Follow the Leader

As some of you know, I�ve had one foot out the door of Arizona since early summer, when I stumbled on the t-Mobile hotspots in the Bay Area Starbucks. I’ve even gone so far as to put both my homes up for sale (the one I live in now and the one I�m scheduled to move into after the New Year) and look at houses in California. This despite the fact that I have spent thirty-four years putting roots down in Phoenix, where I am widely known, if not so widely admired. And despite the fact that there isn�t any more seed capital for entrepreneurs in San Jose these days than there is in Scottsdale.

Why was I planning to leave? Because my grown children have settled in the Bay Area, having gone there in search of the intellectual stimulation I forewent when I gave birth to them and decided to take up permanent residence in the desert? (At the time, it seemed like heaven because you didn�t have to put snowsuits on children.) Not really. They�re knowledge workers, and they will move on. In fact, as I write this on an airplane on the way to San Jose, one�s in Dallas on business and one�s in New Jersey, and I will probably stay at a hotel tonight.

No, I was making my escape because nothing was happening. It wasn�t where I was going to that was so compelling � it was where I was coming from that was so apparently inert. Do nothing has never been my response to any situation. But for years, Arizona has been doing nothing: nothing about health care, nothing about education, nothing about immigration, nothing about tax policy, and certainly nothing about technology entrepreneurship, my pet issue.

And then I made a dutiful appearance at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast that featured Michael Crow, the new president of Arizona State University, in one of his first local public appearances since taking office. I could tell by the tone of his voice (forceful) and his body language (knowledgeable and casual) that he was going to stand the state on its ear. This will be fun to watch. I might stay for a while.

It�s been thirty years since I�ve seen an educator take a leadership position. Crow, after telling Arizona that the state was behind in the five most important aspects of 21st century economic development, politely told the business community that whatever they wanted to do, they weren�t going to be able to do it without him, since all the things to do depended on knowledge. You might have been able to be a coal and steel town without a major research university, but you can�t be a bioscience center. A university is both the manufacturer and the transporter of 21st century knowledge.

I�ve heard many university presidents speak (I went to three and taught at two others), but none so likely to herd the business community behind his agenda, using the electric shock of shame to prod the laggards. In thirty minutes, he got equal amounts of applause for saying he had met with the president of Stanford to prepare him for his loss in football this week-end and that we would soon end a fifty-year-old controversy about how many medical schools Arizona should support. The most exciting part of his talk was when he answered a reporter�s question about how he was going to get money out of our notoriously broke, anti-education legislature to fund his big dreams: �the money we need will come from out of state — from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the federal government�s commitment to fund basic science.� Basically, he gave the legislature the finger, while teaching the audience a lesson in broader perspectives.. For a guy who took up the post officially in July, he already knows plenty about Arizona.

I�ll bet he already knows that we were late to take federal money for freeways, and that our delegation won�t go to bat for light rail. The only thing we have accepted federal dollars for is water –the Central Arizona Project and the various dams. Well, water is necessary, but it�s not sufficient. The lobbying paradigm is about to shift.

None of this can happen overnight. However, another feature of Crow�s speech was his ridicule of the unit of time known as the semester: the shortest unit of time he could find at ASU upon his arrival. As someone who teaches an entrepreneurship class that is compressed into less than a semester now and soon to be compressed even further as an online offering, I was delighted to hear that. (We only did that twenty years ago in the community colleges and in the major corporations, who were forced to start their own universities by the unresponsive higher education establishment with its ossified semesters.) It tells me he plans to work fast.

Yes, I�m a Pollyanna. Yes, I get easily excited. Yes, I tend to see the glass as half full. No, we won�t be Stanford in my lifetime. But at least this gives me a chance to delay purchasing that 900sq.ft, $900,000 fix-up in Palo Alto.

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