Director’s Desk- December 2017

December 7, 2017

From the Director’s Desk December 2017

Winter is coming (in higher education, too)! Many of you have seen the polls—fewer people are trusting that higher education is making our society a better place.  This mistrust of colleges and universities even has seeped into the tax bill—scholarships and stipends would become taxable income.  And there are some who doubt that all ideas are welcome on college campuses.  And now (at UW institutions), if a student disrupts a speaker, that student could be expelled.  Add to these critiques about the rising cost of tuition, and it seems like there’s only doom-and-gloom.  There is a wave of distrust targeting post-secondary institutions.

Recently, I attended the Netter Center for Community Partnership’s 25th Anniversary Conference, and it gave me hope about how higher education can respond to these claims.  For instance, Queen’s University-Belfast recently released their “Social Charter” that articulates a bold vision for their university and how it relates with its local community: research with impact, equality and excellence, education with a social purpose, sustainability, breaking boundaries to produce new knowledge, reorganizing and rewarding contributions from students and staff, and civic culture and intercultural dialogue.  The public wants to know: how will education and research coming from the university directly benefit the public? QUB is trying to respond with this new charter.

This is what Campus Compact is trying to do through the Civic Action Statement: create a bold vision for how universities can be reoriented toward better engaging with issues impacting society.  In some ways, post-secondary education has helped to perpetuate social issues.  For example, universities in the 1960s applied for and received federal dollars to expand urban campuses through urban renewal programs (see HERE).  In other cases, universities provided research to the federal government that advanced housing policy that resulted in segregation and displacement (see HERE).  There certainly are things that higher education has done that caused damage.

However, we now have a chance to course-correct through meaningful and sustained community partnerships approached with humility driven by a justice-for-all framework.  How can we make a better world? Only by working with people who are outside of the walls of the academy.  At the Netter Center conference, I learned about education programs who are steeped in the community schools model, and they’re incorporating community engagement capacity building for school principals (see the REACH program).  Other university-school partnerships that represented authentic relationships and humility were featured (from Pitt, UT-Knoxville, and IUPUI).  If we stick to this path of engaged work, we stand a better chance of reinvigorating confidence in our institutions.

So many pockets of this work are happening here in Wisconsin! And that’s why we have this wonderful Wisconsin Campus Compact network—to grow these opportunities, to better prepare faculty and staff to undertake community-based initiatives, and to raise the profile of the work! Thank you for supporting what we do.

Everyone at WiCC wishes everyone a peaceful, restful, and enjoyable holiday season!