May 29, 2011

Engaged vs. Entrepreneurial Universities

One keynote address at the recent Erasing Boundaries symposium was by Henry Louis Taylor, Jr., from the University of Buffalo Center for Urban Studies; it was entitled “The Engaged versus the Entrepreneurial University: How Neighborhoods Matter.” (See earlier posts for descriptions of the symposium.) Taylor posited these types of universities as two distinct, indeed opposing, models. Arguing that “distressed neighborhoods” are the single most important domestic problem of our era, Taylor compellingly and passionately argued for the engaged university—a people-centered, egalitarian, institution–to be on the ground and ever-present in the effort to ameliorate this distress and radically transform these spaces. He acknowledged that the distress is tangled and iterative, and also a question of exploitation and oppression. Currently these neighborhoods are “urban factories that produce wasted lives.” Taylor quoted historian Ira Harkavy’s 2007 book (co-authored with Lee Benson and John Puckett), Dewey’s Dream: Universities and Democracies in an Age of Education Reform, suggesting that the university is in the third stage of revolution toward an engaged, democratic and egalitarian system. (The first stage began in 1876 with Johns Hopkins and the first research university; the second, in 1945, with Vannevar Bush pushing BIG science to Franklin D. Roosevelt and the resultant federal-university partnerships, the Cold War entrepreneurial university.) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s murder started the third revolution, according to this analysis, with urban uprisings and student unrest pushing for historically-white universities to open their doors to the previously excluded. Sometimes these efforts differed from past “ivory towers” in that they emphasized addressing urgent problems through community collaboration. Taylor mentioned Campus Compact and the Carnegie Civic Engagement classification as evidence of this trend. The Anchor Institutions Task Force, coordinated by Marga Consulting, was launched in 1992, to support academic units in tackling community issues.

Threatening these efforts, though, is the pull toward the entrepreneurial university model, given a manifesto-like framework in Burton Clark’s 1998 book, Creating Entrepreneurial Universities: Organizational Pathways of Transformation, based on a business creed. Faced with dire financial conditions, universities are shifting toward a growth model and commercialized activities such as consultancies and R&D. This encourages the emphasis on STEM education, and de-emphasizes humanities and social sciences. At the same time, the university is retreating from higher education’s commitment to social justice. Business and economic impacts seem to guide decision-making. (I took copious notes, but apologies to Dr. Taylor if this summary is a bit off-the-mark.)

Taylor then presented three conceptual issues related to distressed neighborhoods.

1. In terms of place, these sites are not neutral. There is a synergy between people, physical and social environments. People are connected to their neighborhoods and each other, so these connections must be acknowledged and taken into account.

2. The aggregate of socio-economic problems and hopelessness must be addressed in a relational context. Schools, families, violence, obesity have wicked, reinforcing aspects.

3. Neighborhoods must be viewed through a lens of social and spatial injustice, and in terms of larger freedoms, to promote human flourishing.

Distress is a result of policies and practices that reinforce and exacerbate the distress. Now these neighborhoods are profit-making sites, where the misery of the residents is integral to profit. (Taylor noted an article by Eric Schlosser in The Atlantic Monthly in December 1998 about the prison-industrial complex.) We must transform these neighborhoods in collaboration with the residents. This is a good point to plug George Lipsitz’s latest book, How Racism Takes Place (Temple University Press, 2011), and Ed Soja’s book, Seeking Spatial Justice (Minnesota, 2010).

Taylor ended with a brief slide show on his work with the Fruit Belt neighborhood near downtown Buffalo, using the neighborhood as the classroom, and linking school experiences with the lives of the students. The aim of the Futures Academy K-8 public school was to create a mini-educational pipeline married to comprehensive redevelopment, using urban planning simulations, urban agriculture, art, and other approaches. The key is synergy: do what you do, but do it in a highly coordinated, strategic way.

Case Studies of Engagement

At the recent Erasing Boundaries symposium, there were so many sessions with fascinating case studies of people’s engagements. (See “Spaces of Connection” post below for more information on this symposium.)

  • Jocelyn Zanzot (Auburn) spoke about the Rural Landscape Studio in Macon County, Alabama, in which she and her students worked with the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church to represent painful and deep histories. Shiloh was one location where people were selected for the Tuskegee Syphilis Study; there is also a cemetery from the 1860s and a school that was created out of the partnership of Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington.
  • Sujata Shetty (University of Toledo) spoke about her challenging inter-institutional work with Bowling Green State’s architecture students and her own planning students to address Toledo’s “shrinking.” Others spoke about the ways in which federal regulations limit what can be done with residents of public housing, but pointed to alternative management and ownership that is being tried in the Bronx, and participatory budgeting that has some legs in Chicago.
  • Irma Ramirez (CalPoly-Pomona) spoke about “Transnational Borders and their Role in Architectural Education.” She sought out non-profit organizations in Tijuana, and challenged students to collaborate across cultures and languages over the past six years. Tijuana has 1.5 million people! She stressed looking for assets, such as incredible resourcefulness. Cal Poly-Familia Corazon developed a sustainable housing prototype, working across campus, and also built a model on campus. She noted that her work gained respect from her colleagues after it was co-awarded the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards’ Grand Prize for sustainable housing in Tijuana, Mexico. New project types are now in progress. Another project was to address deteriorating neighborhood announcement boards. Students designed and built twenty Infostructures; these have become multi-functional artifacts.
  • Abby Harmon closed out the last session of the second day with a thoughtful reflection on teaching a course five times at the University of Illinois that is intended to “engage” students in the College of Fine and Applied Arts with issues of social justice. Abby quoted powerful writers, such as Patricia Collins Hill, and spoke about her efforts with the students to break down a “static sense of self” and critique the “helping” idea harbored by a number of us.

Local, Global and Digital Engagements

As noted in the previous post, I was able to attend the Erasing Boundaries Project symposium in April 2011 in New York City. The project is a collaboration among landscape architecture, architecture, and planning faculties, students and community partners. The two days in New York were packed with stimulating presentations and lectures. Kudos to the organizers: Peter Aeschbacher and Mallika Bose at Penn State, Cheryl Doble at SUNY-Environmental Science and Forestry, Sigmund Shipp at Hunter College, and Paula Horrigan from Cornell. This was a huge undertaking and they filled it with two keynotes and twelve sessions over two days. Just to give a taste and overview of some presentations:

  • Deborah Georg from Ohio State presented “A Proposal for Assessment of Community Impacts from Studio-Based Service-Learning Work.” She provided a visualization of the problematic timelines of academic calendars and community needs. Just seeing the disconnected schedules among faculty, student and community efforts underscored the importance of evaluating whether service-learning actually does any good. What she described as “Community-Centered Investment Assessment Scoring” (CCIAS) ranks and evaluates how communities fare over time, quantitatively. I hope she publishes this work.
  • Kofi Boone, who wasn’t able to attend, provided a video of his work at North Carolina State on “Cellphone Diaries.” AT&T donated phones and students were “tech buddies” on walks with elders in historically-layered Chavis Park in Raleigh. Fifty-eight digital videos were made, with the observation that being in the place itself encouraged longer narratives and richer memories.
  • David Scobey, now executive dean of The New School, gave a keynote, “The Place of Engaged Learning in a Glocal and Virtual University.” He made the point that collaboration is intellectually generative and crucial, but not enough. He told the story of Broadway Park in Ann Arbor and the effort to get the University of Michigan to be an institutional citizen, a steward of the place in which the university resides, but also how the local is at the same time global, with new immigrants and digital interactions. Another example that resonated with a recent conversation that I had with the Krannert Center’s Engagement Director, Sam Smith, about his work in Mali, New York City, and Urbana, was Scobey’s involvement with the Center for Community Partnership at Bates College. There he worked with Somali immigrants who have moved into the area on a project called Rivers of Immigration, with digital storytelling as a component. Bates College students then started going to Somali refugee camps to amplify the stories from Maine. These are networks of close and faraway that collapse into each other. Scobey’s work reminded me of Faranak Miraftab’s multi-dimensional work in Beardstown, IL, with Mexican, West African and white folks, and their complicated connections to the Cargill plant and the prison in the area.

Spaces of Connection

The Erasing Boundaries Project hosted a national symposium in April 2011 in New York City called “Educating at the Boundaries: Community Matters.” The project is a collaboration among landscape architecture, architecture and planning faculties, students and community partners. This was the second symposium; the first was held in 2008. The goals include examining the pedagogy of service-learning and supporting each other to make interactions as effective and as powerful as possible. The group has already assembled an edited volume due out in August 2011, Service-Learning in Design and Planning, edited by Tom Angotti, Cheryl Doble and Paula Horrigan (New Village Press). They also have three projects for which they are recruiting participants: the Case Study Framework, which aims to be a tool for developing and structuring service-learning courses; the Evaluation Project, which would provide a better understanding of impacts; and the Awards Program to raise visibility of excellent approaches.

With funding from the Youth Community Informatics grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, I was able to attend Erasing Boundaries as part of a Community Informatics Initiative (CII) team to present a poster with Deven Gibbs, School of Architecture, and Debarah McFarland, Program Coordinator of the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club in Champaign. Martin Wolske, CII Senior Research Scientist, also contributed to the poster, “Spaces of Connection: Designing a High-Tech Active Learning Space for Youth.” A very brief summary of Deven’s design for the Club, in consultation with Ms. McFarland, is that she used research conducted during an independent study with me, and then in Martin’s Community Informatics Studio last summer to create a space at the Club for connectedness online and in person. Deven made a YouTube video to promote the idea. Martin’s class was able to realize one redesign in East St. Louis. The next steps for Champaign include working with Club youth to build several FlexiDesks that enable collaborative or individual work on computers, because the desks can be configured in a variety of ways. We need to find a contractor who can help with electrical and carpentry tasks; we may work with Parkland on some of the construction, and Martin’s class in Fall 2011 will probably work with the Club to identify tech needs. Ms. McFarland and Deven were fantastic presenters in New York, making a strong case for “community matters.” If the Club can become a hub for “everything high tech” in its neighborhood—it is near downtown Champaign–as Ms. McFarland said, it will draw in not only youth, but also adults and become an area center for community development. This would be a huge contribution because the area needs a “center.”