ASU Inc.

Paul Howalt

On a quiet morning in early January, Kathryn Milun sits at a table in the back corner of a Tempe coffee shop, hunched over a huge stack of papers. Not long ago, that stack might have held papers to grade. Milun used to be a popular professor at ASU. But today, all the tiny brunette has to consider is legal paperwork, and it's all about her fight with her former employer.

Milun devotes her time to two things: her career as an academic and her family. As the mother of a 12-year-old and 10-year-old twins, she's worked to perfect the art of juggling a family and career with her husband, who is also a professor. In her six years at ASU, she split her time between justice studies and the English department. She's taught classes from anthropology to political theory to film and comparative literature.

These days, she works with the National Association of University Women, giving lectures around the country on the problems mothers in academia face.

She has firsthand knowledge.

When she came to ASU, Milun thought it was a good choice for her career and family. ASU was offering her a chance to create classes in the English department. The hiring committee (and, she assumed, the university) seemed to understand that, as a mother and career academic, she needed an extended tenure clock.

She was wrong.

Typically, it takes a professor six years to complete tenure requirements, and it's not something to slack on. Tenure is the magic word in academia — it protects professors from being fired for teaching an unpopular viewpoint and it allows academic freedom.

It's the ultimate in job security.

In 2003, as she was getting ready to submit her tenure file, Milun was fired. Her dean, who since has been promoted to a vice president position at ASU, said it took her too long to complete the tenure requirements.

Milun was furious. She'd been told she could have extra time. And she'd exceeded her department's requirements for tenure. She fought, and was told she could have a second chance — but only if she completed five peer-reviewed articles and two books within a year. That's an insane workload, all but unheard of, although she did come close.

Her file made it up through the ranks — past her department chair, dean, a university-level tenure committee and ASU's provost.

In the past, the provost would have been the last stop. That's how universities around the country traditionally have run their tenure programs, and it's how ASU ran its program — until 2002, when Lattie Coor turned over the presidency to Michael Crow. Coor left ASU in his late sixties after serving the school for 12 years.

Crow was just 46 when he climbed down from the ivory tower at Columbia University to take the Arizona State job. Almost immediately, the guy had a reputation. Love him or hate him, if you have anything to do with ASU (and maybe even if you don't), you have an opinion about Michael Crow.

The tales of Crow's devotion to the job are legion: He does Google searches at the dinner table. He sleeps four hours a night. He personally responds to e-mails from students.

And he reviews all tenure files himself, including Kathryn Milun's. He denied her tenure because she hadn't completed five peer-reviewed articles and two books within a year. Period.

Milun responded with a formal complaint to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming she was punished for being a woman with children and for daring to claim discrimination.

The EEOC agreed, granting her a final determination against the university. In December, the agency wrote that ASU denied Milun tenure and fired her "because of her sex, female, and in retaliation for complaining about employment discrimination."

Milun is now considering a lawsuit against ASU. There's even talk of a class-action suit. Milun, it turns out, is not the only professor frustrated by the university's new direction.

"A public trust [like a university] is transparent, and that's disappearing," she says. "As a public trust, it's really deviated from that initial investment. Some of us tried to make changes, but we had administrators who were put in for reasons that were not intellectual, and rather without plan or vision."

Kathryn Milun's case is one example of what people at ASU call "Mike-Crow" management — the president of a 60,000-student, 2,800-faculty-member university making tenure decisions. (And this time, perhaps, not so wisely. An EEOC ruling is nothing to sniff at.)

Crow's critics, and even some of his fans, say the guy is an obsessive micromanager — down to the names of university departments, where donations are coming from, and what gets printed in the student newspaper.  

ASU is not just micromanaged, Crow's detractors complain, it's turning more corporate every day, with the president serving as the despotic CEO no one dares to cross.

That's just the kind of language they use to describe Crow. On, which serves as a depository for the rumors that swirl around the president and his administration, one poster announces: "There's a distinctly chilly climate on campus. Privacy and free thought and speech at ASU [are] actively discouraged by President Crow."

