Category: Conferences

NOSC 2012, Fits and Starts: Visions for the Community Engaged University

  • October 29th, 2012
  • in NOSC

13th Annual National Outreach Scholarship Conference, University of Alabama, October 3, 2012

Kevin Kecskes, Portland State University

Kevin Michael Foster, The University of Texas at Austin

University of Alabama, Oct. 2, 2012

Dr. Kecskes

Good Morning. So, here we are in Alabama. You've all been here a few days. I just got here last night. And I'm again shocked. Eight o'clock in the morning and all of you had all these options and here you are.

Now, I know it was the breakfast that probably pulled you in. But anyway, thank you for coming. Let's acknowledge the folks here at the University of Alabama for their great work [applause]. Thank you so much. Special thanks go to Dr. [Samory] Pruitt, Dr. Heather Pleasants and Dr. Ed Mullins for organizing us and working with us over the past several months and working together.

Before going too far, let me just ask, by a show of hands, how many of you have had to give a plenary talk in front of this many or more people before? Yeah, look at that, a lot of you. This is hard work. It's basically an impossible task. Because you have people here that are students, you have people here that are community partners, and you have deeply engaged scholars, many of whom I know. You have people who are brand new to the work. It's basically an impossible task.

So, and additionally to that, I'm now working with a new colleague half way across the country and we're up to the challenge and we hope you are too. So, we just hope you'll come along with us on a journey today. At the end we promise that we're going to provide some time for some interaction among your tables and also with us. We're going to circulate and we'll have a little bit of a full group conversation. It depends on how we do here. So, that's our hope.

Could you give me a show of hands if you are currently associated with the University of Alabama? OK, excellent, a good bit of you. Something funny happened last night when we were coming in from the airport. The shuttle driver, and he was very kind, kept very quiet. Kevin and I were just getting to know each other. Finally, I leaned forward and I touched him on his shoulder. And I said, "Excuse me, Sir. How are you doing?" And he's driving down the highway, and he said, "I'm doing fine. Is there something I can help you with?" I said. "Yes, we're going to the University of Alabama, right?" And he said, "Yes, Sir. We are." I said, "Now you all have a football team, right?" Now that poor man almost swerved off the road. And I said to him, "Now you all are doing pretty well this year?" And he said, "Yes, Sir. We're number one. We're ranked number one in the country." I said, "Congratulations to you." And then I said, "Sir, do you know who's ranked number two in the country? And he said, "Awe, why would I know that?" then he said, "Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. It's the Ducks, the Oregon Ducks." I said, "That right." So, I said, "Sir, I'm from Oregon." And he looked at me, he looked at me. I thought he was going to stop that van.

I know we have some friends here from Oregon State. I don’t think we have anybody here from the University of Oregon. But I'm from the other university in Oregon. Right there in the city, from Portland State University. So, I want to acknowledge and congratulate the folks here from Alabama for having such a good football team.

We all know that the only thing that's more important than football on a college campus is community engagement. And that's why we're here, right? That's right [applause]. OK. So, before I give it to Kevin, give us a sense of who's in the room. Would you raise your hand really nice and high if you are a student? Any students. Look at all the students. That's great. That's great. I want to give a special hand to the students. OK, and if you are a faculty member, however you define that, please raise your hand. Look at that, a nice amount of faculty. Excellent. Thank you. Thank you. How about any administrators in the room? OK. All right. Excellent. People pulling the levers of change here. And finally, any community partners in the room? Any community partners? Great, extra hand for the community partners.

All right. So, as Heather said, I am Kevin Kecskes and I'm at Portland State. I'm really happy to be here with you this morning and now I'm going to turn it over to Kevin Foster.

Dr. Foster

So to start out, to give you a sense of where we're going this morning, here's a little bit of a roadmap. We're hoping to have some good conversation that takes us from the conceptual to the theoretical. As many of us know if we're reading JCES, if we're engaged in this work for some period of time, there's a number of different ways to think about community engagement. For the purposes of our talk, there's a number of ways to think about and talk about institutional change.

We're privileging the conceptions and the ideas that we've worked on over the years, but also fully acknowledging that there's a lot of different ways to look at change and to look at engagement. So, we'll start out with some models of community engagement. We'll present an idea of a continuum of change that we hope will be useful when you think about working in the context of institutions, working in the context of complex structures, how you begin to be specific and purposeful about moving the needle in terms of creating space for community engagement on your campus or in your social network. We'll move to some examples. Then we want to spend some time on table talk, where you all get a chance to talk with one another about some of the ideas and then hopefully some open conversation.

Dr. Kecskes is senior colleague. So he wins this one. But if it I were my class or if I were preaching in church, there would be no back-row Joes, right? I would tell everybody in the back to move to the front and make it more intimate. But Kevin reminded me that folks are eating, folks are waking up and folks are going to be coming and going.

So, even as we've created a space that I think is going to facilitate some really good conversation, I'll ask or request of us that we be vigilant about the sacredness of any community or any space that we set up and that even as you might be in the far back, and even as it becomes enticing as things get good sometimes. Do you ever want to turn to a neighbor, "You know I really agree with that" or "Man, Kev sucks" and I don't say which Kev we're talking about, right? So, one of us isn't any good and you want to turn to a neighbor and say that. So, this is a space that will probably work well for us. But I'll also ask us to guard the sacredness of this space in terms of our engagement over the course of the next hour or so. And what we'll hope to do in return is to try to turn this over to you all at some point so that there really is a robust opportunity for you all to talk with one another and then to bring it back to an open conversation to see how that works for us. Back to Kevin.

Dr. Kecskes

This is the Kevin and Kevin show, in case you haven't figured it out yet. And we've never done this, so at the end you can let up know how it went. When we talk about the models of community engagement, I was just doing some reading on the plane and I just stopped and closed my book and sat back for a second and I was again shocked by the magnitude, the magnitude of the opportunity that we have here in front of us as members of post-secondary institutions. The magnitude. There are over 4,200 degree-granting institutions in this county alone. In the aggregate we employ more than 3 million people. There are over 18 million students that attend our colleges and universities. And in 2006, in the aggregate post-secondary institutions spent over $373 billion in goods and services. We are an important engine in our communities. We have been here a long time and unlike companies that go off shore and move all over the place, we're not going anywhere. Last time I looked these buildings are pretty solid. It's an unbelievable responsibility in front of us. So, we are faced with this magnitude of opportunity. There's another thing that we're faced with: Magnitude of inertia, because our institutions are traditional. The role of tradition it to hold the line to let change happen slowly, and there's a really good role for that.

To help us remember something Clark Kerr, famous president of the University of California Berkeley, said 40 years ago, a real maverick himself in 1963: "The University has become more of a bureaucracy than a community, a mechanism held together by administrative rules and powered by money, a series of individual faculty entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance over parking." Now you can go to the University of California at Berkeley, and you can see there's a Clark Kerr Campus and he's a famous man. This is kind of his summary reflections on a great life in higher education.

So the first thing we want to talk about regarding the models of engagement that we can acknowledge, as we have written here [points to the slide], public relations. Public relations are important. I am assuming everybody in this room knows what that is and why they're important. I support that. For 10 years, working in the provost's office at Portland State University, part of what I did was tell our story, and it's very important. I think that's where maybe we can start the day, but it's certainly not where we want to end the day.

Dr. Foster

Our next model of community engagement practiced increasingly is the neoliberal. When we say neoliberal, we are not talking liberal vs. conservative in the contemporary sense. We are talking neoliberal as the revitalization of 19th century liberalism that in the 21st century is what we see in many universities as an increasing bent toward efficiency, effectiveness, partnerships that are in some ways dynamic but can also be, uh, uh, all right, soul-sucking. What I mean by that is that we can do amazing things when we say, you know, we don't have enough money to build this lab. So let's go down the street and partner with someone, IBM or whoever, and we can create some new after-school programs, we can create a facility for joint use, or other things that we can do that are efficient and effective that are anything but soul-sucking "” they're exciting and dynamic. But at some point our risk with the neoliberal model is that all we care about is efficiency. And we are not as directly purposeful in terms of our original vision for why we reach out to folks and why we enter into community with folks. We end up tending toward, "Well, this is really a great thing to do and we really can do it" and no one asks, really, why or whether it's a good thing. But it's economically prudent, so we do it. So one model of community engagement that has some promise, but also some peril attached, is the neoliberal.

Dr. Kecskes

I want to remind us that today is an important day. Something important is going to happen tonight. And that is our two presidential candidates are going to debate. I assume many of you are going to watch. I certainly am going to try to watch as much of that as I can around the other commitments I have tonight. It reminds me again, and I'll say it. This work is small "p" political. Change is political work. And so there's two ways to work that. We can deny that and run away from that, or we can run into it and embrace it. I do the latter. I lean into it and embrace it. It is absolutely small "p" political work.

And to that end, I want to tell a story about my friend Dick Harmon. Dick Harmon is a senior man. He is a very accomplished man. He's worked all over the United States and Canada with the Industrial Areas Foundation, which is a community organizing group started by Saul Alinsky in Chicago. Dick Harmon is now in his mid-70s. He and I became close friends about 10 years ago, and we talked about how community organizing could work in post-secondary education. One of the things I did in my role as associate vice provost for engagement is we held these civic engagement breakfasts. I'd get somewhere between two- and three-hundred people from Portland State and Portland to come to these breakfasts a couple or three times a year, and I said, "Dick, would you come and be one of our two or three main people, and you'll be the first" because I always try to get someone from the community to come and talk. And he said, "Kevin, I'm reluctant." Anyway, I talked him into coming. So the room was pretty full, over three hundred people in the room, several deans, I think our provost was in the room. I introduced Dick. I was very happy, [because] I kind of organize and then get out of the way.

Dick got up. I thought he was going to talk about community organizing, the three rules that they have, things like this. He got up and he went up front and he stood in front of everybody and he looked at me and he said, "Kevin, I'm sorry. I think I'm going to say something right now that's going to upset you and actually I hope I upset some of you in this room." He said, "Higher education, higher [more emphasis] education. Does that mean that there's a lower education?" And he went on to challenge everybody in that room. He said, "Who do you really think you are? Who do you really think you are? I'm a community partner and I've been invited to come into your university here in these hallowed walls and I'm intimidated, because this is higher education. And I'm intimidated. I'm a man in my mid-70s and I've had a long and rich and successful career, several books." He's led several changes, and yet he said, "I'm intimidated in these walls, this work, the way we've set up this whole dynamic. Community partners, we come here, we're supposed to kind of ask you for your resources. It's all wrong! It's all wrong."

And then Dick went on to talk about a different kind of way that's less wrong, about acknowledging each other's wisdom and knowledge in the room, about finding a new way, about understanding that when we're doing research, we're doing teaching, there's multiple sources of wisdom and knowledge everywhere. I sat there thinking, "Oh, no." But by the end of that hour and a half breakfast I tell you, people loved Dick. They gave him a standing ovation. People wanted him to talk to their classes and engage in partnerships with him, and he said, "Oh, no, I'm own my way out."

I wanted to tell that story because that hit me, that was five or six years ago, and in a very, very profound way, when I'm working with community partners and when all of us are working with community partners that in fact if we're trying to facilitate positive change, there are a couple things to keep in mind: It's political work, and whether we acknowledge it, understand it, or like it, we're coming from a position of unbelievable power, simply because we are associated with the university. There are many, many ways to break through those walls, but we have to break through those walls. And so we're going to talk about some of that right now.

Dr. Foster

One aspect of the work is the reality of change, the reality that where many of us hope for our institutions to be is not where they are today and certainly not where they were yesterday. How do we push forward? For many of us it's a rough journey. If you come from a radical edge, if you are a person whose background marks you as from a marginalized population, if you are among the many folks who enter the academy not with the privilege of knowledge for knowledge sake "” which is a beautiful thing "” but many of us don't feel a privilege of knowledge for knowledge sake. We got into it because the world wasn't good enough. At some point we said, or felt in our hearts, felt in our bones, that the university might be a really good place to work. One of the things Bill Ayers [elementary education theorist and activist] said was that the university is your base of operations, it's your home, and from there you hope to go out and do great things. One of the open secrets of the academy "” remember how many of us talked about teaching, research and service? We get to divide that into thirds? This is going to be great! "” And then what happens when you step onto a campus if you happen to be a junior faculty member? Research, teach competently so you don't embarrass us, and service, not so much. We have to make choices, because some of us are teachers in terms of our backgrounds. And someone has the audacity to get up in our faces and say, "Yeah, you're hired but if you want to be here in five years, don't spend so much time trying to be a great teacher." And certainly don't spend so much time trying to serve, or be a servant, or even be a servant leader. For me the journey of thinking about a continuum of change has been very personal because I've had to figure out how I'm going to make it in the academy.

Much of my work is based on the work of my mentor Edmund T. Gordon, chair of the new African and African Diaspora Studies Department at UT-Austin, first as a graduate student about 20 years ago, then I went off and did my own thing. Now I've come back to the University of Texas as we are launching this new department. One of the starting points of this idea of contextual interventions is that you see that things aren't good enough yet and you want to be a part of them being better and you're trying to engage, but you don't have the possibility or power yet to fully transform the space. So your work ends up being contextual. You intervene in a context, in a moment, to survive the day. If, for instance, I'm committed to the idea of being an engaged scholar, I work to create space for myself to do that work we'll call "a contextual intervention." It will be something where I go out and find a way to take my community engaged work and have it nicely articulate with research, so that I'm going to get publications from my community engaged work. That's a contextual intervention. That is to say, it's an intervention in the moment, a solution that helps me survive the day, but does nothing to change the structures of power. In fact, it ends up being complicit with or supportive of the structures of power as they already exist. This making sense at all? All right, I'll give you a K-12 teaching example.

In the K-12 classroom, in many of our schools, an issue is hunger. The teacher does not have the capacity to solve hunger. But the teacher does have to survive the school day and she does know that her middle-schoolers, especially the three boys over there that are 13 years old and 5-11. They are growing and they're big, and every day at 2 o'clock they're hungry. This is her fourth year of teaching, so she knows that every day at this time she's going to have hungry kids. There's health laws that says you can't take food out of the cafeteria, and there's a principal's rule that you can't have food in the classroom. We haven't built it into the day. Her contextual intervention is that she has a desk drawer. And what's in that desk drawer? Granola bars, some little treats, some little fruit snacks. She says, "Lamar, come over here. Johnny, come over here," and she slips them some food. That's a contextual intervention. It did nothing to change the structures of power, it did nothing to ameliorate a big societal problem, but it helped her run an effective classroom at 2 p.m. when her boys and girls are hungry.

At some point we can get to structural interventions, where contextual interventions begin to accumulate and we begin to think more systematically. What if, as a faculty member, the contextual intervention for the community engaged scholar was to begin to think creatively about ways to survive the moment and to move toward your tenure track by articulating your research agenda with your service agenda so that you can publish? And that was your contextual intervention. But you start to think about ways to systematize that. You start to think about ways to facilitate this possibility but for other like-minded folks. You find a chair who's sympathetic, who's willing to start to open the door a little bit wider. You start to think in terms of how a department at the level of executive committee can start to think about policy changes that will facilitate community-engaged scholarship. Now you're starting to think in term of structures of power and how you can engage with others to begin to tweak the rules, change the practices. These are structural interventions.

