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September 30, 2004

University Senate Matters

“The City is our campus,” remarked Chancellor Nordenberg during the 2001 Senate plenary session on “The University in Civic Engagement: Service in the University’s Mission.” That statement speaks to Pittsburgh’s urban experience that has offered faculty and students a rich learning environment, one where teaching, research and service can be integrated and where both the institution and the community can grow through this civic engagement.

The University Senate’s fall plenary session on Nov. 3 hopes to build from this earlier dialogue and raise the bar by challenging our campus community to examine how we can use our community service and outreach to enhance our teaching and, especially, our scholarship. For a major research institution, it is not enough to promote just “academic charity” through our substantial and laudable service and outreach initiatives. The upcoming plenary challenges us to build a stronger base for the scholarship of this engagement.

Over the past decade a growing cadre of academics has nurtured a significant base of literature and scholarship around their community service and outreach. These were fueled by such national efforts as Campus Compact, with its focus on service learning and civic engagement; the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of University Partnerships and its Community Outreach Partnership Centers (COPC) Program, of which the University has a very active COPC; the Campus Community Partnership for Health, which is fostering engagement among medicine and health professional schools.

Leading educational bodies and commissions, including the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land Grant Universities, have placed increased emphasis on civic engagement as a guiding principle in American higher education and as an important standard for accreditation, as well as for promotion and tenure consideration.

Special issues of journals and periodicals such as American Behavioral Scientist, Journal of Planning Education and Research, Metropolitan Universities, CityScapes (published by HUD’s Office of Policy and Research) and a forthcoming Journal of Community Practice (co-edited by this author and due out December 2004) have featured community-based applied and participatory research and scholarship derived from a range of higher education community outreach and service learning. The Michigan Journal of Service Learning has emerged as a leading forum for “engaged scholarship,” and Outreach Scholarship is another recent journal developed out of the Kellogg Commission report to promote academic discourse largely among public and Land Grant universities. Across the country, community service and civic engagement work is translating into research and scholarship.

The Nov. 3 plenary session, hosted by the Senate’s community relations committee, will be held 2-4:30 p.m. in the William Pitt Union. This forum offers our University an opportunity to build a base for scholarship derived from connecting our teaching and research to our community outreach and civic engagement. The plenary session will feature a keynote address by Lorilee Sandman, associate professor in the School of Leadership and Lifelong Learning of the College of Education at the University of Georgia, and will be followed by a reactor panel representing leadership from Pitt, other universities and the community, as well as roundtable discussion to begin a campus community dialogue on “The Scholarship of our Community Service.”

This plenary also has served as a catalyst for related programs that day, including a morning symposium co-sponsored with the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education that will invite regional colleges and universities to share best practices and promote scholarly collaboration in areas of community outreach, service-learning, and applied research and scholarship. The community relations committee is planning a lunchtime “Showcase of Service” that will include displays from both Pitt and neighboring universities and will highlight research and scholarship emerging from this work.

A special forum designed especially for students and interested faculty and staff, will present young professional leadership development organizations and their programs providing externships, fellowships, training, and opportunities for enhancing ones civic engagement in our “city campus.” We hope that you will join us in this important dialogue as we strive to build a center of scholarly excellence around the strength of our community service and civic engagement.

Tracy M. Soska is a faculty member in the School of Social Work and co-chair of the plenary subcommittee and of the Senate community relations committee. If you would like more information on the initiative and literature mentioned in this column, e-mail Soska at

(If you have an idea for a Senate Matters column, contact Irene Hanson Frieze, Senate vice president, at 412/624-4336 or

Filed under: Feature,Volume 37 Issue 3

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