There's also a "secret document" circulating among faculty that criticizes Crow's leadership. The 17 pages are filled with anonymous complaints from people identified as "a senior level official" or "an individual with firsthand knowledge of the inner workings of Crow's administration."

When the "officials" and "insiders" are located, few are willing to talk, even off the record. They worry their phones are bugged, their e-mail monitored.

For the most part, the black-helicopter tone of Crow's detractors has kept the president buoyant. That's why Kathryn Milun's case is so important — an example of a rational-sounding professor, backed by a federal agency — as a case in which Michael Crow went too far.

Clearly, the guy practices what he preaches. The move to deny Kathryn Milun tenure is straight out of a corporate playbook. And that's what concerns his critics. They charge that Crow is willing to cast aside university customs, such as including the faculty in major decisions, to see his vision come alive.

There also is concern that the president has become increasingly focused on courting private industry as a funding source for the university. There's an emphasis on creating venture-capital firms and on licensing university technology — a process handled by Arizona Technology Enterprises, a company Crow started and runs through the ASU Foundation.

Experts on higher education and corporatization say those types of liaisons are dangerous to the original intent of the university — educating the public, providing research that's not influenced by interest groups (pharmaceutical companies, for example), and advancing public knowledge.

At the same time, any department — or professor — that does not draw big money in the form of grants or potential for investment is at risk. The emphasis on liberal arts is dwindling, and this year, all freshmen will be required to take a course that spreads the word on ASU's new entrepreneurial model.

If Crow and his cohorts had talked for this story (none would), they probably would have made the point that the Legislature starves higher ed in this state — so, what choice does he have?

Point taken. No one can deny that Michael Crow is trying. As of last fall, Arizona State University had grown into the second-largest university in the country. Crow has negotiated a joint medical school with rival University of Arizona and persuaded the city of Phoenix to front the money for a downtown campus. ASU has four campuses across the Valley, with plans to keep growing, and a new nickname — "New American University" — to replace "Playboy Party School."

Now Crow has vowed to tackle ASU's third-tier rank in U.S. News & World Report. Although he's the highest-paid state official in Arizona (except for some athletics coaches), the Board of Regents has offered to pay Crow a bonus of $10,000 if he can improve ASU's standing in the prestigious list. (He'll get another $50,000 if he meets additional goals set by the board.)

One education expert finds that decision troubling.

Robert Kreiser, an advocate at the American Association of University Professors, a watchdog organization based in Washington, D.C., says this kind of incentive is unorthodox in higher education.

"It's extremely concerning," he says. "It's extraordinary that such an incentive would be offered, and disturbing that the president accepted."

According to Bob Bulla, the current Board of Regents president, it was Crow's idea.

Knowing Crow, he'll succeed. If he sticks around ASU long enough (rumors abound about his applications at other schools around the country), the president might just collect his handsome reward.

That reward could come at a cost to ASU, Crow's detractors harp. As one writes in the 17-page "secret" document: "As head of a major interdisciplinary center, I interact with faculty in many departments and two colleges. There is universal hatred of his 'bullying' leadership style . . . I hope he leaves soon, or it will take decades to undo all the damage being done by the dysfunctional leadership culture he has created at ASU and his seductive, but deeply flawed, agenda for change."

Michael Crow did not respond to repeated requests for an interview, so we don't know what he'd say to the charges made in this story. But I have some idea, because I know President Crow. I am a product of his New American University. A very recent product.  

I graduated last May with a degree in journalism. Unlike thousands of my classmates, I met face to face with the president several times as a member of the student newspaper's editorial board.

In the fall of 2004, when I was 21, I was responsible for one of the bigger scandals on campus. I made the decision to run a black-and-white photograph of a pierced nipple on the cover of State Press Magazine (see "Quid Pro Crow," November 18, 2004.) I still stand by that cover. The photograph was tasteful — beautiful, even — and it illustrated a story about piercing, a topic of interest to my classmates.

