Michael M. Crow is president of Arizona State University and a knowledge enterprise architect and science and technology policy scholar. He is the coauthor, most recently, of The Fifth Wave: The Evolution of American Higher Education, which addresses how large-scale public universities are evolving to effect social change. Before joining the Zócalo Public Square event, “Can Higher Education Be Transformed to Better Serve Society?,” he called into our green room to talk hiking, his late-night and early-morning news consumption, and what his personal animal mascot would be.
What book or books are you reading right now?
I’m just finishing The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. That’s a fantastic book. I spent a lot of time in his books recently because of their projection of where global climate change might take us. I finished New York 2140 recently. I’m rereading Mary Beard’s book SPQR, on basically the Roman empire—a lot of lessons in there for us. I read a lot of books at once, and those are on my mind right now.
If you had one more hour in the day, what would you do with it?
I think that I would try to really understand the complete and total failing of our institutions: the criminal justice system, the education system, the lack of belief in government. I’d want to spend more time focusing on the design of solutions and understanding the root of those problems.
What do you wake up to?
Right before I go to sleep I often listen to BBC One, and then when I wake up the first thing that I do is I read about five newspapers, and then I start listening to different stations—a local station, CNN, CNBC—to get an idea of what’s going on.
Where do you come up with your best ideas?
I find that some of the best ideas I have occur in two places: the instant that I wake up, and—I hike almost every day—while I’m hiking.
What is your favorite hiking spot?
We also have a house in Sedona, so we hike in Sedona every weekend. I love Bear Mountain Trail and a range of other trails in Sedona. Sedona is my favorite hiking [spot]. In Phoenix, it’s the north Phoenix Mountain Preserve.
What was the best advice you received as a college student yourself?
What do you do to decompress?
I read, I channel surf, and I love to watch documentaries.
ASU has the Sun Devil, but if you had a personal animal mascot, what would it be?
The dolphin. They can swim unbelievably [well], they’re a group animal, they’re elegant and swift—and they’re probably telepathic.
What has the pandemic response and vaccine rollout revealed to you about the state of American innovation?
The vaccine itself indicates that we’re unbelievably innovative—and then it’s so what? because it’s insufficient. All things are more complex than they appear. We have an inadequately educated population, a lack of trust between our institutions. We produce these fantastic vaccines, but even they’re not enough. Eight billion-plus people on the planet, but our institutions are not modern, our education system is not modern, and our awareness is not modern. Scientifically, we’re way ahead of our maturation.