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March 31, 2016

Group looks at Pitt’s support of community-based research

The University Senate research committee is examining how Pitt supports community-based research and service learning as part of its research mission, and in light of its strategic plan.

“That’s an area of important research that’s strategically important,” said committee member Michael Goodhart of political science, who brought to the group’s attention the report by organizers of last fall’s Academically Based Community Engagement Faculty Idea Exchange. (See Oct. 1, 2015, University Times.)

The document ( calls for the creation of better infrastructure to recognize and support faculty community engagement work across the University.

“One of the big things that came out of that forum … was the need for the University to coordinate its efforts and support those things. It does come up, not only in terms of people’s ability to carry out the work they do, but also in terms of tenure and promotion decisions,” he said.

“If you look at the strategic plan, one of the pillars is community engagement,” Goodhart said, adding that infrastructure exists to support researchers who receive external funding, but is lacking for facilitating community-based academic engagement.

“If community engagement is one of the five strategic pillars, then figuring out how to do a really effective job at promoting the research and education that are connected to community engagement seems to be a really important priority,” he said.

“It’s not just helping a couple of people who work with community groups do their work better — it is that, and it’s not unimportant — it’s also helping the University do what it says it wants to do better.”

Senate liaison to the committee Michael Spring added that there is no broad mechanism to connect appropriate faculty or student researchers with community-based opportunities. “A little bit of infrastructural support would help to make this kind of work easier for people to do,” Spring said.

The concept of having a portal or concierge to manage those connections caught the ear of Mark Redfern, vice provost for research.

He promised to review the academically based community engagement report and invited additional input and further discussion in the committee.

“What you’re saying [is that] there are certain resources that could benefit a certain subset of the faculty population in their research. I want to understand what those resources are. That’s my job.”

If existing University resources aren’t meeting the needs of researchers, it’s a process issue, not a policy issue, Redfern said.

“I hear you and I can try to fix that.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow 

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