My decision angered Ira Fulton, one of the university's major donors, and led Crow to attempt to shut down our paper. There was even a petition circulated by Mormon students on campus to have me resign and (so I heard) have me kicked out of school. The First Amendment carried the day, and the State Press won a prestigious Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism for the way we handled the scandal.

I've seen the vein that bulges in Michael Crow's forehead when he's angry. I've felt the threats and intimidation, and I can tell you that the guy may be small (at 5-foot-10, it feels as though I tower over him), but he's got a tall personality.

He also can be condescending. I remember arriving two minutes late to a meeting (I didn't realize he'd moved his office across campus, from the old president's ramshackle offices to the shiny, new ASU Foundation building) and having him remark, "Must be nice to be so important you can arrive late and need no introduction."

The level of control he wants in every aspect of his university is very real. I always had the sense that, after he put so much of the university's future in the hands of private donors and businesspeople, he had to keep this kind of micromanaged control over things to avoid pissing anyone off.

Watching Michael Crow in a meeting is interesting. He appears nervous, his sharp eyes taking in everything in the room. When challenged, he responds by burying his challenger in figures — a favorite line during debate is, "I'm not sure where you got those numbers, but I could have missed that," or more to the point: "I don't know where you got your facts, but . . ."

The man is smart. Scary smart. I suspect the reason he hurls facts and figures at his opponents is that he knows he's the only person in the room who can retain that much information. And I do believe he thinks he's doing what's best for the university. Unlike many of his detractors, I don't think he came to Arizona with a mission to destroy us.

I can understand why people like him. He's charismatic and, when he's not angry with you, even kind of funny. He's told jokes that I've laughed at because they were genuinely witty, not because I had to. So I get why parents and business leaders have fallen in love with him. He knows how to sell his product.

When he's angry, it's a different story.

Generally, he's composed, but when facing a room full of adversity (say, a student-run editorial board or the faculty senate), it seems there's rage below the surface.

Watching Michael Crow walk across ASU's campus is even more intriguing — it's borderline amusing. He looks extremely uncomfortable surrounded by students; his gait is swift and as stiff as his hair.

Because he won't talk to me (or anyone from New Times, his spokespeople tell me), I can only imagine what President Crow is thinking about as he walks the campus. For this story, I read dozens of news stories, speeches, PowerPoint presentations and articles by or about Crow, before and after he came to ASU. I examined thousands of pages of financial documents from the university and board of regents. Fifteen current and former members of the ASU community — including faculty, staff, administrators and students, were interviewed.

Crow's need for control may stem from his chaotic childhood. His mother died when he was 9, an event he recalled for ASU Alumni magazine (in a story that hemost likely approved before publication): "I never viewed it as a hardship. I just viewed it as a challenge." A weird thought for a 9-year-old.

Crow attended 17 schools before he graduated high school; his father was in the military. With undergraduate degrees in political science and environmental studies from Iowa State University, he got his masters and doctorate from Syracuse University and began his career in higher education at the University of Kentucky.  

After a stint teaching management and political science at Iowa State, he moved to Columbia University, where he became executive vice provost.

That's where Crow started to make a name for himself. And, his critics say, where he started to show incompetence.

In April 2003, Crow described himself for the Arizona Republic as "an aggressive basketball player who doesn't foul out."

Well, that depends.

At Columbia, he got the university involved in two projects that wound up costing millions of dollars.

The first was, which was supposed to have launched Columbia into the world of for-profit online classes. It didn't and was closed after more than $25 million was sunk.

Crow committed his second major foul at Columbia when the university invested in Biosphere 2, the simulated-Earth environment near Oracle, south of Tucson, that was designed to train scientists for life on Mars. Today, it exists as a tourist attraction. Crow persuaded the university to buy it and use the facility as a western campus. Columbia spent more than $50 million but eventually closed the project after Crow moved to ASU.

Then, there are the lawsuits against Columbia during Crow's watch.

For example, there were his problems with Columbia economist and UNESCO chair Graciela Chinchilnisky, whose Program on Information and Resources was under Crow's financial control as part of the Earth Institute, which was established by Crow to study issues such as sustainability through social and natural sciences.

