Office of the Vice Provost for Research

Below are other research ideas that have been suggested by IU Bloomington faculty during and since the Grand Challenges Town Hall meetings held on the Bloomington campus in April and September. These are ideas that may be come viable for the Grand Challenges or Emerging Areas of Research programs in future years.


A response to the educational crisis in urban areas: public international boarding schools located in Ghana

After 55 years of educational reform efforts, our society has yet to come up with a solution for the problems of urban education for under-resourced black students. One of the main problems is that a lot of education occurs outside of the classroom. Despite the commitment of loving and concerned parents and guardians, in general, low-income urban students are at a competitive academic disadvantage in comparison to their middle-class suburban counterparts. One potential strategy to minimize the gravitational pull of disadvantaged social environments is the creation of achievement-minded boarding schools that ensure students have positive and nurturing interactions outside of school.

There are two public boarding schools in operation in the United States, one in Washington D.C. and the other in Maryland. U.S. boarding schools can easily run $35,000 to $40,000 per year per student. In this time of constrained public spending, it is unlikely that many jurisdictions will be willing to provide such funding. However, it is now technologically feasible to establish boarding schools in politically and financially stable countries in the developing world, such as Ghana, in order to educate American youth. The costs would be a third of what boarding school education is in the United States and approximate what states are currently spending to educate children in urban areas. The main classroom teachers for these international boarding schools would come from the local school district and the curriculum used would track that used in the local school district. Essentially, these schools would deliver an American education to students who are taken from urban areas and physically educated abroad. Such boarding schools would also provide a laboratory to test the latest and most effective teaching methods in an environment that reduces the outside influences that impact academic achievement.

Given the structure of Indiana's charter school law, it is possible to establish an international public boarding school physically located outside of the country as a charter school. While additional funds would have to be raised from private sources, the majority of the funds needed to operate such schools would come from existing charter school monies.

More importantly, if one such boarding school could be successfully operated, it would function as a model for others. Given the need to respond to the crisis in urban education, the potential market for such schools is vast. In addition, while the first schools would be intended to respond to the crisis in urban education and, thus, be located in Ghana, there is no particular reason that such schools should be limited to a focus on students in urban settings. Such boarding schools could be established in areas of India, China, and places in Eastern Europe that would provide similar low-cost education and politically and financially stable places in the world. Public international boarding schools could, therefore, provide a cost-effective mechanism to help globalize education for countless American youth.

For more information, contact:

  • Kevin Brown, Richard S. Melvin Professor, IU Maurer School of Law

Democratic modernism, the global belief system

Because our contemporary global socio-political-cultural system, democratic modernism, is based explicitly on beliefs and desires rather than facts and tends to put unsavory or incompetent people in power in order to ameliorate the local, national, and global disasters it creates, we need to analyze it in its full context, determine why we have adopted it and how it really works, and then design appropriate modifications to fix it.

A government is a manifestation of a society and its beliefs. In the U.S. case, like many others around the world, it is founded on openly declared beliefs and underlying desires. In recent years, the mismatch between our beliefs and the actual conditions in which most of us live has become so extreme that fewer than 1% of the populace now owns the vast majority of everything, and nearly all federal government leaders belong to the 1% too. But the great disparity between beliefs and reality permeates our entire society, including art, music, and, increasingly, even science. The grand challenge is to identify the beliefs, the problems, and how to fix them. It is appropriate for IU to address because we have considerable expertise in humanities, social sciences, and several professions. The defined, achievable goals are: (1) to identify the beliefs and desires that have created and maintain “democratic modernism" (or “modernity”), determine what is wrong with the present system, principally in the US, including both philosophical problems or misunderstandings that inform the beliefs, and practical problems that prevent the system from working equably and efficiently; (2) to publish and publicize the findings so people will understand the system they believe in (without knowing it) and what it makes them do (without knowing it); (3) to develop practical solutions to propose publicly to our national political leaders. This would make IU the national (and even international) leader of reforms that could fix and save democracy.

For more information:

  • Christopher I. Beckwith, professor and MacArthur Fellow, Department of Central Eurasian Studies, School of Global and International Studies

Systemic risk in financial market networks

Systemically risky financial services firms such as major money center banks and so-called shadow banks were major players in the 2007-08 financial collapse. Too big to fail (at least quickly) was used as the basis for public bailouts of major financial firms in distress as the market for mortgage backed securities collapsed along with major credit crunches in the overnight repo markets. Our project takes a theoretical look at the question of what constitutes a system wide risk in those deeply interconnected markets. Policies, such as those in the Dodd-Frank bill declaring some banks to be systemically important, change incentives banks and shadow banks face in making their portfolio decisions. We propose to build mathematical models of highly interconnected financial services firms using modern game theory research in strategic network formation. This research program is already in place in the Department of Economics. We expect to expand this work to include network formation models that take incentive structures and behavioral economics ideas into account as well as to model more detailed examples of financially connected firms than currently available in the economics literature. The models, once fully articulated, will be used to study prospective policy changes with the goal of understanding better the causes and remedies for large-scale financial market failures.

For more information, contact: