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October 9, 2008


What is the role of the University and its members in relating to and engaging with the surrounding communities?

For nearly a decade the Senate’s community relations committee (CRC) has focused on issues associated with the definition, practice and recognition of community service as a necessary and respected complement to the University’s mission. Our emphasis has been on identifying and developing opportunities for community service and civic engagement as expressed through service learning and community-based research.

The CRC also wants to insure that we sustain the community development initiatives of the Community Outreach Partnership Center (COPC) in collaboration with our community partners. COPC projects include an active living and youth development program, public and environmental safety initiatives and a database of community assets and resources.

However, recent events have led the CRC to refocus its activities this past year on the quality of life of residents, business people and students in Oakland.

While meeting with representatives from our community partner organizations to address issues such as litter and garbage control, property maintenance, housing code violations, personal security, panhandling and student behavior, CRC decided to expand the scope of the conversation by sponsoring a plenary session. With the active participation of our community partners, CRC has developed a plenary session around the theme: “Quality of Life in Oakland: Investing in University-Community Partnerships.” The plenary session will be held Thursday, Oct. 23, 1-4 p.m. in the William Pitt Union Assembly Room.

The plenary session will be preceded by a community organization marketplace, noon-1 p.m., that will provide an opportunity for meeting and networking with our Oakland community partners.

The formal plenary session will include remarks by Pitt senior administrators and Pittsburgh City Council members, a panel discussion by members of several Oakland community groups and a roundtable session following the panel discussion.

The objectives of the plenary session include:

• Increasing awareness among faculty, staff and students of ongoing University partnerships with community organizations in Oakland, e.g., the COPC Working Group on Housing, Keep It Clean Oakland and Adopt-a-Block. There also will be discussion of panhandling education and housing code enforcement.

• Providing a forum for identification of problems, challenges and opportunities relevant to the quality of life and key constituencies, i.e., the residents, business people, faculty, staff, students and visitors.

• Exploring new opportunities to collaborate with our current and potential community partners to develop service-learning and/or community-based research relevant to the quality of life and related concerns expressed by community residents, business owners and leaders.

• Developing action-oriented recommendations for University efforts in collaboration with our community partners to enhance the quality of life of Oakland for all our constituencies who benefit from its resources and amenities.

Through this plenary session we hope to provide a forum for productive and action-oriented dialogue, agenda-setting and problem solving. We intend to highlight the assets of our local community that should be sustained and supported, e.g., viable small businesses, attractive and well-maintained residential neighborhoods and cultural and recreational opportunities that address the diverse interests of the University community and visitors. At the same time we must candidly recognize the aspects of the Oakland community that detract from the quality of our experiences on the streets, sidewalks and in the neighborhoods of Oakland, e.g., litter, garbage, panhandling and anti-social behavior.

We encourage you to attend the plenary session and especially urge you to participate in the roundtable discussions by sharing your observations and suggestions. Your active participation in this plenary session will contribute to the potential impact of this event in raising awareness of the issues associated with the quality of life in Oakland and the importance of the University’s ongoing and mutually beneficial relationships with our community partners.

Wes Rohrer is co-chair of the University Senate’s community relations committee.

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