The trouble started as a pay-inequity case in 1991 that was settled out of court. Chinchilnisky says Crow had a part in negotiating the settlement. In a more recent lawsuit, she alleges he used his position to freeze her funding and dismantle the PIR in retaliation.

Columbia says she actually was in violation of her own settlement rules. She denies it. The case is pending.

It's clear Chinchilnisky's interactions with Crow as her boss were less than professional.

"Mike Crow is a lobbyist," she says. "He works on pork. He is Mr. Pork."

He's also Mr. CIA. Sort of.

When he came to ASU, much was made of his connection to the Central Intelligence Agency through the venture capital firm In-Q-Tel. In-Q-Tel was founded in 1999 as a way to help the CIA identify cutting-edge technology. His connection with the CIA, where he has top-level security clearance, certainly hasn't helped quell the hysteria surrounding Crow. If anything, it's made people more afraid of him.

One of Michael Crow's first moves as president had nothing to do with intelligence. Instead, it was about the frat house shower seen around the country.

In 2002, Brian Buck was vice president of the university's student government and a member of the on-campus Sigma Nu fraternity. Certainly outside the realm of film studies, Buck and his frat brothers made a porno video at Sigma Nu's house, the news of which broke in August of that year. The video, Shane's World #39: Frat Row Scavenger Hunt 3, featured Buck kissing and fondling two women (professional actresses) in a shower while his frat brothers cheered him on.

One of Crow's first initiatives at ASU — not a popular one among the student body at Playboy's top party school of 2002 — was to clean up fraternity row by overhauling the Greek system. Frat row, already split into two factions on the north and south sides of campus, has pretty much ceased to exist. The rowdier row on North Campus was shut down — possibly with good reason because many of the houses were utterly dilapidated after years of keggers.

Crow declared all fraternities dry and corralled most of them into a university-owned complex on the south side of campus. For the most part, that took care of that. Still, ASU made Playboy's list of that nation's top party schools as recently as 2005.

But Crow had bigger problems than rowdy drunks. The university was facing almost a decade of legislative inertia.

At the time Crow came to ASU, state funding for higher education had been declining steadily. It still is. According to Arizona Board of Regents documents reviewed for this story, the general-fund appropriations for ASU, as well as the other two universities, have declined steadily for the past five years — despite Crow's efforts.

In one well-documented effort in 2003 to secure funding for the university, Crow went behind Governor Janet Napolitano's back to cut a funding deal with a Republican state senator, prompting a screaming match between the governor and the president.  

Every legislator on the higher education committees in the House and Senate was contacted for this story. Only Rep. Ed Ableser, a Tempe Democrat, called back.

Ableser also is a product of the New American University and is now working on a doctorate in public administration at ASU.

He worries that the Legislature has pushed ASU, and the other state universities, into a dangerous model of public-private partnerships.

"Unfortunately, the problems about corporations and private donors is the undue inputit has on what the university does. It affects our research," Ableser says. "My undergraduate was under [Lattie] Coor. That was very student-oriented and focused on research for the intrinsic value of research. It's changed."

Thanks, in large part, to Crow, there's been a fundamental shift in the way ASU raises money. Members of the Legislature and the business community have joined Crow to sell the university as a key to economic rejuvenation in Arizona.

In his inaugural speech in November 2002, the first time Crow alerted the public to the massive changes he envisioned, he pointed out that Arizona's sagging economy could no longer depend on the five C's the state was built on (cotton, copper, climate, cattle, and citrus).

In an important clue to where he would take the university, he indicated he was ready to fundamentally shift the way people think about Arizona State.

"As we move — fiscally, psychologically, emotionally — away from the paradigm that Arizona State University is only an agency of the state government, we must move towards a paradigm that casts the university as an enterprise responsible for its own fate," he said.

His plan, which is described in detail on the university's Web site,, hinges on the ability of professors to secure large amounts of money via research grants. For example, researchers/professors in the Biodesign Institute are expected to generate $225 of revenue per square foot of research space annually.

