of Southern California, University of California, Santa Barbara, and the Getty Research Institute, and as a consultant for the Getty Conservation Institute and University of Colorado, Boulder.  He received a Ph.D. in history from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Carol ChrististheDirector, Center for Studies in Higher Education, UC Berkeley; former President, Smith College; and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, UC Berkeley.

Center for Studies in Higher Education (CSHE) was established in 1956 and was the first research institute in the United States devoted to the study of systems, institutions, and processes of higher education.  The Center’s mission is to produce and support multi-disciplinary scholarly perspectives on strategic issues in higher education, to conduct relevant policy research, to promote the development of a community of scholars and policymakers engaged in policy-oriented discussion, and to serve the public as a resource on higher education.  http://cshe.berkeley.edu