Date: Thu, 11 Apr 1996 18:50:55 CDT

Sender: H-Net/H-Urban Seminar on History of Community Organizing &


Subject: PAPER:Lessons from Hull House for..Contemporary Urban University

Posted by Wendy Plotkin <>

I am pleased to announce the next paper in the seminar:

Ira Harkavy & John L. Puckett, "Lessons from Hull House for the Contemporary Urban University" originally published in SOCIAL SERVICE REVIEW 68:3 (September, 1994).

This paper argues that the contemporary urban university should involve itself in the surrounding community for reasons related to the improvement of the university as well as of the community. Harkavy and Puckett assert

The complex problems of urban society necessitate a radical reorientation and reinvention of the urban American university to become, once again, a mission-oriented institution devoted to the use of reason to improve the human condition.

They argue that the modern U.S. research university originated with a reformist agenda, and was closely linked to other reform institutions such as the turn-of-the-century settlement house. An example of this is the relationship between Hull House, Chicago's famous settlement house established in 1889, and the University of Chicago's Sociology Department, which initially included among its members many who were inspired by the Hull House agenda of urban reform.

Harkavy and Puckett chart the decline of academic devotion to reform after the Progressive Period, observing that

"The changing relationship of Addams and her Hull House colleagues with the Chicago sociologists from the 1890s to the late 1910s mirrored the American university's transition from an outwardly directed, service-centered institution to an inwardly directed, discipline-centered institution."

They describe the increasing academic attraction to a natural science model, stripped of an ameliorative agenda that might introduce bias. What reformist instinct that remained within the University of Chicago was channeled along gender lines into a Department of Household Administration and later a Department of Social Service Administration dominated by women, with the more theoretical (and academically respected) Sociology department itself dominated by men. Among the causes of this change was the disillusionment suffered by academics in the wake of the brutality and irrationality of World War I.

In the meantime, in the 1920s, social work in the United States was transformed, turning from the community to the individual as the locus of change. Psychiatric social work was the prevailing intervention strategy used by professionals. Settlement house work was seen as amateur and outside of the scope of professional social work. Settlement house work itself lost some of its reformist zeal, shaped by the more conservative concerns of the local Community Chests that provided the bulk of funding to settlement houses.

Reform in the university was dampened further by the increasing departmental specialization (later favored by federal funding). Such specialization ignored the interdisciplinary approach often needed to address urban ills. It also introduced scientific and technological innovations that, although offering improvement in some aspects of life, reverberated through society in unanticipated and, at times, adverse, ways.

The authors describe how the University of Pennsylvania has used the model of Hull House to develop an "academically based community service program," presently focused on the West Philadelphia Philadelphia community. The program has theoretical roots in the ideas of John Dewey and Francis Bacon that knowledge grows best in an environment where it is tested and where it meaningfully advances the interests of society. The West Philadelphia Improvement Corps (WEPIC) and the West Philadelphia Partnership are the organizations established to carry out this program, involving

"over 2,000 children, their parents, and community members in education and cultural workshops, recreation, job training, and community improvement and service activities."

WEPIC incorporates "communal participatory action research" that is similar to the approach of William Foote Whyte and his Cornell colleagues in Mondragon, Spain, strengthened by the proximity of West Philadelphia to the university. Two examples of academic research related to community concerns are cited, an anthropological analysis of community nutrition and a communications department examination of the establishment of a school-based community newspaper.

The authors conclude that the "creative altruism" conceptualized by psychologist Howard Gruber is useful in illustrating the value of the urban university's engagement -- once again -- in a mission to improve the society within which it lives.

Ira Harkavy is Director of the Center for Community Partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania. He teaches both in the history and urban studies departments, and is co-executive editor of _Universities and Community Schools_. In recent years, he has written on how to involve universities effectively in democratic partnerships with local public schools and their communities.

John Puckett is associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania


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Wendy Plotkin