Arizona State certainly isn't the first university to attempt this approach. "Entrepreneurial university" is a buzzword heard pretty much everywhere in the world of higher education. But ASU, with its 60,000 students, is the largest institution in the country to attempt a corporate restructuring. It's also trying to grow the fastest — the number of new programs it has is staggering.

The plan essentially turns ASU into a corporation. Its students are consumers; their diplomas are commodities. The professors are workers churning out product in the laboratory and the classroom. The deans, chairs and administrators are middle managers making sure no one falls out of step or becomes unproductive.

And at the top, Michael Crow is the CEO of ASU Inc.

Jennifer Washburn, a freelance journalist whose credits include Atlantic Monthly, is author of a book called University Inc: The Corporate Corruption of American Higher Education. She has researched corporatization in university systems across the country and says ASU is following the model to a T, and possibly treading dangerous ground.

"When the professors get the message that undergraduate teaching isn't important and all that matters is how much money you can bring in on grants, the professors who are motivated by students feel completely defeated," Washburn says. "That disillusionment translates into the classroom. It filters down into everything."

Every corporation worth its salt has a catchphrase. General Electric "brings good things to light." Burger King wants you to "have it your way." And ASU is the "New American University."

The meaning behind the slogan is nebulous. What is clear is that the New American University is supposed to be a school open to students from all socioeconomic classes. It's a place where, despite the massive number of students, a quality education is possible. It is supposed to be a place that is an integral part of the economic fabric of its community. It's an important part of Crow's business model, but it's unclear whether the lion's share of ASU's customers, its 50,755 undergraduates, will ultimately benefit.

For undergraduates at ASU, life is changing as the university changes.

Even the names of familiar departments have changed. The department of anthropology is now the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. Sociology has been split into two divisions: the School of Global Studies and the School of Social and Family Dynamics. The names certainly sound important, but some longtime professors worry the changes affect the reputations these departments have worked to build.

Geoffrey Clark is a regent's professor in the renamed anthropology department. He's concerned that the mission of the department and its reputation (especially in archaeology) are distorted by the shift toward an interdisciplinary approach.

"Things are incoherent. It's not that people aren't collegial. It's the nature of the way this was done. Autonomy is important to us pencil-necked academics," he says. "I fear that, down the line, anthropology will be just part of a blob of social sciences that have nothing to do with each other."  

And then there are the newly created schools that don't have much behind the titles. Take the School of Sustainability, for example. It sits on the corner of University Drive and Mill Avenue in a run-down shopping center and boasts only two professors and six graduate students. Yet, somehow the university persuaded the Christian Science Monitor to write a two-page article selling it as the wave of the future. Maybe it will be, but there's not much there yet.

Perhaps, the biggest change is a new class called ASU 101: The ASU Experience.

This fall, the one-credit-hour class will be required of all freshmen. The purpose is to teach students what it means to attend the New American University, with a focus on entrepreneurship and ASU's mission.

According to Leah Hardesty, media relations officer for the university, the class is designed for students to "get to know" ASU.

"The unique features of the New American University affect our students' education in profound ways," she writes in an e-mail. "However, few freshmen are aware of that impact and its implications for all they could accomplish while at ASU."

She says the class is mandatory because making it a requirement is "the only way we can assure that students get this exposure."

Exposure? Or Kool-Aid? ASU students interviewed for this story aren't disappointed they'll miss the class.

Shannon Pipes, a senior secondary-education English major at ASU, has been at the school long enough to have opinions about how students are treated like cogs in the wheel (or dollar signs) by the administration. She thinks it is a ridiculous way to address the problem of feeling disconnected on a big campus. She thinks it would be better if it were personalized to the students.

"They (freshmen) need to be aware of test-taking strategies and resources on campus. Not all this mumbo jumbo about how we're the university of the future," she says. "I don't want to sit for a semester and hear about a mission statement. That's not why I'm in college."

Interestingly, each ASU 101 class is capped at 19 students — the magic number for class size, according to U.S. News and World Report. (The average class size at ASU varies. Math and English classes are capped at 19, but classes in other departments can range from 30 students to more than 100.) Because there are 550 sections of ASU 101, it's unlikely the class will be taught by tenured faculty.

ASU 101 isn't the only new requirement. Freshmen who live on campus also have to buy a mandatory meal plan, which costs between $1,900 and $3,500. The cheapest plan provides only 85 meals a semester. There are 112 days in a 16-week semester.

And though living on ASU's campus isn't mandatory (yet), Michael Coakley, the executive director of residential life says ASU "expects" students to live on campus. Living on campus isn't necessarily a bad thing, but as the university pours millions of dollars into dorm construction, classroom facilities suffer.

Many of ASU's classrooms and facilities are falling apart.

A 2002 survey of university buildings by the Board of Regents found that 27 buildings on ASU's campuses were in bad enough shape to be ready for the wrecking ball.

The Social Sciences building is one of them — the entire top floor is so bad that it's uninhabitable. Yellow construction tape blocks the stairs so that students cannot venture to that floor.

The university says it's put $1 million into renovating that building, although it needs several million more. Other buildings have had some fixes, but the work is nowhere near done.

Meanwhile, millions have been poured into new building projects like the Biodesign Institute and the dorms.

Pipes, who, as a secondary-education English major, doesn't attend class in any of the new buildings, is frustrated by where her tuition money is going.

"They've shifted into this whole universal university thing and they're all focused on, 'Let's bring in new colleges and more students.' What's suffering are the students actually already going to the school," she says. "They're focusing on these new buildings for new people and there's people like us in [the] language and literature [building], which has not been updated. A lot of buildings on campus are falling apart. Those should be the first to be rebuilt."

Buildings aren't the only places many students are being shortchanged. Classes are stacked with professors who are not on tenure track. It's not that non-tenured lecturers do a bad job, but tenured professors have more experience, a greater well of knowledge to draw from, and the freedom to teach the way they want and speak out against (or for) university policies without fear of being fired.  

History professor emeritus Gordon Weiner has long enjoyed the freedom that tenure brings. Before he retired, he was the director of Jewish studies at the university.

Weiner says Crow's strategy in this regard is ingenious — he's found the perfect way to beef up faculty numbers and decrease class size (a quick and dirty way to move up the U.S. News ranks) without spending a ton of money on tenured professors.

"If you can possibly do it, what you really want to achieve is to bring in a number of stars from around the country. Nobel laureates, people that are exceptionally showy and flashy. The parents are thinking their kid is going to sit in class with a Nobel laureate or whatever it is," he says.

"Which ain't gonna happen."

In the past few years ASU has brought in a few national stars, including 13 members of the national academies of engineering, science, and arts and sciences. These are people considered the best of the best in their fields. Take, for example, Roy Curtiss III, who came to ASU in 2004. He's the co-director of the Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccinology at the Biodesign Institute and has spent his career studying how bacteria such as salmonella survive. Or Bert Hoelldobbler, who also came to ASU in 2004 and studies how insects such as ants interact, as a way to understand the social systems of other species.

Interesting stuff.

But as these superstars are coming in, the number of regular tenured faculty is not going up significantly. During the 2005-06 school year, 135 tenured faculty members were hired on the main campus. That looks good until you consider that in the same year, 89 tenured faculty members left. The 2004-2005 school year saw a similar trend: 124 new hires, but 58 professors who left.

At a recent luncheon for longtime professors, Crow acknowledged the problem. According to Professor Ig Tsong, a 26-year veteran of the physics department, Crow told the group he'd recently received an angry letter from a student.

"The student told him, 'I don't know how you're running this university but I'm taking 18 credit hours and not a single one is taught by a tenured professor,' " Tsong says. "Sure enough, he looked it up and it was true."

Tsong says Crow told the group he was going to launch an initiative to hire more tenured faculty, though there's been no official announcement.

Robert Kreiser, the advocate for the American Association of University Professors, is also a part-time history professor at George Mason University in Virginia. He says the overuse of contingent faculty — even if they are qualified — isn't good.

"I don't believe students taking my class are getting poor teaching. On the other hand, contingent faculty aren't as available as regular faculty. Because their positions depend on maintaining the favor of those who appoint them, they may not be as free to speak out," he says. "As part of the corporate model, if you can hire people for less and put more people in the classroom, the money it costs for teaching goes down."

It doesn't help that the tenure process at ASU has become a touchy subject among junior faculty members working their way up. When he took over the presidency, Crow also took over the tenure process in a way that previous ASU presidents did not. In the past, the file stopped at the provost, who would sign off depending what the lower tenure committees decided.

Now, Crow has the final say. And he's been known to reverse tenure decisions on a whim. Detractors say this is just another micromanagement technique from an intimidating CEO — if you know someone has control of your employment you're not likely to criticize him.

Kathryn Milun's case is a perfect example of what can happen when you criticize the people in charge.

For her, the most frustrating thing about her file was the fact that she'd gone above and beyond her department's requirements for tenure, yet was still issued the terminal contract, then was required to fulfill an impossible provisional contract if she wanted to keep her job.

She's fortunate that the EEOC agreed with her that what happened during the review of her file was blatant discrimination and retaliation.

In a final determination issued against the university in December 2006, an investigator for the EEOC wrote, "I have considered all the evidence obtained during the investigation and find that there is reasonable cause to believe there is a violation."  

Milun's case is the only one to involve an EEOC final determination so far, but it's not the only example of odd tenure practices, and there is now talk among former and departing ASU profs of joining forces in a class-action lawsuit against the university.

History professor Waziyatawin Angela Wilson's story is even more bizarre. In her case, the decision apparently was made on a whim after pressure from an outside group made Crow look bad.

Wilson has published profusely during her seven years as a professor of indigenous history. She's written three books, eight peer-reviewed articles and 11 other published articles.

In her department, the requirements for tenure are a book and two peer-reviewed articles.

"I have a reputation in my department and the administration for being difficult, for challenging issues of racism, sexism and colonialism," she says. "Because I knew I was going to be judged by a different standard going through the tenure process, I've always overproduced. I've worked hard to exceed the expectations so it wouldn't be an issue."

But it was. Though her department approved her file, when tenure decisions were handed out, she was called into vice provost Marjorie Zatz's office and given an ultimatum. She could take a terminal contract or she could agree to a two-year extension on her tenure file, though it was approved all the way up the line until it got to the president's office.

"She (Zatz) admitted that my tenure file was good. There was no question about the quality of my scholarship. But she said, 'The president is concerned you need to publish more broadly.' I took some time and thought about it. It didn't take me long because I felt I had a very strong tenure file, especially in comparison with people I knew sailed through the process with less," she says. "I rejected the offer."

But she did not go quietly.

She sent an e-mail to her peers around the country through a listserv. Letters of support for Wilson poured into the ASU president's office.

As Wilson recalls, she was called into a meeting with Crow to talk about her tenure — a rather unusual situation. She brought with her a tote bag full of her books and publications and began to stack them on the president's coffee table. He told her to stop and informed her that after further review, he was going to grant her tenure on the spot, something he said he'd never done before.

Wilson says she feels the conversation was really just about letting him save face after pissing off professors around the country.

"He made this grand gesture, and I was tenured. It came back to me later, the president was upset because I didn't say thank you profusely enough. Why on Earth would I do that?" she asks. "He's put me through hell."

She did, however, send a thank you out on the listserv explaining that because of the letter-writing, the decision had been overturned. That e-mail made it back to the president's office. She was called in for a less friendly meeting.

"They were very upset that I'd dared say this openly and publicly," she says.

She says Crow chewed her out.

"He was angry with me. Very angry. But he couldn't really defend his position, so he ended up attacking me personally. I didn't cower and shot back at him. I met all his questions and was angry with him. He was so offensive," she says. "He's used to bullying people around, but bullies, if you stand up to them, what course of action do they have? He didn't have any composure."

Wilson says she tried to continue her work but feels the climate at ASU has become so hostile that she's decided to leave the university. She says she may leave the world of academia altogether.

"My feeling is that this administration is absolutely useless. It goes so deep from the department level all the way up to the president himself," she says. "They say they're interested in diversity, but what they're really interested in is diversity of skin color and body parts. They only want you if you're a person of color who conforms to their way of seeing things."

The Biodesign Institute is a sleek, gray building on the east side of campus, near the dorms under construction. Its modern design is appealing, but thanks to tight security, the average student can't enter it. In fact, you need a retinal scan to get into many of the labs — something that is freaking people out and fueling the rumor mill. The university is not performing classified research, though scientists there are working on sensitive compounds such as smallpox.  

It's not the compounds under research that are the real concern, says Jennifer Washburn, the freelance journalist and author. The real concern is that the institute's corporate partners, which include Boeing, Dow, Bristol Meyers Squibb and Bayer, may be too close to university research.

"When you see an institution like Arizona State set up a biodesign institute and, from the get-go, they are tight with companies — that is very troubling," Washburn says. "The university is the one place the public hopes we can turn to for medical information we can trust."

Washburn is concerned that state legislatures push universities to become generators of economic development as they withdraw state funds.

The bottom line is that the institute cost well over $100 million to build, and no one can say for sure when the financial payoff will come.

ASU's Biodesign Institute would not grant New Times an opportunity to speak with any of its scientists about the value of their research.

Don Stein, a scientist and former vice president for research at Emory University in Atlanta, has the perspective of both a researcher and a university administrator. He understands why these partnerships become an economic necessity but shares the worry that they hurt a university's research mission.

"There are two cultures: the faculty that are basically supported to teach and those that are hired to do research," he says. "If the government is cutting back [research support], you're going to turn more and more to any kind of corporate support. This is going to change the whole culture. Your salary is dependent upon that venture capital or drug company contract. You can imagine how the research is going to be affected."

The bottom line at this institution is that it's not a corporation. It's a university.

And although Michael Crow's star continues to rise outside ASU, he simply is not liked by many of his employees.

According to a report on campus climate, published by the Commission on the Status of Women and the Faculty Women's Association, 30 percent of ASU's faculty members have explored employment elsewhere and another 30 percent are looking for new jobs. Though the study was done by the women's association, it surveyed both men and women.

The top two reasons for wanting to leave ASU: the administration and salary. Respect (or lack thereof) came in third.

It's not just low-level faculty who are leaving. Most of the high-level administrators who were at the university under Lattie Coor are gone.

Like Gary Krahenbuhl. Krahenbuhlwas the ultimate university yes man — a former dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a vice president under Coor. He's still loyal to the institution, still wears maroon and gold — literally.

But he took a retirement package six months into Crow's presidency. It came down to a fundamental clash in ideology.

"Institutional governance relies on a healthy balance of power between the wisdom of the faculty and the administrative authority vested in the president by the governing board," he says. "Since President Crow's arrival, faculty members complain the president has ignored many existing policies, rewritten others to suite his narrow interests and generally run the university like a small personally owned company. This approach has accelerated change, but at the expense of buy-in by the faculty."

Krahenbuhl fears Crow has slowly alienated a group that could have been his biggest supporters.

"I suspect if the faculty, by secret ballot, conducted a vote of confidence on President Crow's leadership, the results would reveal only modest support," he says. "In spite of the successes, morale is lower than it has ever been in the memories of the longtime employees."

A vote like that is unlikely to happen at ASU. Instead of fighting back, faculty members like Waziyatawin Angela Wilson and Kathryn Milun have chosen to simply get out and move on.

Wilson, for one, says she'd rather be unemployed than work at ASU.

"I feel like I was extraordinarily productive for this university and now, I don't want to do a single publication with ASU's name. I'd rather be poor and at least feel like I have freedom."

Use Current Location

Related Location

Arizona State University

University Drive and Mill Ave.
Tempe, AZ 85287


Sponsor Content


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >