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Innovation and the 'Great American University'

February 05, 2010

What do the following have in common: an electric toothbrush, Gatorade, the ATM, and a cervical pap smear? All of these benefits emerged from discoveries made in university research departments.

“We use products derived from ideas generated at our great research universities countless times a day whether we realize it or not,” says Jonathan R. Cole, a sociologist, professor and former Columbia University provost.
Cole will lead a critical discussion from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Feb. 12, in the Carson Ballroom of Old Main on ASU's Tempe campus, on the core values and steeples of excellence needed to create top universities, as well as how universities drive economic success, respond to local and global needs and improve our lives. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Attendees should RSVP to by Feb. 8. Free parking is available in the Fulton Center parking structure, and light refreshments will be served. Information is available online.

Cole’s lecture will address the arguments stressed in his newest book, aptly titled "The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, and Why It Must Be Protected." The book presents a motivating and intelligent defense of the university’s role in national innovation and discovery as well as our need to protect higher education.

The timing for Cole’s speech could not be more appropriate, as the current economic crisis already has proven to be detrimental to university funding, particularly in the state of Arizona. "Solutions for Higher Education" reports that Arizona is currently ranked 35th in state and local per capita spending on higher education. As a nation and among other industrialized countries, the United States ranks 15th in college completion.

More than ever before, now is the time to protect higher education’s ability to produce success that can maximize social impact. Cole argues that a widespread belief in the importance of higher education and an understanding of the ways in which research universities improve our lives is necessary if America is to remain an exemplar of greatness.
With extensive experience as a scholar, faculty member and provost at Columbia University – the second-longest tenure as provost in the university’s 250-year history – Cole is well-suited to address the upcoming challenges facing campuses across the United States, particularly the ideas, academic freedom and technology that are threatened from within. He reminds readers that the proper goal of higher institution is enlightenment, not suppression. Great universities are designed to be unsettling. In other words, they are designed to encourage students and faculty to question the world around them.

In addition to his Feb. 12 public lecture, Cole will be at Changing Hands Bookstore for a book signing at 7 p.m., Feb. 11. Changing Hands Bookstore is located at 6428 S McClintock Drive in Tempe.