A structural intervention in our parallel track example would be if I as a teacher notice hunger, I get with other parents. They say "I know my son or daughter is miserable. Right when I pick them up they're starving. We have to race home, and they're incredibly moody, and they're moody because they're hungry, so I'm with you on this problem, what can we do." Well, there's a church across the street. Why don't we start doing spaghetti dinners however many nights a week? Or why don't we talk to the principal about a policy change? By the way, when it comes to contextual interventions, there can also be a resistant edge and I really like the resistant edge. While a contextual intervention can be an intervention that goes and flows with the rules, there can also be a humanizing contextual intervention that has a note of resistance, in other words saying we're not satisfied with any structures of power that allow inequities, or that allow, for instance, hunger. So a contextual intervention with a resistant edge might be the teacher saying, "It's wasteful that we throw out milk cartons at the end of a lunch period if you haven't finished your milk. Put it in your backpack. We're going to drink it later." Now what you've done is broken rules. What you've done is maybe set yourself up for being written up and eventually fired. But what you've also done is humanize the child and allowed them to exist with the notion that their fundamental, basic nutritional needs are more important than somebody's stupid rules. And that's an important lesson for children, especially marginalized children who're pushed off the edge. It might even be an important lesson for assistant professors who got in it to change the world but are told everyday to soften up the rough edges. At some point we need to claim our humanity, claim the vision of what we want to do, and fight for what we want to do, Our contextual interventions might sometimes have a resistant edge. By the way, if you're going to engage any of this stuff, at the end of the day you better be better than all your colleagues when it comes to how much you publish. You better be better than all your colleagues in terms of how much money you bring in in grants, if that's the metric. If you're going to engage this work this way and persist to where Kevin is (or Kevin was until he moved back to faculty from vice provost), you better be better than the next. Right? That's Grandma's wisdom, by the way.

Contextual interventions, structural interventions, what do we hope for? What we hope for is structural transformation [glances at the slide]. How often does structural transformation come about? Not very often. Last I checked there are still plenty of kids who are hungry. But we're always about the win, we're also about working toward something, but it's also about the righteousness of the fight and always battling to make it better. Maybe we get to the point of structural transformation but there's righteousness in the journey, so we stay on that path but what we want is the end of world hunger "” right? "” to put it in a kind of silly or crass way.

What we want at a University of Texas, a Portland State, a University of Alabama is  where it's porous, where the walls come tumbling down, in a sense, and there's this nice seamless integration, so that those who pay their taxes in this state, those who are working in this state, benefit from what this university has to offer and the back and forth is this nice flow. I don't know, I haven't been here too long, but at least at the University of Texas I can tell you we ain't there yet. But I persist at the University of Texas because the fight is righteous, because everyday that I live in righteousness "” I don't mean to sound so preacherly "” but everyday you live in this, you are not living on the other side of the fence, and at some point it does become almost a Manichean duality where it's like are you right or you're wrong and you wake up in the morning and you go to bed at night and you know whether you did right or you did wrong. The beauty of this work is that you can go to bed tired, you might go to bed with tears on your pillow, but when you go to bed you actually rest easy, because you know that you're doing what you need to do. This is all about being purposeful on that journey and setting yourself up in a way to continue on that journey without losing your mind, a way to continue on this journey with a solid sense of where you're trying to go.

Dr. Kecskes

I'm going to talk about traditional vs. engaged scholarship. But before I do, I want to share yet another little story. The quick background on this story is this: In case you didn't know, or in case you had a sense of it but didn't know how much, this work, this engagement work in postsecondary education, is on fire on a global level. This is not just happening here in the South. It's not just happening in America. It is happening on a global level. Guaranteed. It's unbelievable what's happening, and guess where it's really happening a lot right now? In the Arab world.

Four or five years ago I got a phone call from some friends in Cairo where I had been a few different times. They said, "Kevin, we want you to come out and do a training with faculty and administrators in the Middle East for a week." I said, "No way. No way. Where will the training be?" "It's going to be in Beirut." "No Way. Thank you. No thank you." "Aww, come on, we saw you [do this and that], we think you'd be great." "No way."

They contacted me a third time and I said, "OK. I will seriously consider coming because you contacted me three times, if you find a female co-equal presenter to work with me for this week who's from the Arab world." They contacted me a few days later, and so my colleague Amani Elshimi and I did this workshop.

There's this new alliance called the Ma'an Arab University Alliance for Civic Engagement. There were about 65 people there in Beirut for a week who had gathered together, and Amani and I were together to plan this weeklong training. But I said to her, "Look, I don't even speak Arabic. I am not a Middle Eastern specialist. I feel really uncomfortable here. First and foremost, before we do anything, I'd like to just find out where people are. Let's just start with a simple thing. Let's just ask them, "˜What is community for you, in your context?'" We had people from the Gulf States. People don't have a sense that there are 22 countries in the Arab world, everywhere from North Africa all the way up the Gulf. It's an enormous slice of our earth. "Let's just ask people in their context, "˜What is community?'"

Guess how long it took to answer that question? Two days. That was great, and from a training standpoint, it was fantastic. The group came to a deep, collective understanding, a sense within themselves, of what community is. Very interesting work. Unbelievable, interesting work. We wrote some of this up and presented it a couple of years back. Then Amani and I started asking them about their own stories of community engagement.  The take-away that really hit me hard as a professional in this field is how they spoke about their students out in the local streets protesting and how for them that was community engagement, to try to make a better life, to try to do some of the things that Kevin is talking about in terms of structural transformation, and how some of their students had been injured, or taken to prison, or even died. It hit me hard that day "” I had to hold onto the side of the table. Unlike my experience here in America "¦ . Now I wasn't in the South 40 years ago in the struggles for civil rights. I'm not that old. But it hit me that day "” this was now three or four years ago "” that it their message and experiences were a harbinger of things to come for the Arab Spring; that for them, in some cases, community engagement could mean confronting serious social injustice, and in the extreme could even be a life and death situation.

That's simply not my experience here in America, with service-learning, for example. That's just not my experience, and so it really made me begin to think about how important, impactful, powerful this work is. And yet here in a North American context we situate that in the traditions of our hallowed postsecondary institutions, which I love.

So, this is hard work. What I'd like to say some of you might have seen versions of this before. I give most credit for this [refers to Traditional vs. Engaged slide to Andy Furco [Andrew Furco, University of Minnesota] did a lot of this, Lorilee [Lorilee Sandmann, University of Georgia), Barb Holland [National Service-Learning Clearing House]. I've done some work with this. Many of you here have done some work with this. The point of this slide is this: You have heard about this or will hear about and say well, "This community engaged scholarship, it's not rigorous. I don't know what it is. It seems so fluffy. But if we take a look, traditional scholarship breaks new ground. We all know what it is. We all know how important that is. We have traditional journals that support it. We have chairs in departments that value it. We value it ourselves. It is how we progress. It's how we make new knowledge. In an engaged paradigm, we have to break new ground in the discipline and have direct application in a broader public issues. The bar is higher, not lower. Not only does it have to meet all the bars of traditional scholarship, but it has to meet an additional bar. It has to have applicable value at some level. Second thing, it answers significant questions in the discipline that have to be relevant to community or public issues. It's a higher bar. Third, it's reviewed and validated by qualified peers in the discipline and the community. That's a really scary place. Theoretically grounded and practically applicable. And finally it advances disciplinary knowledge and public knowledge.

So, I've been hearing for many years as many of you have, "Yeah, but it's not rigorous, it's soft." I don't buy it. Because I do it. And it's hard. It's really hard work. Last thing I'll say about this and I'll pass it back to Kevin is this: An old paradigm is much more linear. In fact if we want to take it to its end, we often know the answers to the questions, or we think we know the answers to the question, or we certainly are going out to look for the answers to the questions that we think we already have in our research. And that is so different from an emergent model where, rather than going out into the community with our questions in mind and our answers in mind, we work with community members in a much more emergent, a much messier milieu in which the questions emerge over time. It takes longer, it's harder work. We can ask ourselves and our community partners, however we define them "” and I'll tell you in Beirut it is harder to define than here in Tuscaloosa "” to what extent are they involved in question generation, methodology choice, data gathering, data analysis, and dissemination. I'm not here to tell you what's the right answer, but I am here to ask myself first and foremost and you also: How do those processes work for you? Who develops the questions? Is it you in your office, alone with the door closed? Is that a public issue itself, and how do we gather the data, who helps, who has a hand in it, who has a hand in the analysis? And finally, who has a hand in the dissemination? These are really important questions. I'll just end this little piece by saying from my own personal experiences, engaged scholarship is a lot harder, lot harder work.

We're moving now toward the final part of our remarks before we turn it over to you. What Kevin and I would like to do is share some examples, first from Portland State and then from the University of Texas at Austin, and then end with a short video clip in which we'll give you a small slice of what this can look like, and a little surprise at the end, then we're going to turn it over to you. About another 10 minutes.

Two pieces I'd like to talk about at Portland State, institutional transformation and capstones. Now, when Kevin and I were discussing our remarks today, he said, "Kevin, Portland State is an example of structural transformation," as he described. I said, "Well, tell me more about that." Because I am a little too close, I'm not sure that he's got me completely convinced, but I will say there are two things we do at Portland State that I'm very proud of and that I think are emblematic of a deep kind of change in postsecondary education similar to that which Kevin spoke about. No. 1 "” there is nothing that I'm going to say that is sexy but is really important "” is we in, 1996, and Lorilee knows this, I believe we were the first institution to do this in the country, in this new wave "” we changed our promotion and tenure guidelines. Show of hands if you've been working in the last five years on changing your institution's promotion and tenure guidelines. Yeah, is that fun? [Laughs] It's creative work, right? It can be creative work. It's hard work. It is political work, small "p". In 1996, Portland State University stepped back because we wanted to be an engaged institution before we were even using that language and to honor our motto that our students gave our then President Judith Ramaley, "Let knowledge serve the city." Well, if you want to let knowledge serve the city, you need to let it show up where it counts, in the promotion and tenure guidelines. You'd be surprised how many calls I get saying, "We want to come out to Portland State and see how you changed your promotion and tenure guidelines, because we're trying to do that at the University of Cincinnati. We want to come out, send a whole team to visit you." And I say, "I'll tell you what. We can save you some money because there is nothing here to see. You can go on the website, go to the Provost's page. You can look at Section 5. We called it then the "Scholarship of Outreach." That was the language that was used then. We have examples for artists, which are very different from that for natural scientists, which is very different from social scientists. We have examples." And they say, "But we want to come out and see how you did it." How we did it is how we did it. How you do it is really important to you. Now if you'd like, we can have a chat about some processes, maybe thinking about who you want around the table talking about some change in leadership strategies that might expedite the process. But at the end of the day, it's hard work.

So we did it. I'll tell you just a teeny vignette here. It wasn't pretty, and it hasn't been pretty, and here's part of why it hasn't been pretty. For 100 people in the room there were a 100 different interpretations of what was said. Also there are institutional promotion and tenure guidelines, and those sometimes translate directly down to departments and disciplines and sometimes they don't articulate at all, and that's a real problem for our junior faculty. Here's another problem. Some faculty said, "Well, I've been doing all this service, and I've been letting knowledge serve the city, and I've been working with these community partners and I've got my students involved, and I'm a really effective teacher. Take a look at my reviews. I've been working with these community partners. We did all these brochures and these websites. Look at how they've increased their funding." This, that and the other. And every single thing that faculty member said was true. Except it didn't meet many of the bars of what we would hold as rigorous scholarship. That faculty member didn't get it, wasn't advised properly, and when they came up for tenure, they were rejected. And so that set waves through our faculty. "Oh, well, it's all rhetoric, it's all rhetoric." So, it's hard work.

There is No. 1. No. 2, two of two. I'd like to talk about our Capstone Program. At Portland State University what we did in the early nineties is we completely changed the entire undergraduate general ed program. I'm not going into that whole story, but the essence of it is, our then provost was a historian of education, and he said, "We're good at one thing at a university and we're good at research" and he pulled together some of the best researchers on our faculty then and he said, "I want to pay you with release time for a year to do research and to prove to me that the current distribution model that we have for general education works." They went, they did the research, they came back and they said, "We can't do it. It basically doesn't work." In fact the research that's been out now for 20 or 30 years by people like Peter Ewell [Vice President at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems] and many others, many of you in the room, for sure, say this kind of education distribution doesn't work very well for students. So the provost said, "I'm going to pay you a second year to create something that will work." Using the research that we had in the early nineties, they then built what's now known as our University Studies program, which has today "” if any of you are familiar with the AACU [Association of American Colleges and Universities] "” there are these 10 impact practices, about seven of them have to do with engaged learning. Service-learning is in there, first year seminars, community-based research. If you don't know about those high impact practices based on really ground-breaking research by George Kuh [High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access To Them, and Why They Matter], I encourage you to take a look at those because they really align very well with this work. They are all based on research.

One of the things we have at Portland State at the end of our undergraduate program is a six-credit Capstone. Every undergraduate has to take it to graduate. Here are a couple of pieces of the Capstone. The first time that my predecessor Amy Driscoll built one of these we came out of the box with five of them. I know her very well and she said, "I don't know how we're going to have enough of us to support these five Capstones. Each Capstone has a maximum of 15 people, all interdisciplinary, they're all community based and they're all them based. So for example, a capstone could be just about anything that has to do with community, is interdisciplinary and theme based. Students come together from multiple disciplines. They work together ideally over two terms and bring disciplinary points of view working together as a team to try to address a salient community issue.

That was almost 20 years ago. Today, that program persists, and last academic year we had 234 Capstones were offered, 234, almost 4,000 of our largely seniors and some juniors took a community-based Capstone. That is now part of who we are. We have been doing for almost 20 years. Our faculty in the Capstone Program are some of our best teaches on campus and in the last five years we have spread that work internationally. So I myself have led Capstones to Oaxaca, Mexico where we work on community health issues there. Those are two examples of how a university can step back and make good on this idea of structural transformation.

Dr. Foster

I've learned about Portland State from afar, and it's been really exciting to hear. The University of Texas is hard to move. It's so big. Some of our other institutions are so much more nimble. I look to Portland State and hearing Kev, there's just amazing stuff going on there. For me, a faculty member at the University of Texas at Austin, the immediate intervention was to start to think through, from a conceptual standpoint, how to bring research and service together. But then there was also the teaching piece and there was also the reality that I'm committed to my graduate students emerging as a certain type of scholar. I want them to be rigorous from a methodological standpoint. I want them to be rigorous in terms of their theoretical grounding, but I also desperately want them to be deeply community engaged, to their core. This is who they are as emerging scholars. The structural intervention that came was the creation of ICUSP, which is the Institute for Community University and School Partnerships. I was told not to do this, strongly encouraged not to start this. The long story short is that ICUSP became COBRA. These were some of the programs that we had over time and each one has its own back story. COBRA is the Community of Brothers and Revolutionary Alliance. COBRA was started because I was hanging out in community and there was this thing called African American Men and Boys Conference that happened once a month. We came together and we did a whole lot of talking at kids and it was a good thing on a certain level, but we all knew it wasn't enough. I got to know a principal there because we'd see each other month after month, and at some point he said, "Kevin, this is great but here's my problem on my campus. Would you be willing to come and do something?" I came as a volunteer, sat in the library and had 12 African American boys and we were working on disciplinary referrals and their engagement and this sort of thing. The long story short, this became COBRA. The boys came up with the name. There's a novel by Sam Greenlee called The Spook Who Sat by the Door. If you ever teach it you have to work on the misogynistic aspects of it. It's a Black Power era novel. There's a problem with the novel but there's also a lot going on in the novel that's really powerful in terms of having people be self-advocates, having people emerge as intellectuals who are purposeful about change, etc. It's a revolutionary text and the gang that our hero in the novel turned into a revolutionary organization, the gang was COBRA [laughter]. So the school district is funding a revolutionary organization they just don't know it. Voices came into being, because after our first year on campus things went really well and money was a little more flush back then. The district came and said, something's happened in our data on this campus. This particular cell, African American boys, has just exploded because 12 African American boys makes a different on the campus. So what do you do? I don't really know. You do whatever we did and they say well that sounds good enough for us, here's money, which was an interesting lesson, by the way. They didn't understand what we did. We barely understood what we did. But at that moment it was solving a problem, so here's money. Times have changed a little bit, by the way. But everything's cyclical. It'll come back around again. We were doing good work, so I was happy to take their money.

When we expanded we went to another campus and within a couple of months the boys' group was going great, and some young ladies came to us and they said, "This is not fair, this is not right. You've got a boys' group, what about us?" And I went back to the district and said, "What about them?" and the district said we're not worried about them. They didn't mean to say it that crassly, but they basically did. They had a focus on what was happening with black boys in particular and so that became their focus and everything else was going to be OK until it became a crisis too. But that wasn't good enough for the young ladies. So we said to to the young ladies, just come to the meetings. They came for about three weeks and they said, "Yeah, no. We want our own." So we reallocated our resources, shifted things around, and we created a girls' group beside the boys' group. They named it VOICES, Verbally Outspoken Individuals Creating Empowered Sisters [laughter and applause]. You can clap. They were immediately tighter and better than anything the boys had ever done. They were amazing. I won't go into the next ones right now.

One of the things we do with ICUSP right now. Have any of you ever seen "Ted Talks"? We thought about it and one of the things I'm interested in is more and more scholars getting on this bandwagon, more and more scholars waking up to the possibilities, waking up to the possibility of engaged scholarship. Now faculty members have very small egos, right? So faculty members have huge egos, and I have discovered, if I can talk to scholars, other faculty members, about how their work can be disseminated more broadly, how other people can learn the brilliant things that they have to say, they're often on board. But it comes with a catch. You're going to have to go through our training. We partner with KLRU public television "” how many of you have seen "Austin City Limits?" We record on the historic set of Austin City Limits twice a year. Five Black Studies faculty members basically giving "Ted Talks" to Black Studies and we're fighting over the name, calling it Blackademics right now but we'll probably lose the name. If anybody has a cool name to replace ours, that'll be great. What we do is take time to train them in principles of adult learning, principles associated with new media presentations, being in front of a camera, etc. Then they all do 12-minute talks. They edit them down as television shows, so every two talks becomes a TV show, and every talk is released online on an almost monthly basis. So that's one different form of community engagement that's taking advantage of new media.

My staff are all graduate students. This is one of the COBRA chapters [slide]. All of these boys are in college, every one of them. COBRA began young COBRA, which is our middle school version [new slide]. This slide is some our kids talking about a video they had made. So these are sixth graders talking before three hundred of their peers from across the city. One of our chapters brought in the author Sam Greenlee [slide]. These are the kids using technology on the University of Texas campus. By the way, if you teach anything with public education, when you have partnerships, one of the things that is really cool is the opportunity for kids who live in the surrounding area to begin to see the possibilities. When I teach a course on public education, I invite high school kids to come in. I'll prep the kids and talk to them about the reality that they know more about high school than the college students. When it comes down to it, they are the experts in the room. They should not be hesitant to raise their hands and to say something if I or someone else gets it wrong. We're beginning to invite them in to the idea of college as a possibility. They are familiar with this technology because they're working with it when we bring them to campus. COBRA teaching young COBRA, intergenerational work. This is a workshop on what it's going to be like in high school. By the way, every different color is a different chapter [looks at slide]. The kids have their school colors on. We don't do T-shirts. We do polo shirts with embroidered lettering and there's a sense of empowerment, a sense that they're part of something special when they are involved. [Shows slide] This is two years ago. This is some of the kids in COBRA. I don't have any money, but I go to church. When we go somewhere, I have folks at this particular church and they have six vans, one of those big churches. And they are awesome about, "Ah, yeah, Dr. Foster you can do this. We'll help you out" with this that and the other. Vans become not much of a problem. Here's a free-trade [slide] coffee house. They love to have kids in. They're very global. They're not charging us money. They're giving kids samples of this and that. It's very global in perspective when they're seeing this stuff. I'm not an elected official but I have a lot of kids and all my kids have parents. And the partents vote. So if I call Congressman Doggett and I say I've got 300 kids and the 300 kids have parents, guess what? "Kev, yes, I'll sit down with you and I'll record a video congratulating the kids on their work." Same with Councilman Cole, Council Spellman: "I've got an awards ceremony, are you willing to come and record a special note?" "Absolutely." Support from campus leaders and by the way I have two kids and for this work, for this to work, and this work is hard, like a 90-hour work week, but it's a fun 90-hour work week if I integrate it with the rest of my life. Everyone has to make their own decisions about this. I integrate it with my life. My kids know the COBRA kids and the VOICES kids, because my kids are on the field trips. [Points to slide] That's my kid son Malcolm, that's my daughter Marly, they come with us, they're engaged. And by the way, an unearned privilege that my kids have is that there's no questions about their leadership ability, their leadership skills. There's no question that they're going to go to college, there's no question that what was once about being a first generation person. It's not going to be a problem about being a second generation, third generation, fourth generation because they are integrated into the life of the work. Whether they love Dad or hate Dad they know what Dad's about.

[Slide] This is my staff. Does it look like we have fun? We have a lots of fun. Now a University of Illinois professor, now a University of North Texas professor, now working in a university outreach center. local arts activists, still graduate student and two more that are still more graduate students. My graduate students actually get jobs. What I've found over and over again when folks call us is that "” at UT we've got research dollars, we've got the courses, we've got the course work "” folks don't get hired because they fail the interview. Folks don't get hired because there are so many amazing people out there. It turns out that community engagement is something that, like Kev was saying, is something many folks are interested in. When any of my students begin to tell their story and begin to show the purpose of  their work, the pride in their work, and how their scholarship is integrated with a profound ability to engage community in powerful ways, we find they are landing jobs.

Dr. Kecskes

We want to end this with a strong sense of hope. For those of you have been in this field for as long as I have, you'll laugh at this. Twenty-five years ago, the most important thing we debated "” and I can go back and show you the archives on the higher education service-learning listserv "” the most important thing that we debated, according to us at that time, was whether the term service-learning should carry a hyphen of not. [laughter] That's where we were and that's fine. Today we have graduate student networks, we have multiple international associations that support this work, just like NOSC. We have numerous publication outlets. We have graduate students like yourselves and undergraduates who are hungry for this work. New young faculty are coming in expecting it, students are expecting it. What a difference a quarter of a century makes.

Where we want to end this piece is with a short video. It's about three or four minutes. In this video you'll see a man who is on the faculty at Portland State who is an architect, who is very community engaged. I encourage you to watch for things like how he teaches, who's there, what they're doing, if you can see some research around it and enjoy a little snippet of what community-based learning or service-earning can look like. I'll just say that one of the things that was very important to Sergio (Palleroni), because his two kids before he moved to Portland had to go to school in temporary classrooms, in trailers, and he hated it, because he knows all the research shows that if you have natural light, good ventilation and some other simple adjustments, kids learn lot better. It's been a real fight for him. At the end of the story I'll tell you what's happened since. This is on our website, if you want to see it again.

Video: Introduced by Wim Wiewel, President of Portland State University, Community Engagement in Architecture: Education and the Built Environment (3:45). [Applause]

So the epilogue to this video, which was made a couple of years ago, is now Sergio, the main professor, is so passionate about the role of architecture in creating better learning environments for these kids is that he's successfully lobbyied the Oregon Legislature and now his work has made a permanent, hopefully permanent, public policy change. All modular classrooms, AKA trailers, in Oregon will have to meet certain specs that he has designed. They've approved that in terms of natural light, ventilation, basic things, actually they're very cost efficient. To me that's a way of showing how the structural transformation, how one faculty member's vision and work, in combination with the whole community, really makes permanent, durable change. So back to Kev.

Dr. Foster

Given what we said at the very beginning, how did we let you down this morning. What did we promise that we didn't deliver. Time. Time for discussion, right? So Dr. Pleasants is a brilliant conference planner so we have a post-plenary dialog at 2:30 in Rast B for any folks who want to continue the dialog. Kevin and I will get together and think about how we can be better at de-centering ourselves. What you've found is two folks who like to talk. Right? But we do hope is that this was information packed. Was there good information this morning [loud applause]? And one of the things we both know and we've talked about this a little bit is that we have ideas that we've developed over the years, and we're excited about them, we're passionate about them, we're excited about them, but we are also keenly aware of what is in the room in terms of the work that you all are doing. We really want to continue a dialog and do a better job this afternoon of opening it up. Kev's work, if you go to the Hatfield School of Government faculty page, the first link is to Kev's work. Go to How many of you use Very few. It's an awesome place. Kind of like Facebook in a sense for nerds. You can start your page and theirs a space to upload documents. All of my documents, all of my articles, and I have to fight with my publishers, are available there as a PDF. Follow me on Twitter and I'll follow you back. Also there's the ICUSP Facebook page. If you to the Portland State page you'll see examples of the video, you'll see examples of the work they're doing there. We probably should wrap up. Thank you to the conference host and conference planners. This has been an excuse for me to get to know a new friend and colleague, so I really like this set up. I hope it worked for you all.

NOSC 2012, The Future of Morality: What Role Should Colleges and Universities play.

  • October 25th, 2012
  • in NOSC

13th Annual National Outreach Scholarship Conference, University of Alabama, October 2, 2012

Stephen Black, Director, Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility, University of Alabama

NOSC 2012 speech transcription

Dean Carolyn Dahl, College of Continuing Studies

Good morning. Thank you for being here so bright and early. Some of you in this room have a crazy idea. That is that students can change the world. In fact, most of you may have this idea. Many of you have invested your personal and professional energies in this notion. You get up every morning determined to make that happen, to make progress toward this crazy preposterous idea.

Stephen Foster Black, our keynote speaker this morning, shares this idea with you. You might say that Stephen Black is the personification of engaged learning, of that powerful idea that learners, scholars and communities, armed with a shared purpose, can and do change the world. What an honor for us to spend the morning with him.

Stephen Black is the grandson of United States Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black. He grew up in New Mexico after most of his family left our state in the 1950s and '60s, following his grandfather's controversial role in civil rights decisions, including Brown v. Board of Education. Despite growing up over 1,000 miles from here, from a very early age Stephen has always been connected to Alabama through the legacy of his family's commitment to public service. Stephen Black received his bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated magna cum laude, and his juris doctor from Yale Law School. Following graduation from law school, he returned to Alabama to join the Birmingham law firm of Maynard, Cooper & Gale. After three years with that firm, he was called to public service, serving for a brief time as assistant to the governor of Alabama, focusing on policy and economic development. And during his experience in the governor's office, Stephen was captured by the enthusiasm of the thousands of students he encountered when he was speaking around the state. Stephen then came to the University of Alabama and convinced the president and provost to create the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility and a related statewide organization, Impact Alabama, also housed at the Center.

Values and skills of Citizenship

Through the work of the center, students are supported in developing a personal definition of moral and civic maturity. The center is dedicated to making the values and skills of citizenship a hallmark of a University of Alabama education through authentic experiences in communities that, as Ambassador Joseph framed for us yesterday, make the conditions of others our own. Impact Alabama is a statewide service-learning effort, unique nationally, a nonprofit staffed by 30 full-time college graduates who have provided more than 3,000 college students with opportunities to participate in structured service-learning projects that promote learning and leadership development. Since the Ethics Center and Impact Alabama began, students and staff have provided more than 3,600 hours of service to the Tuscaloosa Pre-K initiative. Through Documenting Justice they have written and produced films focused on subjects of social justice of both state and international significance. They have provided advanced placement for high school students throughout the state. They have prepared tax returns for more then 17,000 working families, claiming $31 million in refunds and saving approximately $4.7 million in commercial preparation fees. And through FocusFirst they have provided comprehensive vision care to more than 155,000 children.

In 2008, Black received the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders award for his work with FocusFirst. This national award is given annually to individuals who demonstrate creativity and commitment in addressing society's most pressing health issues. Ten recipients were chosen from among 800 nominations. The Birmingham News says of Stephen Black: "Black is bright and energetic and he speaks persuasively on such broad issues as tax, constitution and education reform. Black exhibits a new spirit of leadership that Alabama desperately needs." And from The Tuscaloosa News: "Stephen Black could be the template for what people envision when they talk about the best and brightest. Energetic, brilliant articulate. Black is the brightest hope for the future in Alabama."

What I predict you will say about Stephen Black is "Wow! Amen!" Dear colleagues, it's my great honor to present Stephen Foster Black.

Stephen Black

Thank you, and what an incredible introduction. That sets the bar way too high. Have you been hearing the news releases about the debates from both presidential campaigns? They're all so worried about underperforming they're each acting as if they're going to be lucky to make it through with complete sentences. That's the way I feel after that introduction. [Looking at the rows of empty front row seats] I will say it's kind of funny how incredibly well educated this room is and no matter how far along we move through our educated life, you all avoid the front row like a group of third graders. Why does that happen, still?

This is what I want to do with this short period of time and I'm going to talk fast because I've got a lot to say before my time is up. At the risk of saying things that we all know, I still think it's worthwhile to step back every once in a while and go back to the reason why any of us do any kind of work tied with universities relating to communities. There are so many talented and educated people in the room that I think there's a risk that we get so enthralled and develop such an expertise and focus on one specific area that I don't think it's a bad idea every once in a while to lift our heads up and stand back and breathe deeply and acknowledge again why the overarching reason for all of this is so fundamentally important.

Reason to Care about Citizenship

I would suggest to you there is a reason for colleges to care about citizenship: They're entrusted with the lives of young human beings growing into adults with a moral and ethically engaged life in front of them. I don't think there's ever been a time when there's a greater call on universities to be thoughtful about the picture we find ourselves in. I would argue to you all that we face a bigger challenge right now in regard to the future of ethical and engaged citizenship than at any time in our country's past. Literally, I mean that. I think the biggest single challenge confronting ethical progress "” and let me be clear, because I know there are a lot of academics in the room "” I'm defining progress in as general a way that everyone can agree on the definition, meaning a non-ideological definition. The idea, as corny as it sounds, a conception from our founders, the idea of an America, a country worth dying for that gives you the right and the liberty and the privilege of caring about your children, working hard, having some sense of commitment to your community, and, based on those ingredients, having a rational expectation that your children will realize a better life than you and your grandchildren a better life than them.

That is what I refer to as the transcendent trajectory of progress of our nation. In this incredible experiment in democracy, as messy as it is, the biggest fundamental challenge to ever come before us is here right now, live and in living color in a way we've never seen before, a bigger threat than terrorism, a bigger threat than another banking crisis, although that would be bad, a bigger threat than a double dip recession. I shouldn't have said that [knocks on wood].

Bigger than all that, I think, is fundamentally what happens to a nation of citizens who year after year become less and less personally engaged with people unlike themselves. Sort of Robert Putnam moving forward, a whole body of scholarship and concern over what happens in an increasingly competitive world economy where more Americans and all kinds of Americans are working longer than ever before, at least trying to find the hours to work longer than ever before.

Demographic Changes

When you couple that with the demographic changes, the majority of Americans don't have any sense of the challenges to citizenship that comes with becoming a majority suburban nation. Fifteen years ago marked that point for us, the first time in our history that a majority of us lived in the suburbs, which means we have added onto our daily burden, in addition to longer work hours, what else? Commuting. The drive goes up. There are some jobs in the suburbs but the majority are not. The majority of Americans suburbanizing further and further out to realize their understanding of the American dream. Buying a home with a lawn and some trees puts them on the highway more and more hours every year. There were articles written 15 years ago focusing on Atlanta's response to the longest average daily commute in the western world, and it was referred to as the revolt of the commuters, these beautiful loft projects coming up in downtown Atlanta. We've got some great ones in Birmingham, there's some cool loft projects in downtown Tuscaloosa. Beautiful story, but statistically an anomaly. We continue to be a more suburbanizing nation.

If you lay a demographic track over the highway system of America, you'll see Americans continuing to segregate themselves in $30,000 to $40,000 a year income  brackets along the highway systems of America, spending more time in the car, more time at work, and less time engaged in relationships with people unlike themselves, specifically in relationships aimed at causes and purposes beyond their own family's immediate needs. Rotary, Kiwanis, Lion's Clubs, 4-H, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, PTA, those organizations have two things in common: One is they've had a dramatic impact on engagement and concrete results across generations in our nation, and two, they've all declined dramatically in the last two generations. And you think to yourself: Far fewer mothers showing up for their children's PTA meetings than 30 years ago. Our mothers these days, do they just not care about whether their kids and their schools thrive? And I know you all have in your head: "No idiot, that's not it. It's because they're working." And in fact you would be right.

Love to Be at PTA

In fact the vast majority of women would love to be at their school's PTA, but they are working every hour they can find because first and foremost they want to feed their children. And I think that's an understandable perspective to have. But it also brings us into a situation where, as I suggested, fewer of us are engaged in projects beyond our own immediate needs in relationships with people unlike ourselves. As I tell college students all over the state and when I travel to other states, whether you're Republican or Democrat, I think the founding idea "” the building block, the core of ethical citizenship, the ability to decide things well on behalf of other human beings, the ability to invest your own time and talent to the betterment of a community or society "” is compassion.

And not as a sound bite. As an idea that you as a human being develop, or it fails to develop within you, that allows you the gift of seeing through someone else's eyes, of being able to feel what it would be like to lead someone else's life. Fortunately for us all, it's human nature to have compassion, if it's sparked properly by putting people in situations where they're exposed to other human beings unlike themselves, in real life vulnerable situations where they can gain insight and return to a safe place to reflect, to read about the structural basis for the situation they just witnessed, and you start to see the flames of compassion sparking. Unfortunately, statistically, this is happening for fewer Americans and we see it play out in dramatic ways.

I remember, you all remember, Katrina coming through. I remember the images after the water broke through the levies and rose. Do you remember the images from news helicopters, of hundreds and then thousands over that two-day period, holding up signs, "Help," "Drop Food," "Need Water"? The semester after that I took a sociology of religion course at Emory. The professor brought in a survey, a three-night national phone survey that week. It was fascinating to read. Perspectives on all sorts of issues. We're turning through this thing, and we get to a page and one of the questions said, "Did these images sadden you?" And one of the students across from me, an African American Ph.D. student, noticed the breakdown of answers by race. And the black column was 99 percent, which in my mind I think the 1 percent didn't hear the question right. Of course they were saddened at the images, at least 99% of African Americans were. But only 54 percent of white Americans were.

Next question, "Did these images anger you?" Answer: 99 percent of African Americans were but only 52% of white Americans. There was an awkward silence in the room at this point, and the professor throws the paper down, crosses her arms, and says, "Do you see? This is a racist, cold country." And I remember thinking, "Yeah, there are racists walking around, but I don't think it's that 48 percent in that poll. I think that's something different." I raised my hand, reluctantly, and started explaining, and the professor added more and we decided to do more research over the next week and come back. Partly from more structured, focused group research in the following week, it became clear what was being measured in that initial poll. It turned out that as a considerable majority of white, educated, middle- and upper-income God-fearing Americans saw that scenario unfold, many of them, if they were being honest, had this in mind: "Of course I feel bad for those people. I don't want to see anyone get hurt. I don't want to see anyone die. But let's be honest: I saw that damn storm rolling through the Gulf of Mexico four days earlier. My cousins drove to Birmingham. I have friends in New Orleans. They were in Dallas two days before the storm came in. I feel bad for those people, but they could have taken a little bit more personal responsibility, planned ahead, and drove out of town."

Now will someone tell me the factual problem here? It turns out that millions of Americans, the majority of them working at least 40 hours a week, don't have cars. And I remember walking out of that class thinking: "That's so fundamentally a failure of college. If we can't have our students leave with a higher education degree in a state like Alabama, where, at that point they're better educated than 90 percent of the state, without a basic factual awareness of what it is to live like the majority of Americans live, which right now is paycheck to paycheck with negative savings, higher credit card debt than ever before, and for millions of Americans, without a car."

Without being partisan or name-calling, those images came to my mind a couple weeks ago with a recent popularized "” not just from a presidential candidate "” conception of a lazy 47% who don't pay taxes. And it becomes easy for anyone who pays taxes to dismiss them and not have to consider any of the details or the life circumstances, because it certainly is easier to think: "These people don't care, they don't pay. They don't take responsibility for themselves." It's a little bit more shocking when it's a candidate for the president of the United States. Whether you're Republican or Democrat, whether you go back to Reagan's thinking or either of the Bushes or President Clinton, we can all acknowledge that 20 percent of that 47% are seniors on fixed income who have been paying into the system their entire lives, and 60 percent of the remaining portion are working as many hours as they can find, most of them full time, receiving their earned income tax credit, which President Reagan doubled, because, until three months ago, there was bipartisan consensus across the nation that a morally responsible nation supports low-income families based on their willingness to work and make that work pay.

Immoral to Leave College Ignorant of How the Majority Live

Regardless of ideology or who you think should be president, the bare facts of the life lived by the majority of Americans are something that it is immoral to leave out of a higher education. And it's not enough to lecture about it. I can speak to 600 college students and put on the chalkboard every category that America is one, two or three in the industrialized world, and it's a bunch of categories. We are in a blessed nation: self-made millionaires, self-made billionaires, copyrights, patents, women's access to higher education, women's access to entrepreneurial ownership opportunities. What a beautifully free, productive, wealthy, advanced nation we are. But also on that list we must include the infant mortality rate, which in the last three years has put us 28th. The state you're in right now has a between 20 and 25 percent functionally illiterate adult population.

I say that to students and if they want to memorize it they will, but I know many are thinking to themselves, "Twenty percent illiterate. Gosh, we got a lot of lazy, dumb people around." And sometimes a hand will go up and someone will say "Twenty percent. I don't think you're lying to me, but where are they?" And I feel it's very important to let them know they're all around you, that they're seeing one a day at least. There are a lot of complicated nuances that go into literally growing up into an adult in America, sometimes graduating from public school functionally illiterate. But I assure you for the vast majority of them, laziness isn't anywhere in the building, and most of them have been working every job they can find since they were 15.

Now, community engagement, service-learning, the scholarship of engagement, taking seriously the role of ethical developers by connecting colleges and universities to communities of all different kinds meaningfully and respectfully, I think that's beautiful. I want to add one other part to that. I don't know if any of you have been having this thought in the last several years of celebrating this young generation for being charitable. Regardless of ideology, I think anyone would admit we have problems in our health care system. Most people agree it shouldn't be OK to have 48 million people without health insurance, the vast majority of families below the middle not receiving primary care and very few children seeing pediatricians at all.

It occurred to me nine years ago that vision care is one aspect of that failure. There's not a state that any of you are from that comprehensively provides vision care to children before they get to public school. The reason is you can't find them in very big numbers until they get to public school. And it occurred to me: "Aha, what a beautiful opportunity for service-learning. Let's see how serious campuses are about committing to changing things in their communities. This is doable, long term."

Screened 4,600 Children

In the first year I convinced seven beautifully engaged, thoughtful professors to make vision screening part of their course. And I hired two college graduates for $1,000 a month to defer law school to help start this. We got $4,000 cameras to take pictures of children's eyes and we went to low-income daycare centers and Head Starts and in the first year we screened 4,600 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds in Alabama, and 12 percent of them had an eye problem that no one had diagnosed. We started building a network of eye care professionals who agreed to see them for free if they didn't have insurance. Most of them we could enroll in All Kids [a state and federally funded public health program]. That was eight years ago. Last year, with a staff of 30 employees and 20 campuses around the state we screened 33,000 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds at 1,100 low-income daycare centers in all 67 counties of one of the poorest states in America. The entire thing is done by people under the age of 23. No state in America has this. And it's all campus-based and the majority of them end up in a classroom thinking to themselves, "I love what I've just done, that's pretty cool."

But what are we doing? We need to engage 18-year-old volunteers to provide basic vision care? Why, because it's the 3-year-old's fault they don't have a pediatrician? We literally found 14 kids last year with cataracts in one or both eyes. They'd be permanently blind within two years. But we have, the way you have on your campuses, a generation of 19- and 20-year-olds who will set their alarm for 6 o'clock in the morning, pick up that camera, drive it into a rural county to find a daycare center you can't see on MapQuest, and go into the living room of a trailer where six kids are sitting on the floor to set that camera up to take pictures of their eyes because they believe in their gut those kids deserve health care like any other kid.

Now I love that experience for our students, but I'll tell you "¦ [pauses]. We have a documentary film initiative, there are journalism initiatives on this campus that document all of this beautifully.

The Belief They Can't Learn

There's another side to the growth of engaged learning and scholarship in collaboration that's not just service providing based. I would argue one of the biggest challenges facing public education in America moving forward, particularly in low-income communities, is not just the technical challenges of doing it well, which is expansive, but is the lack of belief by the majority of Americans that low-income children can learn at all at a high level, that at a certain point it becomes irrational, decade after decade, to pour money into something that doesn't change.

I get that feeling. I've heard it from people honestly giving it to me. I promise you the majority of Alabamians don't see the high-end result everyone is hoping for. And the most angering thing that happens is, in Alabama we have 4.5 million people, and we have 11 torchbearer schools. That's a high poverty, yet high-performing school. So on the one hand, you think to yourself, "Are you kidding me? There are 4.5 million people in this state and you're telling me there are only 11 schools in low-income neighborhoods that are doing a good job? That's a disaster."

And I would say, "You're right. That's a disaster." But I think it deserves to be seen from the other side as well. There are 11. There's E.D. Nixon Elementary School in Montgomery, where 99 percent of the kids are on free or reduced lunches and 85 percent are from single-parent households. Five years ago it was on a state takeover list. Their fourth graders were scoring in the 14th percentile. A new principal was hired, a special woman. There are 32 teachers at E.D. Nixon Elementary School. Anyone who knows anything about Alabama knows we have a strong teacher's union. It's hard to fire teachers. Twenty-two of her teachers were replaced within two years. And when people ask how did you do that in Alabama, she says: "I made it so miserable for them to be in my building, most of them left on their own. They didn't buy my story and they wanted to get out." I asked her what was her story.  "Every child in the building will learn at a high level. It's our responsibility. If you don't believe that from every fiber of your being, get out of my building." And she said, "I used stronger words than that." She reminded me of Nick Saban.

Literally four years later, her school is acknowledged as a torchbearer school. Her fourth graders' reading scores are in the 88th percentile, which is two points higher than the state average, two points higher than Prattville Middle School, which is a suburban fast-growing area where the schools are filled up with families leaving her school to get a better education. I promise you if I read that scenario in the Walmart parking lot in any suburb in our nation, and I said, "True or false?" I think the vast majority of Americans would say "Come on, that didn't happen." I know the majority of Alabamians would say that.

There's a school in Mobile, George Hall Elementary School, where literally they had to raise money two years ago to build a shower because a third of their students don't have running water every day of the month. Their scores are two points higher than E.D. Nixon Elementary School. They're blowing the roof off the building, and as you can imagine, it's important to know what's happening in these schools. These are special principals and incredibly hardworking teachers, and there's no one silver bullet. I would trade 10 percent of the volunteer hours from students at Alabama to put them on a bus and to drive them to some of these schools, so their experience with service and engagement and ethics just isn't about being charitable to the poor kids who are failing, but they're provided a concrete visionary experience into structural prophetic change, and not just because white college students are helping out, but because talented teachers and principals are turning schools around.

That's what I call Documenting Justice, the side of service-learning that lets you go volunteer, lets you make a difference in a malfunctioning school or a library but also gives you the context to learn about the visionary prophetic moves forward in all realms of policy that are taking place every day, all over the country. I'm so proud to be in this room. I can't imagine a higher calling than being involved in this cultural shift in the way universities help young people define their obligations. There has never been a more important time to be part of this conversation. I don't care if anyone is Republican or Democrat or Libertarian, there is not a monolithic block of 47 percent who don't care. And it becomes immoral for us,  as college-educated Americans, to not make sure young people have personal, visceral, real experiences and relationships to experience the humanity across culture and across neighborhood and across class.

Keynote Address: The Civic Engagement Imperative: Higher Education and the Public Good

  • October 25th, 2012
  • in NOSC

13th Annual National Outreach Scholarship Conference, University of Alabama, October 1, 2012

Dean Francko

And now I'd like to welcome to the podium Felecia Jones, director of the Black Belt Community Foundation, who will introduce our keynote speaker.

Ms. Felecia Jones

Good afternoon. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service. So I'd like to take a moment, and if you would, journey with me through the life of Ambassador James A. Joseph. The ambassador is emeritus professor of the practice of public policy and leader in residence for the Hart Leadership Program at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. He is also founder of the United States Southern Africa Center for Leadership and Public Values at Duke and the University of Cape Town. He joined the Duke faculty in 2000 after a distinguished career in government, business, education and organized philanthropy. He was appointed to senior executive or advisory positions by four U.S. presidents, including under Secretary of the Interior by President Jimmy Carter and U.S. Ambassador to South Africa by President William Clinton.

Highest Honor

In 1999 the Republic of South Africa awarded Ambassador Joseph the Order of Good Hope, the highest honor bestowed on a citizen of another country. In 2008 he was honored as a Louisiana Legend and inducted into the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame. The founding chair of the Commission on National and Community Service that established AmeriCorps, he was honored by the U.S. Peace Corps in 2010 for his lifetime contributions to voluntarism and civil society. From 1982-1995, Joseph was president and chief executive officer of the Council on Foundations, an international organization of almost 2,000 foundations and corporate giving programs.

After graduating from Yale Divinity School in 1963, Ambassador Joseph began his career at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, where he was founding co-chair of the local civil rights movement. A frequent speaker to academic, civic and religious audiences, he is the author of three books. He is the recipient of 19 honorary degrees and his undergraduate alma mater, Southern University, has named an endowed chair in his honor. He has also served as chair of the Children's Defense Fund and as a member of the board of directors of the Brookings Institution, the National Endowment for Democracy, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and City Year South Africa [a youth voluntary service and leadership development program]. One thing that was not included in what he sent me and was shared during our time together, which I've been most fortunate to have with him, is that he was chair of the Faculty Board for the Duke University Center for Civic Engagement.

I cannot leave out the fact that Ambassador is married to the former Mary Braxton, who is an Emmy Award winning television journalist and he has two children and two grandchildren. I hope that after hearing him speak today you will agree with me that he's great, because he definitely has served. Join me in welcoming Ambassador James Joseph.

Ambassador Joseph

Thank you very much. I've spent a lot of time talking to lot audiences in different parts of the world. So one of my favorite pastimes is listening to introductions. They tell you something about the expectations of the host and also provide information that helps shape your message. When I was in the Carter Administration, I was in the South Pacific to swear in the newly elected governor of one of the American territories when I was invited to address a joint session of the Legislature. Just before I was scheduled to speak, I leaned over to the speaker of the assembly and said, "Mr. Speaker, how long do I have to speak?" And he said, "You are our guest. You may speak as long as you wish, but I must caution you that in about 25 minutes the lights are scheduled to go off across the island." That seems to be good caution when people have been sitting for a while.

First let me say what a delight it is to return to Tuscaloosa. I have not been back since 1964, a year after three local ministers and I launched the Tuscaloosa Citizens Action Committee. Those were difficult and those were dangerous times, but the movement we organized not only desegregated this community, but also opened the door for many of the advances that followed. And I say that because we could not have done it without the students at Stillman. So when I think about civic engagement, higher education and the public good almost fifty years later, I think of those students; and when I think of those times, and today's theme, I am reminded of the ancient historian Tacitus, who defined patriotism as praiseworthy competition with one's ancestors.

I recall that definition of civic virtue today because it reminds us that each generation has an opportunity, indeed an obligation, to contribute something as significant and even as extraordinary as the generations that preceded them. And so the questions I would like to examine today are these: One, what role should higher educational institutions play in developing, nurturing and sustaining the civic values that lead to civic engagement? Secondly, what do these institutions need to know and teach about the modern idea of civil society, especially the civic habits and traditions of the many population groups who are changing our civic culture? And three, what can these institutions do to help define and develop civic engagement as a strategic form of social change rather than simply a form of charitable relief?

What I am suggesting is that there should be three components to what we teach, what we research and how we promote or facilitate civic engagement. The first has to do with civic values, the second has to do with civic knowledge, and the third has to do with civic habits. This encapsulates civic engagement into three powerful metaphors: being, knowing and doing.

Civic Values

Let me begin with the being, or values, component and offer the observation that an institution is what it rewards. I have been in business. I've been in government. I've run a lot of organizations. And one of the things I learned is that an institution is not so much what it says in its value statement or what it says in its press releases. It is what it rewards its people for being. If civic engagement is an important university priority, there needs to be both guidelines and incentives that reflect what the university considers to be its values, what it claims as its values. It is not enough to simply provide incentives for students through service-learning; there must be incentives to unleash the research capacity of the university as well. I was here and heard what the presidents panel said, and I am so pleased that they represent institutions that "get it." But as I travel around the country, I find an institutional culture that seems to regard practical investigation into practical community needs, as Dr. Wilson said, as the "dumbing down" of research. Too many of our faculty colleagues tend to regard those who teach about civil society and those who call for civic engagement, in Robert Louis Stevenson's phrase, as "practitioners of an obscure art."

Universities That "Get It"

I am pleased, as I said, that there are universities that "get it." They are the ones that understand that one of the missions of universities is to put knowledge at the service of society. But one of the things I've learned over the years is that the best universities are also those that put the community at the service of knowledge. There are an increasing number of universities that have actually tied academic incentives to community outreach. They are the ones who understand that in order to unleash the full potential of the university, the institution will have to re-think what it rewards.

The second point I want to make about civic values is that we need to be very clear about what values we need to cultivate. I taught ethics at a number of universities and for too long those who teach ethics have focused on the private virtues that build character to the exclusion of the public values that build community. It may be that what we need most at this unique and almost apocalyptic global moment is to help both our students and our society understand how best to think about, and how best to apply, values to public life without getting caught up in the politics of virtue or the parochialism of dogma.

I have been living in South Africa full or part time for the last sixteen years and there is much we can learn from a concept of community the South Africans call ubuntu. It is best expressed by the Xhosi proverb, "People are people through other people." It is this powerful sense of the shared interdependence of people that lies behind the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation reflected in the work of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. It is the ability to say that your pain is my pain that has allowed them to say that if your humanity is assaulted, my humanity is assaulted; if your dignity is denied, my dignity is denied. It is not "I think, therefore, I am." It is "I am human because I belong. I participate; I share because I am made for community." At the heart of this spirit of ubuntu is the willingness to take risks and to act justly and with compassion to one another.

So what does it mean to speak of values that build community in a world that is integrating and fragmenting at the same time? The more interdependent we become the more people are turning inward to smaller communities of meaning and memory. While some find reasons for despair, it may be that remembering and regrouping are part of the first stage of the search for common ground. As I travel around the world, I hear more and more people saying that until there is respect for their primary community of identity they will find it difficult to embrace the larger community in which they function. We will thus find it difficult to form a more perfect union in the United States as long as we emphasize the myth of individualism to the exclusion of the tradition of community that saw people come together to build each other's barns and to ensure that there was a public safety net for those in some way disadvantaged.

The second principle in which our idea of community needs to be grounded is one I often quote from the African American mystic, poet and theologian Howard Thurman, who was a mentor to Martin Luther King at Boston University. Dr. Thurman was fond of saying, "I want to be me without making it difficult for you to be you." Can you imagine how different our world would be if more Americans were able to say "I want to be an American without making it difficult for Arabs to be Arabs, Asians to be Asians and Africans to be Africans?" Can you imagine how different our communities would be if more Christians were able to say, "I want to be a Christian without making it difficult for a Jew to be a Jew, a Muslim to be a Muslim, or a Buddhist to be a Buddhist?"

So how do we build community? It is has been my experience that when neighbors help neighbors, and even when strangers help strangers, both those who help and those who are helped are transformed. They experience a new sense of connectedness. Getting involved in the needs of the neighbor provides a new perspective, a new way of seeing ourselves, a new understanding of the purpose of the human journey. When that which was "their" problem becomes "our" problem, the transaction transforms a mere association into a relationship that has the potential for new communities of meaning and belonging.

In other words, getting people to do something for someone else "” what John Winthrop called making the condition of others our own "” is the most powerful force I know in building community. When you experience the problems of the poor or troubled, when you help someone find meaning in a museum or creative expression in a painting, when you help to dispel prejudices or fight bigotry directed at a neighbor, you are far more likely to find common ground, and you are far likely to find that in serving others you discover the genesis of community. So the moral imperative of civic engagement is to help transform the laisez-faire notion of live and let live into the principle of live and help live.

Civic Knowledge

This brings us, then, to the second question we need to ask. It is about civic knowledge: What should we know and what should we teach about the modern idea of civil society? Resurrected in the 1970s by the Polish Workers Movement and later in debates about perestroika in the former Soviet Union, the idea of civil society is rooted in three very different visions of public life.

The first was the idea of civil society as government. Civility, for Aristotle, described the requirements of citizenship rather than private sensibilities or good manners. It was organized around the face-to-face relationships of friends whose leisurely aristocratic benevolence enabled them to discover, articulate and promote the public good. The second was the idea of civil society transforming government, often in opposition to government. I was standing on the edge of a crowd in the former Soviet Union when an upstart named Boris Yeltsen made his first speech calling for major social reform. I was standing in a crowd outside of Parliament in Cape Town when Prime Minister de Klerk announced that Nelson Mandela would be released from prison and the African National Congress unbanned. On each occasion, people spoke of the rebellion of civil society against the state. They did not so much want to replace the state as they wanted to transform it. The third idea of civil society has been the notion of civil society transcending government. Unlike the private sector driven by the market and the public sector driven by the ballot, the so-called third sector is driven by something deeper and more noble, a spirit of compassion and commitment to the common good. It is in many ways the conscience of the other two sectors. It is even possible to argue that since civil society preceded government, it may be more appropriate to think of it as the first sector.

The attractiveness of the concept of civil society lies in its conjoining of private and public good. But in what should be its finest hour, the idea of civil society is in danger of being distorted and hijacked by those who emphasize its potential in order to bolster arguments for a more limited social role by government. Some of the strongest advocates of civic engagement are people with an uncivil state of mind.

While it is clear that it was people power that led to the collapse of communism, the dismantling of apartheid and even the fall of the Berlin Wall, there are now those who exaggerate the potential of civil society in order to bolster their claims about the role of government. Those of us, and I spent 14 years as a spokesperson for Benelovent Wealth, who understandingly and necessarily emphasize the potential of civil society have a responsibility to also point to its limits. It is also important to remember that civil society includes more than simply the non-governmental organizations that serve a public good. As Thomas Carothers reminded us in a Foreign Policy magazine article, civil society everywhere is a bewildering array of the good, the bad and the bizarre. The hate groups that have used the Internet to become transnational and the criminals who operate across national borders are only a few of the groups that use the civic space between the state and the market for less than noble purposes. In short, civil society carries the potential to re-shape and unite a divided world, but we must guard against overselling its strength or over-romanticizing its intentions.

Another of my concerns about civic knowledge, what we know and what we teach and what we research about civil society and civic values, has to do with the many ways in which American civic culture is changing. Alexis de Tocqueville, Robert Bellow and many others have painted wonderful pictures of what they described as the habits of the heart of the American people. Unfortunately, neither de Tocqueville nor Bellow included in their reporting and analysis the extent to which voluntary activity and civil society in racial minority communities served as a vehicle of self-help, social cohesion and positive group identity. As president of the Council on Foundations, 2,000 foundations from around the world, I cringed every time I heard some new guru on civil society speak of American voluntarism or American generosity as if it were somehow unique to those citizens who traced their ancestry to Europe. Very disappointed in what I kept hearing, I began the research on the civic traditions of America's racial minorities for the book [The Charitable Impulse] I published in 1995. What I found were remarkable manifestations of civic feeling that in many instances pre-dated, but was consistent with, the civic habits practiced and the civic values affirmed by the larger society.

Emulate the Iroquois

As early as 1598, and long before Cesar Chavez started organizing farm workers, Latinos in the Southwest formed "mutualistas" and lay brotherhoods to assist members with their basic needs. Long before de Tocqueville, Benjamin Franklin became so enamored of the political and civic culture of the Native Americans he met in Pennsylvania that he advised delegates to the Albany Congress in 1754 to emulate the civic habits of the Iroquois.

Long before Martin Luther King wrote his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" or gave his "I Have a Dream" speech, African Americans in the 19th century formed so many voluntary groups and mutual aid societies that some Southern states enacted laws banning black voluntary or charitable activity. Long before Robert Putnam published his first article on social capital, Neo-Confucians in the Chinese community were teaching their children that a community without benevolence invites its own destruction. The point I am making is that it is no longer possible to speak of American civic culture without reference to and respect for the varied traditions that are now shaping our civic life.

We have also seen the globalization of civic engagement. People around the world are coming to realize that a good society depends as much on the goodness of individuals as it does on the soundness of government and the fairness of laws. They are reclaiming responsibility for their lives through neighborhood associations in squatter settlements, farming cooperatives in rural areas, micro-enterprises in urban areas, housing associations, mutual aid associations, and various other forms of self-help groups to improve local conditions.

The events of the last decade have caused us to think often and deeply about whether transnational community is really possible. I am convinced that it is, but it will require us to think and act differently. Our students who are engaged in community outreach locally and those who work abroad must be taught to respect local traditions, local cultures and even local concepts of community. While not as well organized and not as well supported abroad as in the United States, the idea of helping neighbors in need, the idea of service to others as an essential part of the pursuit of happiness, can be found in many countries and communities. The absence of a service movement does not necessarily mean the absence of a service ethic. What we can bring is experience in how to mobilize and even how to motivate, how to communicate an existing ethic and how to coordinate existing energy. But there is much we can learn about the service ethic that comes out of the notion of ubuntu, for example.

Civic Habits

We come now to my final concern, what I have called civic habits, the idea that we tend to promote a rather limited approach to civic engagement. We are told with frequency that the world would be better off if more of us worked in soup kitchens, delivered meals to the elderly poor or tutored kids who are at risk. Those are very important contributions, but they are ameliorating consequences when the university could also help eliminate causes.

The most often cited example of charitable relief is the story of the Good Samaritan. We are told that a traveler finds someone badly beaten along the side of the road and stops to help. Suppose that same man traveled the same road every day for a week and each day he found someone badly beaten at the same spot on the road. Compassion requires that he give aid, but eventually compassion requires that he ask, "Who has responsibility for policing this road?" What started out as an individual act of charitable aid leads to a concern with public policy. The first response was to ameliorate consequences, but the second response must necessarily be aimed at eliminating causes. One is charity, the other is strategic civic engagement. Civil society has often been most effective when it has dared to go beyond charity, when it has helped provide both understanding and meaning to the social problems that trouble us.

My second point about civic habits is that the university can help to inform and enrich the public policy process. I know that many of your institutions are advised by its donors and legal counsel that it is unwise, illegal or too risky to get involved in public policy, but I've served over the years on the boards of many universities, so I know from which I speak. But I also served on the U.S. Treasury Department's Task Force that struggled with how to distinguish between permissible advocacy and impermissible lobbying and I can tell you that there is much that can be done by a university to objectively inform and objectively influence policy.

And finally, a third point about civic habits is that civic engagement should mean investing in the empowerment of those who are economically and socially marginalized. The university can help educate its publics, both locally and nationally, on the policies and practices needed to make our society work for all of its citizens, but it is not enough  to be simply advocates who speak in behalf of the marginalized groups in our communities. We must help empower them to speak for themselves. If racism was the original American sin, the persistence of paternalism is its most enduring counterpart. One of the most striking and fundamental lessons coming from around the world is that when we empower the historically excluded to be active participants in the programs designed for their advancement, we are likely to have not only new ideas and wider ownership of strategies, but increased effectiveness as well. Moreover, it is much better to empower communities than to simply provide service or engage in advocacy in their behalf.

We have all too often asked the wrong question in dealing with those in our communities whom we seek to help. We have been asking what can we do about their predicament, or what can we do for them, when we should have been asking what can we do together. Self-help is a principle all groups admire and often desire, but too many people assume it means that those disadvantaged by condition or color should be able to lift themselves by their own bootstraps, even when they have no boots. I like the concept of assisted self-reliance or participatory empowerment, where the affected groups provide leadership but they are supported by outside resources.

Let me, thus, conclude by making the point that if you are to involve your students and your faculty meaningfully in your communities, they must understand that how they are engaged is as important as in what they are engaged. There is a story told about the exit of the British from one of its former colonies. On the day in which colonial officials were preparing to depart, the Governor General was overheard to say, "When we came here these people had few roads, few hospitals and few schools. We built new roads, we built new hospitals and we built new schools, but now they ask us to go. Why?" A peasant, on overhearing the conversation, interrupted to say, "It is easy to understand, your honor. Every time you look at us you have the wrong look in your eyes." Civic engagement aimed at eliminating poverty or advancing equity must begin first with a look at the policies and practices of our own institutions. Unless you have the right look in your eyes, your efforts will not only be in vain, if left unattended could damage the institution's image, diminish its influence and defer the dreams of those who gave birth to the vision you seek to advance.

And so we need to step back and ask what assumptions, what social analysis lies behind civic engagement, what theory of change informs our practices and priorities, how often is the promotion of equity a consideration in what we conclude is successful, and finally do we have an organized and disciplined way of learning what truly works in closing social gaps. When we provide answers to those questions, we may find that civic engagement itself may need to change. We cannot allow ourselves to become advocates of an obscure art, preoccupied with the potential of civil society and not its limits. Someone has to ask the difficult questions that too easily go unasked, and if asked unanswered. I hope that you will be the one to return to your institutions and ask those difficult questions. Someone has to probe beyond the conventional wisdom that avoids controversy by closing rather than opening minds. You are part of a moment in history where an increasing number of universities have chosen to put knowledge at the service of society.

I hope, therefore, that you will be able to elevate the idea of civic engagement to both a craft and a calling, both a discipline of study and a field of practice.

Archimedes is reported to have said, "Give me a lever long enough and I can move the world." Those of you in this room have been given the lever. I hope you will use it not only to move your institutions and your communities, but also to move the world. You are engaged in a very noble enterprise. For when you provide help, you also provide hope. And the gift of hope is as big a gift as the gift of life itself.

Thank you very much.

Presidents Panel: Dr. Guy Bailey, University of Alabama; Dr.William V. Muse, former president, Auburn University; Dr. Lee T. Todd Jr., former president, University Kentucky; Dr. David Wilson, Morgan State University

  • October 25th, 2012
  • in NOSC

13th Annual National Outreach Scholarship Conference, University of Alabama, October 1, 2012

David Francko, dean of the Graduate School and associate provost at The University of Alabama, moderated and introduced the four panelists: Dr. Guy Bailey, president, University of Alabama; Dr. William V. Muse, former president, Auburn University, current director of the Kettering Foundation's National Issues Forums Institute; Dr. David Wilson, president, Morgan State University; and Dr. Lee T. Todd Jr., former president, University Kentucky, current UK professor of electrical engineering.

President Bailey

It's a great pleasure to have you here. I am in my fourth week on the job, but this is not my first sojourn in Tuscaloosa. I came here 40 years ago as an undergraduate and left here after six years "” I like to point out to students that I got two degrees during that time "” never knowing that I would come back in the role I'm in today. It is truly an honor. It's also an honor and a privilege for us to host this conference. This is the largest gathering in the world of engaged scholarship faculty, staff, students and community partners.

We are particularly happy to host this conference for a couple of reasons. It's the first time a non-land-grant institution has hosted it. And if that doesn't tell you where engaged scholarship has come, nothing will. We think of engaged scholarship and community outreach as part of a land-grant university's mission. I was chancellor of [an urban university] and we saw that as part of our mission. But for a traditional university like the University of Alabama to see that as part of our mission tells you how far the field has come. We are also happy to partner with Auburn University in doing this. Most people think that Auburn and Alabama don't do much in common. I have to tell you it's not true. I have a daughter who has three degrees from that school, so they have a lot of my money. They have been great to work with. If you wonder about the relationship between the two institutions and the fact that friendships run deeper than battles over football, you simply remember what happened after the tornado last year. As many of you know, Tuscaloosa was devastated by a tornado. When the call for student participation in helping to clean up and rescue people came out, our students were there. Auburn students came as well. It was gratifying to see Auburn students and our students working together. If you ever want to see the meaning of student engagement, that's it. Anyone who wasn't committed to outreach and engagement before this incident certainly is now.

I think it is particularly appropriate for us to host the conference here in Tuscaloosa. I am looking forward to hearing the presentations. And I want to offer some special thanks to the people who've made this conference possible. Dr. Hiram Fitzgerald from Michigan State University, president of the Engagement Scholarship Consortium board, and the entire ESC board, would you raise your hand? Thank all of you very much (applause). And Dr. Carolyn Dahl, dean of the College of Continuing Studies, and her staff for their extensive work in planning and implementation, and Dr. Samory Pruitt, vice president of Community Affairs, who keeps me focused on the issue even when my mind tends to wander somewhere else. And thanks to all listed in the conference program. The weather is going to clear up and you are going to enjoy beautiful October days in Alabama. Again, it's a delight to have you here.

Dean Francko

We anticipate a lively discussion with our presidents. We might begin the conversation by asking our presidents two simple questions, which are not all that simple. Why do your respective campuses see engaged scholarship as an important part of their mission? How does your respective campus support engaged scholarship and what are the challenges to such support?

Dr. Muse, Kettering Foundation

I had the opportunity to serve as president or chancellor of three universities over a period of about 20 years. For 15 years prior to that I worked in academic administration. So my comments will be focused on a composite of all of those experiences in terms of engaged scholarship.

But I have to tell you my philosophy about engaged scholarship was shaped much earlier.

As a young boy, I became captivated by the sport of baseball. I read every book I could find about how to play the game. But I learned very quickly that in order to play the game I had to venture onto the field, and that is where the real learning took place, in practice, and this shaped my educational philosophy. As a student I found that I learned as much, or more, from my out-of-class experiences than I did from inside the classroom. So as a faculty member later "” my field was business administration "” I used in-class exercises like the case method and assigned projects in order to help students implement or learn more about what they had been taught. As a business school dean I established internships for students, brought practitioners from the business world into the classroom to teach, and established one of the first small business centers in the nation.

The "Triple A's"

As president I encouraged all academic programs, with admittedly mixed success, to provide opportunities for their students to apply what they had learned. I'm very proud of one of the examples, the Rural Studio, implemented by the School of Architecture at Auburn in the Black Belt of Alabama, and you will have an opportunity to visit that as part of this program. I came to conclude that there are three very distinct stages to the learning process. I call them my Triple A's: acquisition, assessment and application. Our traditional focus has been on the acquisition stage, where we help students acquire knowledge they need to know through lecture, demonstration and other methods. This is usually done by an individual professor who is responsible for the second phase of assessment, determining to what extent the student has gained an understanding of what is important.

The third stage, that of application, which is central to certain disciplines like medicine, but in too many disciplines is what we get to if we have time. The world of higher education is changing rapidly. I believe that these changes will bring engaged scholarship and the application stage to the forefront. And I will say more about that in our discussion.

Dean Francko

Thank you.

President Wilson

Bill, thank you for your remarks. I would like to come at this a little differently. I actually assumed the presidency [at Morgan State] because of my career in outreach scholarship and engagement. I want to give you some sense of how that happened. I had a traditional tenure in higher education until I got to Rutgers-Camden in roughly 1988. When I arrived at Rutgers-Camden, it was one of the more challenging urban areas in the United States. As I walked the campus, it was truly an enclave. There was an understanding that Rutgers was in Camden but not of Camden. They saw this tremendous disconnect. The provost and I had a conversation that the institution would not only be in Camden but could also be of Camden, and could also extend its tentacles into south Jersey and bring about needed change.

It was at that point that I began to understand the transformation that could occur when an institution looked beyond its boundaries and beyond itself and began to challenge the faculty and others to begin to think about their scholarship in ways that would actually bring about that transformation. And while having the time of my life at Rutgers-Camden, my telephone rang and, of course, it was the gentleman to my right, Bill Muse, who was president at Auburn and who had come to Auburn with the same kind of perspective in terms of the role of an institution that I had been a part of at Rutgers-Camden. Bill convinced me he was also about extending the tentacles of Auburn across this state, particularly in the Alabama Black Belt, and to work with faculty who, if they followed along, their research and their scholarship would count in the tenure and promotion process. For a very long period of time, seven years to be exact, we worked assiduously with the faculty, with the Senate, with others at the university to bring about a reform of the tenure and promotion process at Auburn to reflect the fact that if faculty actually engaged in this research and applied it, they would be promoted in the tenure and promotion process. With that kind of backdrop, let me just say a word or two about what I do now and then I'll bring this to a close.

I am the president at Morgan State University in Baltimore, and for those of you who don't know much about Morgan State, we are an institution of roughly 8,200 students. We have a number of "firsts" associated with us. We are No. 1 in the United States in producing African American electrical engineers. We are No. 3 in the United States in producing African American engineers overall. By the way, North Carolina A&T is No. 1, Georgia Tech No. 2, and we are No. 3. We are No. 3 in the United States in producing African American doctoral recipients, Howard University being No. 1, the University of Michigan No. 2, and we're No. 3. When I came on board, the institution, much like Rutgers-Camden, found itself having paid a whole lot of attention to producing those graduates to lead the nation in innovation, but had not paid a lot of attention to how the institution could transform the area where the institution is located, in northeast Baltimore, and that area too was beset with a number of challenges.

Morgan's "Community Mile"

So for an entire year we engaged in a strategic planning process to think about how this research institution, as it continues to grow and mature, would not just do things for the sake of becoming just another research institution. How could we do it with applied scholarship in mind? We have introduced at Morgan what we are calling the "Morgan Community Mile." We have drawn a circle around the campus extending a mile in all directions and that's going to be our focal point for the next 10 years. We are now conducting an extensive analysis of everything within that mile: unemployment, nature of small businesses, educational attainment. We are looking at innovation, the amount of crime. And we are bringing those results back to our faculty and saying, if you join us in bringing about reform in northeast Baltimore, with Morgan as the anchor institution, when you are up for tenure and promotion, it is going to count, and you can come back at any point in your life and look at what your work has led to in terms of the difference in the lives of the people that it has made. I have much more to say about that, but I will stop there.

Dr. Todd

I'm eager to hear that. I'll give a personal story about why I thought engagement was important. I had been in business about 18 years when I started the presidency at UK. My wife and I are native Kentuckians from rural Kentucky. We started first grade together and cared about the state. I made a comment when I interviewed that I did not want to be the president of a university, I wanted to be the president of this university, partly because I thought that the University of Kentucky could change Kentucky, and it needed it. Later in my first year I came up with a term I called "Kentucky Uglies." It just hit me one day when I was attending a health conference and I looked at the statistics and I said, "This is ugly. If we don't face up to it. If we don't count this stuff. If we don't measure this stuff, we're never going to solve it."

Kentucky's "Uglies"

We did a bus tour the next year to talk about our research challenges. I looked through a book the other night and there must have been 100 headlines about that trip, and all of them had "Kentucky Uglies" in the headline. It at least drew attention to the things that were holding us back. We are leaders in lung cancer, heart conditions, poor oral health, and so forth. When I took the job, it appeared to me the university was already acting like it was a big research university, stiff-arming the K-12 system and not doing much, not working within the shadows of our dormitories on any of the problems that were eating at our city, with the gap between them and the students in our population. I made the comment that we needed a higher purpose. We'd been challenged by the governor to be a top 20 public research university. And we could do that. Let's just hire a bunch of scientists and engineers and let's go after the federal grants. Let's forget about Arts and Sciences, the Arts and some of these other colleges and we can be a top 20 measurably by 2020. But we would have failed the state of Kentucky. We needed to change Kentucky. I'd like to see our best minds working on our toughest problems. That attitude, and I think you hear it from these two presidents "” it helps when it comes from the President's Office, it makes people at least listen. It's unfortunate, but that's the way it works. I realized that we were a land-grant university. We had an ag-extension network that had done a tremendous job. I call them our trusted ambassadors. Everybody knew them. They were out there and they were doing agricultural and family nutrition very well, but I thought they were undervalued for what they could do. We had a conference for all the ag agents my first year and I asked six of our deans, from business and engineering, health care and so forth, to speak to that group of agents about how they could use their network for research in their fields.

After that, the six deans lined up at the table, and the biggest line was behind the Fine Arts dean. The rural ag agents were saying, "We need arts in our communities." And I am proud to say we have probably the only fine arts ag agents in the country. Right now I think we have four, and the counties pay for them. I told the agents, you can be a conduit for us. You don't have to understand everything we do, but you have to know how to make contact on behalf of a need in your community. Once I got talking about it, several people popped up and wanted to do something. And then I figured out we ought to put this together, because I can't handle it. Presidents have about that much time [small space between thumb and forefinger] to spend on anything. Many of you know Phil Greasley. Phil is doing well. As many of you know, he's had a health problem. I put him as associate vice president of engagement. We defined what we called the Commonwealth Collaboratives.

I told the faculty to send me a proposal about some problem that Kentucky has where you feel that your research can have an impact. I'm only going to give you $10,000 for in-state travel and part of a graduate student. Find something you can measure "” that's my engineering and business background "” so we can see whether we're making progress or not. We got 47 proposals in that effort. Phil oversaw those. I'll get into the assessment of all those in just a few minutes. They took on problems like pre-term births, which is 18% in my home county, and they got it down to 4%. They took on methamphetamine training for police forces. They took on tobacco-free communities to try to rid a tobacco-generating state of some of the lung cancer issues that we've had. They took on real problems.

Pragmatically, there were two things that drove me. One, I thought it made sense and that people would want to do it; two, we needed to be covering the state politically, because all the regional universities were vying for cash just like we were, and if we were the University of Lexington, that didn't make much sense. Even the ag network we had was a bit discounted because "that's extension, that's not really UK," it'd be here anyway. And so we now have stories to tell all the politicians when we go to their local counties about things we have done in their region using our research and using their people. It was an effort to try to get some of the faculty not engaged anymore in research reengaged, to take on something that they felt in their heart and soul they would like to be involved in. That has worked to some extent as well, but I just think it was the right thing to do, not only for a land-grant university but as you have already heard, for any university to get out and use our knowledge to solve problems that inflict our people.

Dr. Bailey

I would just add one thing to that. I think as a president, because the public is one of your constituents, you see issues out there. You see problems. Pretty soon you begin to realize, as all of these gentlemen said, that you have human capital resources in your university that can help deal with those. Couple of mentions here about the Alabama Black Belt. I grew up in the Alabama Black Belt, so I am well aware of the issues there. Coming back to the University, you know what those problems are. The issues are in your state and you realize that you have talent, you have talented resources. You may not have all the money in the world, but you have a lot of brainpower that you can bring to bear on problems, things that other people can't. Once you see that it becomes your responsibility. It's easier to see in some places than others. When I was at Missouri-Kansas City, we straddled the line between what was the historically African American community and the white community in Kansas City. We understood that we needed good relationships with both groups for us to be successful. It was real apparent from our physical location the kind of things we needed to do.

Our Responsibility

Now we sit at the northern and western edge of the Black Belt and Auburn, of course, at the eastern part. You understand that while the state has made much progress, that part of the state has not made that progress. You understand that as a citizen of that area, you owe the area something. I think all of these gentlemen will understand there are faculty members waiting to be asked and waiting to be engaged. So you see that as your responsibility going forward.

Dean Francko

Gentlemen, you touched on two really important points, as I was listening to what you said. First of all, universities playing a central role in the region in which they are located. It can be a mile away from campus. It might be the whole state, but having a vested interest in improving things that are going on in the environs of the university. You also talked about outreach and getting involved with folks outside the university to make significant changes. But as we know one of the significant things in engagement scholarship is moving from the concept of outreach to the concept of engagement, where you are actually partnering with folks in the community and they are active agents with faculty, staff and students to effect those changes. Do you have any tips on how best to accomplish that? I think some of you touched on that. And secondly, you touched on the notion of making this work count among faculty and students, that it counts for promotion, that it counts for tenure, that it counts in evaluation. Any tips on how you have done that as your respective institutions moved to engagement and developed a culture of rigor?

Dr. Wilson

I have relied upon a strategy that I developed at Auburn. We went all over the state and had statewide conversations. We invited into those conversations various constituents. We asked two or three basic questions: What are some of the challenges you are facing in this region of the state? Are there programs coming from the institution that perhaps have been in place for 20-25 years that are not working to meet those challenges? What is it we can take back to the institution in order to excite our faculty about working with you to identify the challenges you have raised? That strategy worked very, very well for us when I was at Auburn to produce this sense of engagement, not just the sense that we are the university, we know it all, you are the community, you know nothing, so to speak, and therefore we are coming to treat you. Engagement is just the opposite. You have a series of challenges that the community understands as well as, if not better than, the university. The university has certain kinds of expertise. So how do you bring those two things together and make them work for the betterment of all?

Community Walks

I used the same strategy when I was chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Extension and the University of Wisconsin Colleges. We went all over that state engaging all constituents in the same kind of way. At the end of the day the constituents felt that their voices were heard. Whatever came about as a result of that conversation in terms of a strategic plan it was with them in mind. The faculty felt that they had a part to play in that. So that worked very well there. Then at Morgan I do something a little bit different. I actually have community walks. I walk the neighborhoods at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, 6 o'clock at night. I have residents gather in their homes and we have coffee and tea and we talk about what the challenges are on this block, what are the challenges in a three- or four-block area. I take faculty members with me so they can hear those things directly. When I got to Morgan, the neighborhoods didn't trust the university at all because they had seen the university develop. The construction projects were enormous, $500 million in construction. They are seeing all of these wonderful buildings go up but nothing in terms of how they are seeing the world. I recognized that, so now we have the great support of all those neighborhood associations. The faculty who are part of those walks, who are part of those conversations, they understand as well how to work with the communities in order to promote the kind of reform that I spoke about earlier.

Dr. Todd

I want to take up on one thing that President Bailey said. You actually had faculty out there who want to do this and think about it and had contacts. When I got in office, I said I'm going to take the lid off the place. Get out there and find something that you want to do in the community and let's see what it looks like.

Taking the Lid Off

It was enough that we had to form the vice provost's office. After we let the lid off, if some of them don't jump, we'll have to figure out what to do with them. But we had a lot of jumpers. The other piece was that we ended up putting up a website where you could go to any county in Kentucky, click on your county and it would show how many engagement contacts we had in that county and the telephone number for each one of those contacts. They would either call Phil Greasley's office and get somebody if they didn't know anybody, or they could call the project director. We did write a lot of community proposals with areas. They don't know how to submit proposals, how to do budgets "” some of them do better than others. In the eight years we had this going we put in $470,000 "” $10,000 a year for 47 of these collaboratives. They brought in $51 million in funding.

We tracked it every year. So when you get to promotion and tenure, there is a real concern. When I sent the first request for proposals out, I only sent it to tenured professors because I didn't want to capture some poor assistant professor doing something that was really great, I thought,  but the committee didn't think so. Some of the assistants got involved anyway and have done very well. We did put through a process of following the Michigan State model of trying to measure engagement, to make it a quantifiable plan. Part of that was the map, part of that was counting the grants and getting the statistics. We have moving through the Faculty Senate a promotion and tenure policy now, but I haven't tracked it in the last year. I retired a year ago, so I've been traveling. I hope it gets through. It had a lot of momentum when we left. People realize we are making some significant progress.

The last thing I would mention is about giving people access. We started a network called the University of Kentucky Advocacy Network where we chose people throughout the state, many of them not alumni of UK but they were leaders in their community and they wanted attached to the university in some way. We would call that group together to campus once a year to tell them what we were looking for, especially in terms of the Legislature. We would have a meeting of that group in our state capital the day before the first legislative day and pump them up in the morning, have them have all of their individual legislators to come over for lunch. We had a really good turnout. We would always let a couple of students speak and they would win them over pretty quickly.

That Advocacy Network heard about the types of stories we had. Stories are powerful. We were on our trip and this hospital director stood up and said, "Your health care group came down and trained our local physicians how to deal with stroke. We had a 35-year-old have a stroke last week. Thanks to that training she was treated and back to work within two weeks." The Advocacy Network did help us get the word out. Then they could point to that map and that map would help them find a contact point. So that's one of the ways we did it."

Dr. Muse

My experience has been that for significant engagement to take place on the part of faculty two conditions have to exist. First, there has to be the opportunity for engagement,  and second, it has to count. When I went to Auburn, a land-grant university, Auburn had a well-developed system through cooperative extension of connecting to local communities. But unfortunately it was limited to agriculture and related disciplines. In almost every case there was very little student involvement in that as well. I was very fortunate, as David indicated earlier, in attracting him to come to Auburn. He was the first vice president for outreach the university had. He worked very diligently in creating those opportunities, opportunites for disciplines throughout the university, not just agriculture, to engage communities all over the state. It was a tough battle but we got engagement to count.

Engagement Must Count

At many universities, particularly those that are research oriented, left to their own preferences, faculty would count only articles published in refereed journals. We cannot afford to do that as universities today. We could not afford to do it many years ago. We've got to develop that constituency, if we are to have the kind of work that is done by faculty when they engage communities and help them understand what they know about problems they're dealing with. When they engage their own students in helping to solve that problem, they create tremendous support for the university that is very important, particularly in terms of attracting state funding. You have to have leadership from the top. You have to create the opportunity and you have to make sure it counts.

Dr. Bailey

Just two quick things. I want to emphasize what President Wilson said. I think you can't overemphasize listening to community members. They have insights you can't get any other way. As presidents, it's our inclination to talk, but the truth is that's the situation where we need to be listeners lot more than talkers. I think the strategies he mentioned there are really right on the money. Same thing is true with tenure and promotion guidelines. My previous university, Texas Tech, just revised those, and Valerie Paton [vice president for planning and assessment] can tell you in great detail about the struggles and successes of doing that. You do have a constituency among your faculty who are committed to this and being able to empower that constituency. And by the way, you also have a significant number of your students who want to be engaged as well,  and I think empowering them is really a key thing. At some other point, Valerie can give you all of the details of the recent revisions of the tenure and promotion guidelines.

Dean Francko

Thank you, gentlemen. We have about 10 more minutes yet. I want to give us time to focus on maybe one of the key questions that all of us are interested in. What do you see as the future of engaged scholarship, both within the United States but also internationally, where many of our projects are moving? What do you see are some of the future benefits, challenges, whatever, in the last 10 minutes?

Dr. Muse

I think there are two major changes occurring in our society that are going to bring engaged scholarship to a more central position. The first is that of technological change and the second is economic pressures. The ability today to present information online in an interesting and engaging way is going to move us very rapidly in the first stage of education, the acquisition of knowledge, to the online or video disk stage. I fully believe a major part of that acquisition stage in higher education is going to take place in that manner.

New Role for Universities

That then pushes the university into a counseling and assessment center mode, a different role for the faculty in assessing whether students have met certain objectives or standards as to what they know. The stage that comes to the forefront very quickly is that of the application stage. You've mastered this body of knowledge we say is important. We've made an assessment. We are convinced you know that. Now can you apply it? Can you apply it in the laboratory? Can you apply it in the field? I see emerging for almost every discipline the idea of the teaching hospital for the medical school, a lab school for education. Everyone's got to have that constituency where they are much engaged in helping students understand the discipline that they've taught them. A major part of that is not just information that relates to employment or job but in preparing students to be good citizens. That's a major role for colleges of liberal arts to engage in.

Dr. Todd

I'm going to touch on an area that some don't think is engagement. It's economic development and jobs. When I interviewed for [the presidency of UK], one faculty member said I scared her to death because I talked about entrepreneurship and economic development. She said, "I'm in the philosophy department; you could ruin these kids minds." I said, "Well, we need to have a philosophical conversation about the future of our state. If we don't change the economy around here, coal, tobacco, whiskey and horses aren't going to be our savior. We track economic development, and it is a form of engagement. You have to inform potential investors out there to put money up to start companies and to hire your graduates. You have to involve the lawyers, CPAs, the professional community, who'll help those people found their company. You also have to let the lid off of your faculty, to let them know it's OK to be involved. We got a first-year dean when I was teaching at UK. I had started a company with these patents I had. He called me to the office, and asked me "How can you be a professor and have a company?" I said "If I was still at MIT and I didn't have a company I'd be called into the office and asked "˜Why don't you have a company?' So I'll leave if I have to" and the next year I did.

But I let the lid off when I got back [as president]. We track start-up companies at UK now and we have 80 in the Lexington area now that brought in $67 million worth of outside venture capital last year. That's an indication that they've got something people will invest in, because there's not a lot of venture capital in Kentucky. You talk about international, we're going to have to let these kids know they're going to be working internationally. They're going to have to take more foreign language and learn more about other cultures than in the past. I think higher education is the solution to that, and we have to work with the industries that are out there. That's a form of engagement I think is going to become more and more important.

Dr. Wilson

I'll just piggy-back on that. I think we have come a long way in 25 years in terms of outreach and engagement. I like to think around 1995-1997 we had the support of our presidents in driving reform on our campuses. I think we were trying to convince faculty, particulary the faculty in the discovery camp, that we were not dumbing-down the university as we promoted the scholarship of application. I think we have come a long way in 25 years, so much so that for me personally it's very hard for me to take seriously a major research university today that does not have outreach and engagement at the forefront of its agenda [audience applause]. I realize I might very well not be speaking for the entire chancellorial or presidential group in this commentary, but it just seems to me that we've come so far in two and a half decades that we are not having the same conversation today. I think the future of outreach/engagement is pretty much centered in two camps. One camp may be somewhat of an unlikely camp. This is the way I would characterize it.

Demographic Shift

What we are seeing in this country right now is a shifting of the population. We are seeing a huge demographic shift in the country. We are seeing the largest growth in the population occurring in the minority sector "”particularly the African American and Latino population. Those populations are the least well represented populations in college degree attainment. Outreach and engagement is going to be absolutely critical to ensure those pockets of the population, that are the fastest growing pockets that are not as well prepared to enter colleges and universities, are well prepared.

As Lee and Bill and President Bailey have indicated, I don't think the country is going to be competitive long term [unless] the major research universities make a different kind of argument about outreach and engagement. We really do need to get out there and connect with these communities and connect with those populations. If we don't, then who is going to be on our campuses in 15-20 years? So it's almost self-serving on the one hand, but it's also about national competitiveness on the other. The second camp is what I see as a dwindling of state support of public universities. Increasingly as I go to Annapolis to argue for support for my institution and others, we hear, "What are you doing for the state of Maryland? What are you doing for the city of Baltimore? What are you doing for my district?" It has to go beyond simply enrolling students from that area. They are looking for real concrete things that you are doing to tackle some of the intractable problems in the state and the district and the city. If you cannot make a convincing case, that money is going to go to transportation, it's going to go to corrections, it's going to go to those other areas at the table making a more convincing argument. For public universities, in light of dwindling state support, it's in our best interest to sharpen that argument and make sure that our universities are indeed anchor institutions in our state, in our cities, and our regions.

Dr. Bailey

I couldn't agree with your more. I think that point is really well taken. Increasingly our states expect us to be anchors of economic development and solvers of community problems, and those two things aren't unrelated. If you think about it, much of economic development requires a highly educated workforce, it requires areas with health care, it requires a lot of the things that we as institutions can either deliver or spur.

When I was in Kansas City several years ago as chancellor of Missouri-Kansas City, one of the interesting things I found was that the Kauffman Foundation, a large local foundation, supported two broad initiatives, one was entrepreneurship, and there was a real focus on developing new companies, developing startups, and teaching entrepreneurship as part of a college of business. They also supported K-12 education and STEM disciplines, especially in districts with large numbers of under-represented kids. When you saw those at first you might think they were unrelated, but they really are not. You are not going to get much of the first without the second. The Kauffman Foundation understood that these two things go hand in hand.

Educating the Workforce

One of the most important things we will do in becoming anchors for economic development is help with the education of our workforce and outreach in that way. Increasingly, as President Wilson said, it's not just our obligation, it's what's expected of us. It's not just what we expect of ourselves or what we want to do, but what the states expect for us. So to be successful I think we have to develop good strategies for meeting those expectations.

Dean Francko

Thank you. Well, I don't know about anybody else but I'd like to keep talking. Unfortunately, we've run out of time for this part of the plenary. Could we give our panel a round of applause? Thank you. Thank you very much.


TUSCALOOSA "” The University of Alabama is hosting an international gathering that begins this Sunday of university faculty, staff, students and community partners engaged in research that brings community and academic leaders together to solve problems and promote change.

Some 550 delegates are expected at the National Outreach Scholarship Conference (NOSC), Sunday through Wednesday [Sept. 30"“Oct. 3]. Some 75 colleges and universities in 35 states, Canada and Africa will develop the theme "Partner. Inspire. Change."

All sessions will be at the Bryant Conference Center unless otherwise stated.

NOSC 2012 will focus on an integrated approach to higher education known as engagement scholarship that combines teaching and research to solve critical problems through campus-community partnerships.

"This is a great opportunity to host one of the most powerful events in higher education today, as University faculty, staff, students and community partners explore best practices in working together to solve critical problems our communities face," said UA President Guy Bailey. "We look forward to welcoming the engaged scholarship community to our campus."

Following several pre-conference events over the weekend, Bailey will welcomes delegates at 2 p.m., Monday in Sellers Auditorium. In the opening plenary, a panel of current and former university presidents will take stock of engagement scholarship as currently practiced. On the panel will be President Bailey; Dr. David Wilson, president, Morgan State University; Dr. William Muse of the Kettering Foundation, former president, Auburn University; and Dr. Lee T. Todd Jr., former president, University of Kentucky.

At 3 p.m. Monday in Sellers Auditorium there will be a homecoming for keynote speaker James Joseph, former U.S. ambassador to South Africa who taught at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa and was a local civil rights leader in the 1960s. Today, he is public policy professor and founder of the United States-Southern Africa Center for Leadership and Public Values at Duke University. His address: "The Civic Engagement Imperative: Higher Education and the Public Good."

As host and a founding member of NOSC, UA has a tradition of using its resources to help communities at home and abroad solve problems, said Dr. Samory T. Pruitt, UA vice president for community affairs and a founding member of the NOSC Board of Directors.

"UA brings benefits to the state through initiatives that include automobile industry development, rural health research and delivery, and improving opportunities for minorities and women in business and in the mass media," Pruitt said.

Through its small grants program, UA has launched scores of projects leading to additional research funding in excess of $5 million in science, medicine, education, library studies, engineering and the arts.

"Scholars at research universities use internal initiatives to go after external resources to expand their studies and consequently add to society's body of knowledge," Pruitt said. "This process adds to our students' learning, our faculty's resources, and improvements in the communities with whom we form partnerships."

This year's meeting will feature some 234 research presentations in 89 concurrent sessions in three tracks "” faculty/staff, students, and community partners. Some 63 research proposals are from UA and Auburn University faculty, staff and students or their community partners.

"By bringing this important international conference to Alabama, these two great institutions will showcase our progress in science, engineering, the arts, social sciences and the humanities," Pruitt said.

Janet Griffith, UA assistant provost, and Dr. Ed Mullins, director of research and communication for the Center for Community-Based Partnerships, along with Dr. Chippewa Thomas, Auburn University's director of faculty engagement, are members of the NOSC Leadership Committee, which planned the conference.

As host, UA will treat participants to local flavor by serving Alabama food and providing specially made conference bags created by the seamstresses of Black Belt Designs of York.

The two universities will co-sponsor "Barbecue, Blues, and Blue Jeans," featuring the Alabama Blues Project, a Tuscaloosa-based group at 6:30 p.m., Monday, in The Zone of Bryant-Denny Stadium,

Research presentations and special programs show the range of engaged scholarship on campus and throughout the world. (For a complete program listing, go to the conference website at

Other highlights:

"¢ "Making the Most Out of NOSC," for students and first-time attendees, led by UA Dean of the Graduate School David Francko. "” 1 p.m., Monday, Birmingham Room

Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship Editorial Board meeting and reception. "” 3:30 p.m., Monday, Hotel Capstone Presidents Room

"¢ "The Science of Outreach: Formulas for K-12 STEM," Dr. Tuere Bowles, NC State University. "” 3:45 p.m., Monday, Hotel Capstone Fitzpatrick Room

"¢ "A Vision for Aging Communities and Congregations: Successful Aging Conferences," Dr. Michael Parker, University of Alabama. "” 3:45 p.m., Monday, Mason Room

"¢ "Inspiring Generational Change: Reconnecting Relationships to Community, Land and Education on Local Ground: Developing the Life Skills Journey for Children," Antoinette Freitas, University of Hawaii, Manoa. "” 3:45 p.m., Monday, Lackey Room

"¢ Carnegie 2015 Community Engagement Classification Reclassification: What Does It Mean Now? Dr. Lorilee Sandmann, University of Georgia. "” 4:45 p.m., Monday, Sellers Auditorium

"¢ Poster Session 1 and cocktail reception, 19 posters on display. "” 5:30 p.m."“6:30 p.m., Monday, Rast Room

"¢ Breakfast Plenary, "The Future of Morality: What Role Should Colleges and Universities Play?" Stephen Black, director, Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility, University of Alabama. "” 7:30 a.m., Tuesday, Sellers Auditorium

"¢ International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame Breakfast, with Emerging Engagement Scholars Workshop. "” Tuesday, 7:45 a.m., Hotel Capstone Governors Room

"¢ "Bamboo as Catalyst for Creative, Educational and Economic Engagement Opportunities," poster symposium by Dr. Marcy Koontz, University of Alabama, and a team of students and community partners. Koontz has pushed bamboo-related research since 2010, using community-engaged scholarship principles. She is leading efforts to build a learning park made with bamboo adjacent to Kentuck Park in Northport. In partnership with the Northport community, the educational park serves students and promotes bamboo as an economic boost for rural economies. "” 8:30 a.m., Tuesday, Hotel Capstone Fitzpatrick Room

"¢ Dr. Jonathan Scherch of Antioch College in Seattle will also make a bamboo presentation, "From Rhizomes to Resilience: Black Belt Bamboo and Sustainable Partnerships." "” 2 p.m., Tuesday, Mason Room

"¢ "100 Lenses: How Arts-Based Youth Partnerships Transform Students' Lives," featuring UA doctoral student Elliot Knight and his partnership with the Black Belt Community Foundation, UA's Center for Community-Based Partnerships, the Alabama State Council of the Arts, and public and private schools in the Black Belt region. Using photography, film and writing, 100 Lenses depicts the region through the eyes of its youth. "” 9:30 a.m., Tuesday, Central Room

"¢ "Building More Than Homes: Habitat, Academic and Corporate Sponsorships," Elissa Bakke, Southern Indiana University. "” 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, Mobile Room

"¢ "Department Heads' Perceptions about the Scholarship of Engagement," Dr. Patricia Sobrero, NC State University. "” 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, Central Room

"¢ "Developing Volunteer Boundary Spanners: Connecting Universities to Local Communities," Jenny W. Jordan, University of Georgia. "” 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, Hotel Capstone, Fitzpatrick Room

"¢ Magrath Presentations. "” 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, Birmingham Room

"¢ "Using Farmers Markets as a Model for Community Engagement," Andrea Mabry, University of Alabama, research findings from UA's student-run, campus farmers market featuring local food, products, activities for children and entertainment. "” 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, Wilson Room

"¢ "Living Democracy: Moving Beyond Service in Alabama Communities, Nan Fairley, Auburn University. "” 11:30 a.m., Tuesday, Lackey Room

"¢ "Partnering in the Alabama Black Belt," Pamela Dorr, HERO Housing, Greensboro, Alabama. "” 11:30 a.m., Tuesday, Wilson Room

"¢ Magrath Regional Awards/Lunch, moderated by Roy Clem, executive director, Alabama Public Television. "” 12:30 p.m., Tuesday, Sellers Auditorium

"¢ "Imagine a Truly 21st Century Engaged University," Dr. Dave King, Oregon State University. "” 2 p.m., Tuesday, Birmingham Room

"¢ "The Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art at UA," Dean Robert Olin, University of Alabama. "” 2 p.m., Tuesday, Mobile Room

"¢ "Community Partners and Students: Tips for Getting Published In Engagement Work," led by UA's Dr. Cassandra Simon, editor, Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship, assisted by Dr. Jessica Averitt Taylor, Northern Kentucky University, and Vicky Carter, UA doctoral student. "” 2:45"“4:45 p.m., Tuesday, Hotel Capstone, Fitzpatrick Room

"¢ "From the Ground Up: The Evolution of a Partnership," Dr. Elizabeth Wilson, University of Alabama. The presentation will document the Holt Community Partnership, a university-school-community partnership developed to revive Holt's economy. "” 3 p.m., Tuesday, Central Room

"¢ Lessons Learned: Theories and Local Evidence of Successful Community Practices,

Dr. John Peters, University of Tennessee. "” 3 p.m., Tuesday, Wilson Room

"¢ "Shoulder to Shoulder Global: A Partnership for Change in Ecuador," Dr. Melody Ryan, University of Kentucky. "” 3 p.m., Tuesday, Hotel Capstone, Murphy Room

"¢ Measuring and Reporting Outreach and Engagement: A Public Value Perspective,

Nancy Franz, Iowa State University. "” 4 p.m., Tuesday, Birmingham Room

"¢ Poster Session 2 and cocktail reception, 34 posters. "” 4:45"“6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Rast Room

Tour of Foster Auditorium and Malone-Hood Plaza led by civil rights expert and former UA administrator Dr. Culpepper Clark and UA women's basketball coach Wendell Hudson. "” 6:30 p.m. Tuesday

"¢ Breakfast plenary, "Fits and Starts: Visions for the Community Engaged University," Speakers: Dr. Kevin Kecskes, Portland State University; and Dr. Kevin Foster, University of Texas at Austin. "” 8 a.m., Wednesday, Sellers Auditorium

"¢ "Engaging Youth, Engaging Neighborhoods: Photovoice, Narrative, and Critical Geography," Kevin Burke, University of Notre Dame. "” 9:30 a.m., Wednesday, Wilson Room

"¢ "Who’s Publishing What? Publication Patterns in Seven Community Engagement Journals,” Dr. Diane Doberneck, Michigan State University; also, Dr. Jessica Taylor, University of Northern Kentucky, "Improving Scholarly Writing." "” 9:30 a.m., Wednesday, Rast Room B

"¢ "KEMET Academy: A Sustainable Community Development Model for K-12 Support," Cheryl Seals, Auburn University; also, "STEM Outreach from Higher Ed to K-12: Collaborative Partnering," Lisa Grable, NC State University. "” 9:30 a.m., Wednesday Lackey Room

"¢ Closing Plenary "” Poster awards, closing remarks, 2013 invitation by Texas Tech delegation, Dr. Samory Pruitt, University of Alabama, presiding. "” 11:30 a.m."“12:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sellers Auditorium

"¢ Civil Rights Tour to Selma, Alabama. Visit Brown Chapel AME Church and First Baptist Church in Selma, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., joined the movement; National Voting Rights Museum in downtown Selma; walk across Edmund Pettus Bridge, where "Bloody Sunday" took place March 7, 1965. "” 1"“8 p.m., Wednesday

"¢ Tour to Auburn Rural Studio Tour, Safe House, and Pie Lab. Visit Auburn Rural Studio projects, as well as the Safe House Museum and Pie Lab in Greensboro about 40 minutes from Tuscaloosa. The Rural Studio, a design-and-build program of the Auburn University School of Architecture, teaches students social responsibility while providing sound business and living structures for poor communities. The Safe House Museum is situated in a small house once used to conceal Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The Pie Lab restaurant is distinctive as a place for people to engage in conversation centering on engagement and social justice. "” 1"“8 p.m., Wednesday

"¢ Academy of Community Engagement Scholarship Think-Tank, chaired by Dr. Pat Sobrero, NC State University. "” 1"“4 p.m., Wednesday, 7:30 a.m."“noon, Thursday, Thames Room

Plenaries Set the Tone for NOSC 2012 Conference

One way to judge a conference is to look at the plenaries, those sessions intended for attendance by all delegates. The word plenary means "complete" and "fully attended." That is the goal of NOSC 2012 five plenaries.

UA's NOSC 2012 planners were determined to have a strong plenary lineup, says Janet Griffith, co-chair of the Conference Leadership Committee. "Our plenaries are poised to be among the strongest for NOSC in recent years. We tried very hard to get a broad geographic and disciplinary representation," she said.

The opening plenary, Monday at 2 p.m., will feature new Alabama President Guy Bailey, who as president of Texas Tech was instrumental in that institution becoming a NOSC member. Also on the panel will be Dr. William Muse, Kettering Foundation, former president of Auburn University; Dr. Lee T. Todd, Jr., former president of the University of Kentucky; and Dr. David Wilson, president of Morgan State University

Following the opening plenary, beginning Monday at 3 p.m., former ambassador James Joseph, now at Duke University, will deliver the keynote address, "The Civic Engagement Imperative: Sellers Higher Education and the Public Good." This is also a plenary, the second of the conference.

The third plenary, Monday at 7:30 a.m. will feature Stephen Black, director of UA's Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility. Under Black, Alabama's service-learning and ethics leadership has become internationally prominent. Statewide eye exams and income tax filings are two highly successful programs under Black's leadership.

The fourth plenary, Wednesday at 8 a.m., is entitled "Fits and Starts: Visions for the Community Engaged University." The speakers will be Dr. Kevin Kecskes of Portland State University and Dr. Kevin Foster of the University of Texas at Austin. Both are engagement scholarship leaders on their respective campuses.

The fifth and final plenary will conclude the conference and feature announcement of the poster awards, closing remarks by Dr. Pruitt, and an invitation from the host Texas Tech to attend the 2013 conference under its new name, Engagement Scholarship Consortium, in Lubbock, Texas.

Veteran conference delegates and planners say that while plenaries are not the only measure of a successful conference, they are often what conferees remember about a conference after returning home and thus play a major role in a conference's success.

Looking at what churches do, what they don't do and what they could do

By Kirsten J. Barnes, CCBP Graduate Assistant

Dr. Michael Parker is using churches to get the word out about his research related to elder care and social work.

Though the use of churches and faith-based organizations, Parker hopes to expand the reach of his research to communities throughout the state.

"Getting churches recruited "” Protestant, Catholic, black and white is a difficult task," said Parker, who is the co-author with James M. Houston of A Vision for the Aging Church: Renewing Ministry for and by Seniors.  "We spend a lot of our lives publishing information in journals and very few people read them. We operate in tribal gatherings and we rarely have the opportunity to share what we know with the people who need to hear it."

Parker believes that faith-based organizations can and should be doing more to assist in the dissemination of information, particularly where the elderly are concerned.

"We're looking at what churches do, what they don't do and what they could do," said Parker, associate professor in the School of Social Work at The University of Alabama and board member for the Center for Mental Health and Aging at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

In addition to presenting his research as the National Outreach Scholarship Conference at 3:45 p.m., Monday, Mason Room, Bryant Conference Center, Parker organizes training conferences for elders, their adult children and church leaders.

He says most people do not plan for caring for their parents; they react to their parent's needs or a medical emergency.

In addition to teaching adult children about caring for parents, he also works on helping elders retain value in the community.

"This can add life to years and years to life," Parker said. "Most academics want to make a difference, but we must translate this information so that they can act upon it," one the primary goals of engaged scholarship.

Another program Parker is working on with congregations is the Life Review Project, which helps the elderly write their own life stories in a creative way.

"This is a chance to connect with future generations and to put your own life into perspective before it's too late," Parker said.

Additionally, Parker is working with the Veterans Administration and its faith-based information outreach efforts to assist the elderly in determining if they are receiving all the benefits they are entitled to.

As engaged scholars seek out community partners, Parker says that churches and faith-based organizations should not be left out.

"We realized that veterans are a part of congregations," said Parker, who is a retired Army lieutenant colonel.

His presentation will incorporate a neurologist, gerontologist and various social workers as they discuss the various ways in which they have incorporated faith-based organizations into their social work research.

Still Not Clear What Engagement Scholarship Means? Take a Look at the Careers of UA's Pauline and Philip Johnson

By Kirsten J. Barnes

Center for Community-Based Partnerships

(Editor's note: NOSC 2012 at The University of Alabama will feature 234 engagement research presentations; yet many still ask "what is engaged scholarship?" Work by two engineering professors at The University of Alabama provides insights into the field, while also highlighting aspects of a sister discipline, service-learning.)

Husband and wife engineering professors Drs. Philip and Pauline Johnson concluded that their University of Alabama engineering students were naive when it came to understanding global engineering. Few had traveled outside the United States; some had not even been outside the Southeast. Those who had traveled abroad had mostly gone to tourist spots.

Members of the UA Engineers Without Borders chapter, which helped a Peruvian village with a safe drinking water and tourism ecology project, are shown here with their sponsors. Drs. Pauline (in pink shirt and visor) and Philip Johnson (just behind her in Indiana Jones hat). Their research has been published in several peer-reviewed journals, with academic and community partner colleagues.


Having visited 99 countries, many of them in the third world, they were determined to do something about their students' insularity.

"There are a lot of places in the world that are much, much, different from the United States," said Dr. Philip, who has taught in UA's civil, construction, and environmental engineering department for 23 years. "As an educator who routinely talks to students about sustainable engineering projects, I know that unless they go to a third-world country they don't fully understand what that means."

The couple are co-sponsors of UA's Engineers Without Boarders and have helped develop the International Engineering Service-Learning Program at UA. Together they create learning experiences based on modern engineering practices through partnerships with UA's Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility and Center for Community-Based Partnerships. In all, the couple has accompanied more than 50 students on international trips to Peru, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Dr. Philip is a petroleum and civil engineering specialist, while Dr. Pauline's expertise is in water and wastewater treatment.

"We started in 2005. I think we've had seven trips abroad with the students," said Dr. Pauline, who is in her 18th year on the UA faculty. "Engineers Without Borders likes for you to go back to the same community to build on what you've done and check on the systems you've already created."

In addition to partnering with UA groups and non-profits in the destination country, students collaborate with universities in the host country. In Peru they worked with students and faculty from the University of Iquitos, which provided field equipment and took part in field testing, surveys, group discussions, shopping for supplies and social outings.

These experiences build invaluable soft-skills (problem solving, communication) while introducing them to the inevitable global challenges of their career path, according to the Johnsons.

In an article they published along with Noam Shaney of Peru in the Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship (JCES) in 2008, they asserted that service-learning opportunities developo leadership, teaming, management, communication and cross-cultural skills. In addition, the students grow personally as they learn flexibility, adaptability, maturity, independence and the ability to analyze, adjust to and appreciate local culture and context. The students also gain a global perspective, an appreciation of the societal implication of their work, and the satisfaction of working with a client in taking an international community project from conception and planning to fruition.

Their purpose in traveling widely with their students, Dr. Philip said, was "to do something for the students to help them experience the world. When you work with people on projects and incorporate the locals from the community, you really get a different perspective and feel for the community."

Because these trips are in conjunction with the student organization Engineers Without Boarders, the students set the agenda and decide which country to visit and which projects to take on once they arrive.

Many of the students they get are the very best students in the College of Engineering, and are already motivated when they join Engineers Without Borders, which provides outlets for this motivation.

These trips have career implications for many students. For example, one student joined the Peace Corps after returning from a trip. Another student had her immediate sights set on medical school but instead pursued a master's at Oxford University before starting medical training, where she will focus on diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS.

Engineers Without Borders, which helped a Peruvian village with a safe drinking water and tourism ecology project, is shown here with their sponsors. Drs. Pauline (in pink shirt and visor) and Philip (just behind her in Indiana Jones hat). Their research has been published in several peer-reviewed journals, with academic and community partner colleagues.


The Johnsons say most of the students have the opportunity to travel with them on only one trip because of costs. However, Ynhi Thai is an exception. As an undergraduate, she traveled with them to Peru in 2006 and Cambodia in 2009. Born in Vietnam, Thai immigrated with her parents to the United States where they made Long Beach, Miss., their home.

"On the first trip we were basically surveying the area to see what the villagers needed," said Thai, who completed her master's degree in medical anthropology from Oxford University this month (August 2012), after earning her bachelor's in chemical engineering from UA in 2010.

During her trip to Cambodia, Thai participated in a project to build a water treatment plant for the 20,000 people in the province. "Our first job was to test the water filters to make sure they were working properly and that the people knew how to take care of them."

Although her international background gave her some idea of what to expect in the area, it was still an enlightening adventure. A developing country "is really eye-opening," she said. "The trip encouraged me to initiate a project in Cambodia."

When the group returns from a foreign project, the Johnsons encourage them to develop their own ideas, which helps them become decisive leaders, traits essential to a successful engineering career where failure to prioritize can sink a budding career.

Having discovered that in real-world Amazonian settings that expensive equipment is not the best way to go, Thai and a UA professor submitted a proposal to the Bill and Linda Gates Foundation to purchase a water treatment tester for field use. They knew there was a need for an inexpensive, portable water testing kit that didn't require power, said Thai. "It's important when testing water to be able to get good results right away." Their grant was funded for $100,000.

Not all of the Johnsons' work is international. They and their students have taken on water and recreational projects in nearby Hale and Greene counties and have helped with storm-damage repairs in several communities near the University.

But as their JCES article points out, international settings seem to create the greatest opportunities for learning. "Experience abroad forces students to deal constructively with cultural differences and situations they would not otherwise face," Dr. Philip said, adding "there is no comparison between working in an environment where getting supplies is relatively easy and in primitive environments, where a one-way trip to the hardware store is twelve hours from the village you're working in."

The Johnsons' published research concludes that overseas projects facilitate valuable across a broad learning spectrum, but especially in organizational and communication skills; learning without the aid of formal instruction; experiencing other cultures; personal growth; and expanding views of the developing world.

In addition to their article in JCES, the Johnsons have also published "Safe Water Evaluations in the Peruvian Amazon" (with Andrew Magee, Rebecca Macdonald, and Beth Todd) and "Illuminating Villages and Minds in Rural Peru" (with Hannah Betty and Todd), both in the International Journal for Service Learning in Engineering.

With the ability to work in environments and work across language and cultural barriers, the Johnsons' students gain intangible skills and knowledge about themselves as people and professionals. They develop confidence, Dr. Philip said, "because the obstacles put in front of them seemed overwhelming, but they managed to put it together pretty well "¦ [and] they return home believing they can accomplish anything."

More than 250 Proposals Received for Presentation at NOSC 2012

Members of the NOSC 2012 Planning Committee discuss the conference.






By deadline a total of 252 proposals had been submitted for NOSC 2012. Here is the breakdown: By faculty and staff, 154; by students, 63; and by community partners, 35.

About two dozen categories ranging from theory and methods to volunteering, from children and youth to math and science were represented by the submissions. Almost three dozen academic disciplines were represented, ranging from health sciences to management, from environmental engineering to art history.

A total of 75 colleges and universities were represented, with the highest number, 58, coming from The University of Alabama as expected, but a surprisingly large number from several other universities. The University of Georgia was second, with 24; and Auburn and N.C. State were tied with third, with 13.

Five Alabama universities submitted proposals. In addition to Alabama and Auburn they were the University of Alabama Birmingham, the University of Alabama Huntsville, and Tuskegee University.

Judging is under way and proposers will be notified in a few days whether their proposals were accepted.

Janet Griffith and Ed Mullins, members of the NOSC Advisory Committee, are doing the first draft of the program, sorting through the proposals this week, trying to fit them into logical time slots and groupings.

Auburn Announces First Academy for Community & Civic Engagement, May 14-16, 2012

The Community and Civic Engagement Initiative within Auburn University’s College of Liberal Arts announces the first annual Academy for Community and Civic Engagement for faculty throughout the southeast in the arts and humanities who are interested in incorporating civic engagement/service learning practices into their courses, outreach scholarship, and P & T documentation. ACCE will provide an intense 3-day workshop for successful applicants.

The purpose of the Academy for Community and Civic Engagement is:

  • To promote and develop community and civic engagement initiatives among faculty and colleges in the region;
  • To encourage faculty to develop courses with civic engagement/service learning experiences for students;
  • To foster collaborative teaching, research, and outreach efforts among faculty and across universities; and
  • To provide resources and support for community and civically engaged faculty.

For more information, contact Dr. Giovanna Summerfield, Associate Dean for Educational Affairs (email:, phone: 334-844-2890), or go to: