Task Force on Civic Engagement

The Task Force on Civic Engagement started in a research project by the Center for Democracy and Citizenship for the Kellogg Foundation in 1997/98. The project undertook an examination of the possibilities for renewing the public service and land grant mission of the University of Minnesota.

As a part of that effort, Ed Fogelman and Harry Boyte interviewed dozens of faculty, administrators, staff and students at the University of Minnesota, as well as stakeholders in the broader community. More than expected, the interviews created a widespread hunger for more public engagement and relevance in research and teaching. Many expressed an interest in developing a partnership approach with communities across the state. There was strong support for more student civic learning opportunities in disciplines and professional departments.

Several strategies developed to make civic mission a central topic of concern and discussion. For the next two years, the Center worked with Robert Bruininks, Provost and Executive Vice President, Craig Swan, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and Vic Bloomfield, Vice Provost for Research. In the fall of 2000, Provost Bruininks appointed the Task Force on Civic Engagement charged with clarifying the meaning of civic engagement and recommending practical measures for incorporating civic engagement across the full range of university activities. Ed Fogelman was named the chair and modeled the process of civic engagement with the task force in developing the priority issues, strategies, and recommendations that are described and outlined below.

At a time of diminished public support and novel intellectual and practical challenges, the Engaged University holds the promise for a constructive new era in higher education, in which civic responsibilities and public contributions become central institutional priorities affecting research and scholarship, teaching and learning, outreach and partnership. But institutionalizing an engaged university is a complex process, with four parallel and inter-related dimensions: intellectual, structural, cultural, and political. The effectiveness of an Engaged University depends on focused efforts across all four dimensions. Task Force accomplishments during the past two years indicate the potential benefits that would result from sustaining civic initiatives on a permanent basis. This report and its recommendations should be considered in conjunction with the Report of the Administrative Advisory Committee on Public Engagement/Outreach. Toward this end, the Task Force makes four principal recommendations:

1.  Establish a Council on Public Engagement (COPE)

COPE would serve as the linchpin for current and future civic initiatives and activities throughout the university. COPE would initiate, facilitate, connect, monitor, and publicize engaged programs and activities, including community partnerships, on all four campuses. COPE would provide leadership and become the catalyst for embedding public engagement as an institutional priority affecting research and teaching together with connections to the community. Our other recommendations would also be facilitated through the activities of COPE.

2.  Expand Community Partnerships

An Engaged University works in partnership with communities, industries, and organizations to address real issues in society. Moreover, the best of these partnerships directly affect faculty research and teaching, so the university has a serious stake in their success on a number of grounds. But the development of successful community partnerships requires ongoing attention. Issues arise with regard to legal responsibilities, the complexities of diversity, and an increasing emphasis on accountability. COPE would provide a useful mechanism for addressing these issues.

3.  Enhance Institutional Incentives

A critical requirement for institutionalizing civic engagement is to encourage engaged professional work through the structure of incentives and rewards. Some practical steps to encourage public engagement through the incentive system are already in place in particular units. To introduce such measures more generally throughout the university would require broad agreement and active support among both faculty and administrators, which would not easily be achieved. Leadership in this effort could be assumed by COPE.

4.  Develop Necessary Assessment and Evaluation

To develop appropriate measures for assessing the impact of public engagement, and for use as indicators in regular reviews of institutional performance, is necessary in order to evaluate carefully the results of civic initiatives. Proposed quantitative measures do not capture the full potential consequences of deepened public engagement, and to devise additional measures for a more comprehensive evaluation would be an important task for COPE in collaboration with committees of faculty governance.