The University of Minnesota’s Council on Public Engagement has its roots in three distinct groups/task forces over the past several years:
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 surfaced 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 and 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
In September of 2002, EVPP established an Administrative Advisory Committee on Public Engagement/Outreach. Their final report outlined the following key principals:
- Engagement is part of the core mission of the University of Minnesota that enhances teaching and research and/or serves the public good
- Engagement provides good will
- Because there is ever increasing accountability, there is a compelling reason to better define public engagement/outreach in order to determine the best means of financing public engagement
- The University needs to determine how these expenses are covered, the source of revenue, and the kind of revenue including sponsored, non-sponsored funds and gifts
In August of 2002, an Ad Hoc committee of the Board of Regents came together the address the issues of outreach and public engagement and made the following key recommendations that indicate their priority areas:
- Periodic progress reports to the Board of Regents on the plan and on Extension’s progress in achieving financial stability.
- Clearer definitions of the outreach mission of the institution.
- Emphasis that outreach benefits both the institution and citizens. It is a two-way street, as it benefits the state and also provides a venue for students to learn and faculty to teach.
- Efficient delivery of outreach.
In addition, during the past three years, public engagement and outreach programs, activities, and policies have been the focus of much University and national discussion and activity. On campus, for example, the University of Minnesota Extension Service and the College of Continuing Education, two major outreach units, undertook major restructuring. The Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Council, the Non-Profit Task Force, and the Vital Aging Steering Committee, and the University of Promise actively engaged faculty, staff, and community on issues of critical importance. The Outstanding Community Service Award Program, a University wide program coordinated by the Executive Vice President and Provost, annually recognizes and rewards the outstanding engagement work of faculty and staff and their community partner organization.
The University of Minnesota has been recognized as a national leader in the engaged university movement because of its uniquely comprehensive approach and its emphasis on the intellectual, cultural, political and structural dimensions of engagement. University faculty leaders, as well as administrators, have been involved in discussions and programs at the University of Maryland, Cornell, Brandeis, the University of Missouri, and the American Association of Higher Education. In addition, delegations from Tufts, Auburn, Cornell, and Penn State have visited this year to review and support the University’s public engagement efforts.