communities and higher ed [was: collaborative research paper]

colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Wed Mar 31 08:10:05 CST 2004


[ed:  Doug responds to David's post.  Note I have changed the subject
heading to reflect the discussion.  A few thoughts from me at the end.]

From: DougRHess at aol.com

David Chavis wrote: "The really relevant university-community 
collaboration lies with the true power of universities in the US: money 
and clout. Universities easily undo the social good of the handful of 
their community research collaborations by their land use, employment, 
and social policy activities."   

I guess I would like to hear more justification for the last sentence in the 
paragraph above, or maybe more on where it leads to. Universities do 
exist for their own purposes, one of which is higher education. While 
many schools seem to just educate children of the elite to be better 
elites, many universities (and community colleges) provide an avenue 
out of poverty for many students (although the morality of career 
choices may be doubtful for many), and almost all schools provide 
some avenue for improving how we do social change. Although 
students in the US are more likely to riot over restrictions on beer at 
school sporting events than over the lack of democracy in the US, 
universities still function as a site for lots of progressive policy 
innovation. The diffusion of civil rights for gays, for instance, flowed 
from college "towns" and counties. Students and workers may have to 
struggle against schools to win worker rights, but what's so shocking 
about that? Are we surprised that large institutions are complex and 
contradictory?   

Those are just a few thoughts off the top of my head. Sure people on 
campus are educating the CIA and researching better ways to build 
bombs, but there are also people wiping out polio on campuses. 
Besides, I don't think the bad guys are gonna stop using school 
resources anytime soon, so why shoot our selves in the foot by not 
taking advantage of what's here and do a little more subversion with 
what's at hand?  

Doug 

> 
> [ed:  David continues the discussion.]
> 
> From: "David Chavis" <dchavis at capablecommunity.com>
> 
> I'll offer a variant of on this theme: Are academics especially
> needed? Quality collaborative, participatory, and still
> scientifically rigorous research and related assistance can be
> more easily conducted outside of academe. Government and
> foundation greatly rely on these research organizations and
> individual consultants e.. The Applied Research Center; Rainbow
> Research, Institute for Community Research, our organization, and
> many others. We can do the research in a collaborative manner,
> provide credibility, and not have to stress over the conflicting
> demands of the university (i.e. is it scientific?, getting=
> 
> respect from peers, high overhead, can they get a publication in
> a peer reviewed journal, etc). These tensions burn out the well
> intended academic, or in order to cope, make collaborative,
> participatory, and empowering evaluations a romanticized hobby
> that they can dabble in periodically. More and more academics are
> leaving successful careers because we can do more and better
> collaborative community based research in independent and
> intermediary organizations (with a lot less hassles).
> 
> The really relevant university-community collaboration lies with
> the true power of universities in the US: money and clout.
> Universities easily undo the social good of the handful of their
> community research collaborations by their land use, employment,
> and social policy activities. 
> 
> David
> 
> *********************
> David M. Chavis
> Association for the Study and Development of Community
> 312 South Frederick Ave.
> Gaithersburg, MD 20877
> 301-519-0722 ext. 109 (voice)
> 301-519-0724 (fax)
> www.capablecommunity.com
> > 

[ed:  One of the important distinctions, for me, is the difference between 
how an institution acts as an institution, and how its faculty, staff, and 
students act.  I find higher ed institutions to be extraordinarily 
insensitive to both their neighboring communities in particular and 
community issues in general.  Even those community service programs 
that universities and colleges are so proud of are too often designed 
more to provide training for students than to provide real service to 
communities (with some notable exceptions for those programs using a 
community-based research model).  But individual faculty and students 
do have a fair amount of autonomy to work with communities and even 
against their institutions.  Nearly all of my research, and an increasing 
amount of my teaching, is now done in collaboration with community 
organizations, serving their goals.  I may differ with David here, since 
the fact that I have tenure and a more or less guaranteed salary allows 
me a lot of freedom to choose projects that serve communities.  And I 
have spent the past five years or so helping to document the work of 
faculty and students in a wide variety of colleges and universities that 
matches the work being done through Rainbow Research, the Applied 
Research Center, Project South, and the other independent research 
centers.  But again, that doesn't say much about their institutions, which 
are rightly condemned for things like demolishing their neighbors' 
houses for parking lots, opposing unions, etc. ]  




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