The Thread

The New American University: The University–Think Tank Partnership

Article In The Thread
New America
July 5, 2022

In 2010, New America and Arizona State University (ASU) formed a strategic partnership to explore the effects of emerging technologies on society and public policy. This partnership is an investment for both organizations as they work collaboratively to find innovative solutions to global challenges. ASU’s reconceptualization of higher education and goal to become the New American University, and New America’s evolution as a think and action tank, has been aided by this partnership. Together they’ve trained, developed, and convened new voices and perspectives that diversify and expand the thinking in various areas of focus. And the university-think tank partnership is redefining the way partnerships can be done in both higher education and public policy.

New America CEO Anne-Marie Slaughter and Arizona State University President Michael Crow discuss their vision for this innovative partnership, its impact, and how these organizations work together.

What is your partnership philosophy? Why do partnerships matter for the vision of Arizona State University (ASU), an innovative institution of high-quality education, and New America, a policy-focused think and action tank?

MC: Our partnership philosophy is that we find desirable partners who share our core values about equitable access to high-quality education. We then partner with those individuals in ways that we can scale and evolve what we call the “New American University,” which is built on the notion of egalitarian access to a world-class faculty with deep impacts on social outcomes. So our partnership for all of these things is to find like-minded institutions driven by innovation, driven by the desire for social evolution and democratic revolution in the United States. That’s what really drives us.

AMS: I am enormously proud of New America’s partnership with Arizona State University, the new American university. The real core of the partnership is exactly as Michael said, that we have a vision of the new America that is emerging, as we become an ever more diverse society, and that we need to build and shape that America as a country that lives up to the ideals that it professes. When I first heard ASU’s philosophy — that a great university should be measured by the number of students it includes and it gives a great education to, rather than the number of students it excludes as a highly-selective institution — I was sold. That is a vision of higher education that is equitable, high quality, and affordable, one that New America’s Education Policy Program also espouses.

It is also true that as a think tank, New America wants to have impact through partnership as much as possible. Ours is a philosophy that says, rather than simply expanding ourselves to be ever bigger, we should find like-minded partners and harness their complementary abilities. ASU is enormous, with scope and reach that New America can not duplicate. But together, as a much smaller institution based in Washington, D.C., and around the country, New America can find fellows and experts who can become professors of the practice with ASU, work with the fabulous range of ASU students, and reach a scale that again New America could never achieve alone.

What does the university-think tank partnership model offer? What makes the partnership between New America and ASU especially unique or innovative?

MC: For ASU, our partnership with New America offers a design arena, a design framework, a design partner — a design and conceptualization partner — and that’s what is really powerful for us. We’re pursuing this question of: How do we lay out the framework [that draws] from the great achievements of America up to this point for the new America we’re attempting to build, one that is more egalitarian, more inclusive, more innovative, more creative, more fiscal stable, and all those things we’re working towards? It really is a fantastic design relationship and a fashion design partnership.

AMS: In terms of the uniqueness of this partnership, I really think New America and ASU are way out in front. Our first venture together was to create an editorial channel with Slate magazine and Zócalo Public Square called Future Tense. After I became CEO in 2013, we launched an actual joint center, the Center on the Future of War, which will become a future security institute. And with that center we created a degree for students. Again, bringing together the tremendous talent that New America has in the policy world with the academic scholars and students at ASU. That degree, that Master’s in Global Security program, is growing fast and other think tanks have since copied it — CSIS has a similar degree with Syracuse University’s Maxwell School — but we were first. That again is something to me that makes available the talent, and the orientation, of a Washington-based think tank focused intensively on policy with a great educational institution.

What are you most proud of in regards to this partnership? What impact do you hope it will have?

MC: I am most proud of the projects we’ve taken on together: the future of conflict, the future of war, the partnership relative to Zócalo Public Square, and the partnership relative to the future with Slate magazine. All good, all positive, all powerful. Mostly, it’s just a way for us to be empowering for each other and not to be a sleepy think tank and not to be a stodgy university, so we overcome both of those things. The impact is a huge creative expression of new ways to think about everything from universities to public discussion to public discourse to design of systems to design of democratic institutions.

AMS: When I think about this partnership, I again think about our common values, and Michael really captured this vision of the new America that is far more egalitarian, that is far more inclusive, innovative, bold — once again capable of imagining a future for all Americans that is premised on an equal opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, words that we have professed but never lived up to for all Americans and indeed betrayed for many Americans. Michael is building a university that is a new American university, a university that is broadly inclusive but also really dedicated to public value, a public value institution. I think of New America similarly as an organization that is reinventing the think tank. We are a public-problem solving institution that focuses on policy, and policy research, and policy analysis, and advocacy at different levels of government, but we are much more than that. We are on the ground in communities. We have partnerships for youth apprenticeships across the country, for growing your own teachers, particularly teachers who are bilingual and who can meet the tremendous needs of English learners. We are working with governments at every level to make sure that government actually works. We’re experimenting with different kinds of civic engagement, we are thinking about how family economic, security, and well-being can be a real pillar of our economic and social policy across the country.

So I think in the end, this partnership with ASU, for me, is about being bold, it’s about imagining a new America and helping to design what that America needs — the institutions that America needs — and helping to build them. And with ASU, we have a partner that again with far greater scale, with tens of thousands of people, and an ability to really create something dynamic, that I hope other institutions will emulate.


Hear from Anne-Marie and Michael in their own words:


Follow The Thread! Subscribe to The Thread monthly newsletter to get the latest in policy, equity, and culture in your inbox the first Tuesday of each month.