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October 31, 2006

Carter Partnership Award: Center for Small Towns

Last night Minnesota Campus Compact hosted the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Partnership Award for Campus-Community Collaboration dinner. Former astronaut and Senator John Glenn was the keynote speaker. The event is described on the MCC web site.

The Carter Partnership Award tries to recognize "the best academic service work of students, faculty and staff at universities and colleges as they partner with community groups and community agencies." We were treated to an inspiring video of the five finalists, and those of us from the University of Minnesota were delighted that the winner was declared to be the University of Minnesota Morris and the City of Morris for The Center for Small Towns. As described on the web site,

The Center for Small Towns is a community outreach program housed at the University of Minnesota, Morris (UMM) and serves as a point-of-entry to the resources of the University of Minnesota. Small towns, local units of government, K-12 schools, non-profit organizations, and other University units are able to utilize the Center's resources as they work on rural issues or make contributions to rural society.

Vision
The 21st century will bring enormous challenges and opportunities to rural Minnesota and its many small communities. By working cooperatively, the University of Minnesota and small towns in the region can find new ways to successfully transition through this period of rapid change.

Mission
To focus the University's attention and marshal its resources toward assisting Minnesota's small towns with locally identified issues by creating applied learning opportunities for faculty and students.

This is public engagement at its finest.

October 30, 2006

HENCE

As public engagement efforts grow and ramify around the country, the need increases for national coordination and leadership. A February 2006 Wingspread Conference on "Creating the Higher Education Network on Community Engagement" has led to the establishment of an organization, HENCE, that plans to assume that role. This promises to be a very important effort. Here is the mission statement from the HENCE web site.

"The Higher Education Network for Community Engagement (HENCE) is a response to the growing need to deepen, consolidate, and advance the literature, research, practice, policy, and advocacy for community engagement as a core element of higher education's role in society. Increasingly, higher education institutions are intentionally connecting academic work to public purposes through extensive partnerships that involve faculty, staff, and students in active collaboration with communities. This idea of "community engagement" is renewing the civic mission of higher education and transforming academic culture in ways that are both exciting and challenging.

HENCE represents a new, high level of commitment to cooperation across diverse engagement-related organizations to provide support for the next phase of growth and improvement. On February 24, 2006, at the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine, Wisconsin, individuals representing several national organizations agreed on the following network objectives:

  • Create a national network coordinated across leadership organizations
  • Develop a coordinated approach to providing resources and data
  • Encourage local, state, regional, and national meetings (formal and informal)
  • Implement a coordinated agenda for advocacy
  • Create an agenda for professional development and recognition
  • Celebrate institutional differences

HENCE organizations committed to meeting these objectives by forming workgroups on these related tasks:

  • Organize resources for and meetings among higher education lobbyists for advocacy at state and national levels
  • Provide publications, web resources, training, and events for promoting community engagement at regional and national levels
  • Collaborate on common data measures and dissemination of promising practices
  • Develop models and provide support for quality scholarship of engagement
  • Provide professional development opportunities for higher education leaders"

Links:
About HENCE: http://www.henceonline.org/about
Wingspread Report: http://www.henceonline.org/about/founding_documents

October 27, 2006

International Declaration on Responsibility of Higher Education for a Democratic Culture

The engagement movement in higher education has taken on an important international aspect. In June 2006, the Council of Europe's Steering Committee for Higher Education and Research organized a Global Forum in Strasbourg. A delegation of 37 U.S. college and university presidents attended the forum. The Forum adopted a Declaration that asserts

The Commitment of Higher Education

As higher education leaders and policy makers we affirm our commitment to democratic principles and practice; our conviction that higher education has an essential role in furthering democratic culture; and our responsibility to educate each successive generation to renew and develop the attitudes, values and skills needed for this to become a reality. We recognize that the contribution of students as well as academic and non-academic staff to this effort is essential.

We further affirm our conviction that complex environmental, economic and societal issues can only be solved at the local, national and global levels if citizens can combine basic democratic values with a knowledge and understanding of the relationship of these challenges.

We subscribe to the responsibility of higher education to foster citizen commitment to sustainable public policies and actions that go beyond considerations of individual benefits.

We accept our responsibility to safeguard democracy, and promote a democratic culture, by supporting and advancing within higher education as well as society at large, the principles of:

• Democratic and accountable structures, processes and practice;

• Active democratic citizenship

• Human rights, mutual respect and social justice

• Environmental and societal sustainability

• Dialogue and the peaceful resolution of conflicts

The Higher Education and Democratic Culture web site has information on activities by the member institutions and instructions on how to participate.

An important international movement could be getting underway.

Links:
Higher Education and Democratic Culture web site: http://dc.ecml.at/
Declaration http://dc.ecml.at/index.asp?Page=Declaration

October 26, 2006

Podcasting Engagement in Public Health

The School of Public Health (SPH) at the University of Minnesota has a podcast page on its web site. The page has rich and diverse content:

* Public Health Moment, which asks and answers the question "What health policy issues are important in this election?"

* Public Lectures, currently presenting "Where is the Political and Economic Leadership to Balance Health Gain and Health Care?" by Dr. Derek Yach, Director of Health Equity, Rockefeller Foundation

* Public Health Planet, a video highlighting several SPH partnerships with the community, on environmental toxins and eating disorders

* Blogs by SPH students, about their lives in the Twin Cities and their field experiences in Chile, Ghana, Thailand, Kenya, and elsewhere.

The page is very content-rich, and the video may take a long time to fully download, depending on the speed of your connection; but it's worth the wait.

Link: http://www.sph.umn.edu/podcast/

October 25, 2006

Civic Engagement at the University of Minnesota Duluth

Most of my blog postings have dealt with public engagement activities on the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota. The UM also has four coordinate campuses, in Crookston, Duluth, Morris, and Rochester. Each has its own profile of engagement activities. Casey LaCore, Director of the Civic Engagement office at University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) sent this report.

UMD Office of Civic Engagement activities have been focused in six areas:

1) Currently there are two Civic Engagement Reading Groups which meet monthly. The purpose of these groups is to discuss the theory and practice of civic engagement as well as how to encourage civic engagement activities at UMD. Participants read materials about civic engagement and meet for group discussions. Reading group participants included representatives of all five of the collegiate units at UMD (CLA, CEHSP, SFA, LSBE, and CSE), and Student Life.

2) The Office of Civic Engagement awarded $20,000 in mini grants during the past year. Grants were awarded to faculty from the following departments for incorporating civic engagement activities in to their curriculum; Composition, Chemical Engineering, Outdoor Education, Elementary Education, Theatre, Psychology, Sociology/Anthropology, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Early Childhood Education, Social Work and the School of Medicine.

3) The New York Times pilot project distributes approximately 200 papers a day to students and faculty. Currently seven faculty members have incorporated the New York Times into their course curriculum.

4) At this time, fall semester 2006 the Office of Civic Engagement has placed over 900 UMD students in the community. 800 of these students are placed as a part of a civic engagement component in a course. The other students are America Reads work study students and general volunteers.

5) The Office of Civic Engagement was asked by the Duluth-Superior Area Community Foundation and Harvard University to participate in the most in-depth survey on the civic engagement of Americans ever conducted. More than a dozen University of Minnesota Duluth faculty members have agreed to provide analysis of the local data. In addition, two graduate students from the Master in Advocacy and Political Leadership program are serving as interns to the project

6) Lastly, the office of Civic Engagement is involved with several Community Projects including; Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Methamphetamine Abuse, and Issues related to Homeless.

October 24, 2006

Concerns outside strict professional lines

I was educated as a chemist, and have been a member of the American Chemical Society (ACS) for over 40 years. As a benefit of membership, I receive the weekly newsmagazine of the ACS, Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN). C&EN used to have a strong pro-industry bias, but over the past decade or so has broadened its coverage both to include more academic science and to deal with a wider range of social and political issues with a chemical connection.

On July 10, 2006 the editor of C&EN wrote an editorial “Demonizing the Press? about the administration’s response to the New York Times’s expose that the NSA was monitoring domestic communications. The editorial provoked a firestorm of criticism from some readers of C&EN, contending that the magazine should stick to issues more directly related to chemistry.

The August 28 issue, which I’m just catching up with, has letters responding (pro and con) to these criticisms. Among those urging a narrow view, this quote is typical: “The editorials in this scientific magazine should offer some chemical or engineering news and opinions, not political views.?

There were more letters that took the other side, fortunately. Some brief but eloquent defenses of the importance of public engagement in chemistry or any profession:
“I would hope that being a knowledgeable contributor to the democratic process would be at least as important to chemists and engineers as being knowledgeable in their field.?
“…no scientist or engineer lives in a vacuum, and we must learn to have civil discourse on issues that affect us all.?
“…part of being a creative editor is … addressing issues that go beyond the narrowest confines of the profession… When C&EN no longer has an editor who believes that, and acts accordingly, it won’t be worthy of the American Chemical Society.?

October 23, 2006

Engaging with Corporations

The University of Minnesota today unveiled the web site of its new Academic and Corporate Relations Center (ACRC). The ACRC, which was announced this summer and was the subject of an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, hopes to serve as a "front door" to industries and other organizations.

As articulated on its web site, "The ACRC has a mission to enhance the ability of the world-wide business community to connect and collaborate with the University of Minnesota’s rich lodes of expertise, technology, and talent." It lists five major resources for business:

RECRUITING STUDENTS AND GRADUATES: The University of Minnesota brings employers and students together to satisfy the needs of both.

CONTINUING EDUCATION OPPORTUNITIES: Take advantage of the high-quality, comprehensive, and convenient continuing education opportunities available at the University of Minnesota.

FINDING FACULTY AND STAFF EXPERTISE: Connect with our faculty, staff, and students to locate experts, research partners, and mentors and to learn more about their research, creativity, and scholarly works.

UTILIZING OUR RESOURCES: Connect with the breadth and depth of University resources, facilities, and programs to improve your business and make it stronger.

SPONSORING AND LICENSING RESEARCH AND INNOVATION: Find opportunities to sponsor research with our world renowned faculty and license available technologies. Sponsoring research and transferring the results from the University to the marketplace benefits the public and private sector.

Engagement with the private sector and tech transfer (with graduates being our most important "product") is a legitimate and important part of the public engagement mission of universities. The ACRC is an ambitious public engagement effort that will benefit both university and community if it succeeds.

October 20, 2006

2006-10-20 Engaging with a Community

Today's StarTribune had a good front-page story on the burgeoning alliance between the University of Minnesota and the North Side of Minneapolis. The article focuses on the work of Prof. Dante Cicchetti to set up a family center at which "children and adults from across the Twin Cities will receive research-based treatments for child abuse, depression and other problems that tear families apart." However, it notes that the family center is part of a broader partnership "that will also [bring] a business incubator, child development center and other projects to the area."

This proposed partnership, which also includes Hennepin County, has provoked more than a little controversy in the North Side community, some of whose residents viewed the center as "a white institution experimenting on black children". However, as more efforts were made to explain the concept and scope of the project to the community, and to work not just with community leaders but also with groups of concerned citizens, most attitudes have shifted to being strongly supportive.

This is a remarkably ambitious project, which might have had a smoother start had the ground been prepared more carefully, but which now seems on a good path. If approved by the University of Minnesota Regents it will be a long-term venture, which will stretch financial, academic, and community resources to their limits; but which has the promise of great returns to both the community and the university. As Robert Jones (Senior Vice President for System Academic Administration at the U) said, "...we're an urban university and we need a stronger urban agenda."

October 19, 2006

Snow, Corn, and Driving

A Dow Jones article from September 21, 2006 tells an interesting story about three seeming unconnected topics: snow, corn, and driving. The connection: University of Minnesota researchers, working with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, to augment farm income and make winter driving safer in rural Minnesota. A typical story of engaged research.

Minnesota DOT To Pay Farmers To Leave Corn Stalks Standing

CHICAGO (Dow Jones)--The Minnesota Department of Transportation will pay farmers to leave corn stalks standing along roadsides in an effort to improve winter driving conditions.

The state's transportation department said it will pay $3.30 a bushel to farmers that are willing to leave at least eight rows of corn stalks standing in snowdrift areas.

These "living snow fences" help improve driver visibility and road surface conditions and will help save money, especially with high fuel costs, the department said Monday in a press release.

The department said it is "looking for farmers with fields to the north and west of state highways where there is a demonstrated drifting problem in the windblown maintenance area of southwestern and south central Minnesota."

A University of Minnesota study conducted during the 2000-01 winter found that as much as nine tons of snow can be captured per lineal foot of standing corn stalks, the release said.

October 18, 2006

Assessing Engagement

I've just returned from the 20th Anniversary meeting of Campus Compact in Chicago. It's stimulating to be with so many people talking and thinking about how to advance engagement in higher education, with an opportunity for broader-range thinking that we have regrettably little time for at our home institutions.

I participated in a roundtable examining the question "What kinds of evidence of the impact of engagement on faculty, students, and communities would be convincing to key external constituencies (e.g., policy-makers, funders, media)?" Some of the points that were made:

  • There are many different kinds of projects and audiences, each with a different appropriate metric.
  • Desirable outcomes should be defined with our collaborators and partners.
  • Outcomes should be aligned with the needs of decision-makers.
  • We need both quantitative and qualitative measures. Without measurable outcomes, we can be readily dismissed; but once we've gotten a hearing, stories are more effective than numbers.
  • Service-learning or other community engagement activities can produce, as learning outcomes, the "public skills" of interest to business communities.

October 15, 2006

Concerns about our Agricultural Economy and Food Supply

I've written before about the University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, a citizen-driven program of the University that strives to create a more vibrant relationship between the citizens and their University, address issues according to sustainable development principles, and promote active citizenship through local citizen participation in designing and implementing projects in the region. The following article from the September 2006 Annual Newsletter of the West Central Regional Sustainable Development Partnership highlights one of the collaborative efforts between the Partnership and the University. It portrays a striking and worrisome picture of our agricultural economy and food supply.

IMMENSE FINANCIAL LOSSES INSPIRES EXPANSION OF LOCAL FOODS CAMPAIGN

The West Central Regional Sustainable Development Partnership (WCRSDP) is expanding its ongoing campaign along with its Pride of the Prairie partners to place locally produced foods in local markets. This effort will also bring policy ideas to political leaders such as Congressman Collin Peterson.

This initiative builds on an economic study showing that our region loses over $1 billion each year — an amount equal to one of every three dollars earned by the region's residents — because farmers and consumers trade with firms that draw wealth out of our communities.

Expanding local foods trade is one way to stem these losses.

Speaking at the 2005 WCRSDP annual meeting, economist Ken Meter cited public data that shows that West Central Minnesota farmers have lost, on average, $150 million dollars producing crops and livestock each year for the past 11 years. Although federal subsidies compensate farmers for these chronic losses, these payments end up drawing wealth from the region, Meter said.

Federal subsidies help hold commodity prices low even while they raise land prices, Meter added. Further, subsidies encourage producers to take on debt, and buy more inputs (supplies), from distant firms than the region can afford. He estimates that the region's farmers spend $600 million each year buying farm inputs from outside vendors.

Meanwhile, as farmers struggle to pay their bills, West Central consumers buy their food from sources outside the region. Meter estimates that residents buy at least $250 million of food from outside suppliers each year.

These three outflows of money total $1 billion each year, he added. Meter, president of Crossroads Resource Center in Minneapolis, has taught economics at the University of Minnesota. He draws his data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), an impartial federal agency.

His study, commissioned by WCRSDP, covers the 12-county region including Big Stone, Chippewa, Douglas, Grant, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Pope, Renville, Stevens, Swift, Traverse, and Yellow Medicine counties, with 173,000 residents. Meter conducted similar research in northwest and southeast Minnesota as well as regions in other states including Iowa, California and Hawaii.

The region has 12% of the state's farms, with 21% of Minnesota's farms over 1,000 acres in size, as well as 21% of the state's irrigated land.

Yet direct food sales to consumers are small. USDA reports that 271 farms in the region sell $871,000 of food directly to consumers. Seven percent of Minnesota's organic foods (valued at $562,000) are produced in West Central.

Farm production losses result from day-to-day transactions, rather than big events. BEA data show that the region's 10,011 farm families sold $1.44 billion of farm commodities on average each year from 1993 to 2003.

However, they spent $1.59 billion, on average, to produce these crops, for a net loss of $153 million per year. This means a total loss of $1.7 billion over those 11 years.

Farm families collect $167 million in federal supports, and earn $80 million of other farm-related income each year, to cover their costs. Even taking this income into account, one of every three farms in the region lost money in 2002, according to the Agriculture Census.

Meter concluded his presentation by citing national trends that affect farmers and consumers in West Central Minnesota. Nearly half of all groceries sold in the U.S. is sold by five supermarket chains, with Wal-Mart & Sam's Club ranking first and seccond. The large distance between producers and consumers creates huge imbalances, he added. Studies show that 85% of food industries lack competitiveness, forcing food costs higher.

The “buzz? at the meeting — which included farmers, lenders, chefs, and educators — expressed great concern over the Wall Street Journal's report that the U.S. is about to become a net food importer on a permanent basis.

As a follow-up to Meter's presentation, WCRSDP is engaging West Central citizens in a broad dialogue that will lead to meetings with state, local and congressional leaders, including Collin Peterson, a member of the House Agriculture Committee.

October 13, 2006

Thoughts from Campus Compact

Yesterday I went to a meeting of the Upper Midwest Campus Compacts (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa). It was a rich program. A few of the points that stick in my mind:

* In Minnesota we have three major systems of higher education: the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MNSCU), and the private colleges. All are valued members and collaborators in Campus Compact, but they are not-always-friendly competitors for state funding (the privates through Minnesota's generous financial aid program). It's probably a given that the relative shares of the pie will not change much, but mightn't the pie get bigger if the three systems cooperated on a coherent vision for higher education in the state, rather than competing as baldly as they do? The legislators might have more patience with us. MN Campus Compact could be an agent in making this happen.

* We're all concerned about access, but higher education is getting more expensive a lot faster than the the general inflation rate. We've been coping by rapidly raising tuition, to offset state cuts as well as to keep up with increasing costs. But we're not as clear as we should be about why the higher ed inflation rate is as high as it is. We also need to better inform students, particularly those from families with no previous college experience, about how to navigate the system, apply for aid, meet deadlines, and so forth.

* In questions after her keynote address, Judith Ramaley was asked how a small college in a very small town can effectively do service learning, when the number of students would overwhelm the carrying capacity of the town. Ramaley strikingly replied that the college should become "Clerk of the Whole", taking on many of the community administrative functions that a very small town doesn't have the resources for. A very interesting idea, but one that requires a major shift in teaching and course design if the college is not to become just a social service agency. The community service must be connected to rigorous teaching, which means that courses must be aligned to their community functions. For example, focus a chemistry course around water purification, or an economics course around municipal finance and taxation. Sounds like an interesting challenge!

October 12, 2006

Law School Engagement in the DWI Problem

I've just learned about a remarkable example of public engagement from the Law School at the University of Minnesota: the Minnesota Criminal Justice System DWI Task Force. Its founder (24 years ago) and director is Steve Simon, Clinical Professor in the Law School. The following information comes from Prof. Simon.

The Task Force, which meets at the Law School, is made up of criminal justice system professionals: judges, police officers, driver's license administrators, traffic safety professionals, assistant attorney generals, prosecutors, chemical dependency treatment workers and MADD and other traffic safety advocates. They identify problems in Minnesota DWI law and enforcement practices and work with the legislature, law enforcement and the courts to effect change. This is a volunteer, unpaid effort on the part of Prof. Simon and his colleagues; the Law School simply provides meeting space and some assistance with photocopying.

The research projects of the Task Force include:

  • An analysis of alcohol related fatalities to determine the extent of the involvement of repeat DWI offenders in such fatalities.
  • An analysis of the public dollars expended by all levels of government because of excessive alcohol consumption.
  • A multi-variate analysis of county level data that included alcohol related fatalities, DWI arrests, population, number of liquor sales outlets and dollar amount of alcohol sold.
  • A review of all states reinstatement fees for driver’s licenses revoked for DWI.
  • An attempt to determine the number and or percent of DWI cases that are “lost? in the criminal justice system.
  • Gathering sentencing and representation data from a control group generated from a 25,000 person DWI offender data base created to investigate the relationship if any between speed of adjudication of a person charged with DWI and subsequent recidivism.
  • The search to identify the existence of any state law in this country that mandates the reporting (to law enforcement) of alcohol related traffic injuries by emergency room personnel.


According to Prof. Simon, the Task Force is well respected at the legislature and has initiated many novel changes in Minnesota's DWI law, some of which have become models for the other state's DWI laws. Task Force initiated DWI laws include:
  • Criminalizing implied consent test refusals,
  • Administrative plate impoundment,
  • Intensive Probation programs for repeat offenders,
  • Enhanced penalties for drivers license violations for repeat DWO offenders,
  • Administrative vehicle forfeiture for repeat offenders,
  • Tightening vehicle transfers and registration to make it more difficult for repeat offenders to acquire vehicles
  • Development of a secure Web site that prosecutors can use to quickly obtain blood and urine Implied Consent test results.
  • Expansion of the mandatory chemical dependency assessment provisions of Minnesota’s DWI law to include a consideration of objective factors in the assessment process
  • Expansion of the DWI-Drug provisions of the DWI to include the metabolites of controlled substances
  • Numerous technical correction in the DWI law to increase its effectiveness and clarity

As Prof. Simon says, "The Task Force represents a unique combination of University faculty and institutional commitment and expertise with criminal justice system and members of the public. The Law School serves as a catalyst to bring together members of the criminal justice system, driver’s license regulators and concerned citizens from the general public. It existence for over 20 years is a strong indication of its perceived value by the legislature and the people who continue to support it by their participation."

October 11, 2006

Issues for Faculty Engagement

Recently I've met with the three Faculty Senate Committees at the University of Minnesota whose charges have the greatest connection to public engagement issues. After describing the organization and activities of the Office for Public Engagement, I presented each with a list of the issues that I thought were most germane to their interests. Here are the three lists.

Educational Policy
• Engaged teaching: service learning, multi/interdisciplinary focused on societal issues
• Lower limit estimates of service-learning curricular activities: 75 courses in 13 colleges, involving nearly 60 faculty and instructors and more than 2000 students.
• High concordance (typically 80-90+%) between service-learning outcomes and life-long learning and citizenship goals established by UM Committee on Enhanced Student Learning, and student development outcomes established by Office of Student Affairs.
• Connection with liberal education themes: multiculturalism, citizenship and public ethics, international perspectives
• Service learning: Should there be U certification and transcript notation? (Community Engagement Scholars Program)
• Public Engagement as part of research ethics training for graduate students


Research
• NSF broader impacts criterion
• Involvement of under-represented students and communities, and pre-college educational institutions, as criteria for large grants
• Classification of research activities as engaged
• Database of engaged research and teaching activities, including GIS information
• IRB issues for community-based research
• Community partners as co-PIs or subcontractors on grants
• Funding of engaged research: paucity of substantial funding, and low/no ICR allowance
• Inter/multidisciplinary engaged research
• Public Engagement as part of research ethics training for graduate students


Faculty Affairs
• Evaluation of faculty work in promotion and tenure policy statements
• Faculty development programs on how to do effective engaged research and teaching
• Interaction with Council of Academic Professionals and Administrators on rewards and incentives for engaged teaching, research, and service

October 10, 2006

Where the Mind is Without Fear

Last Thursday (Oct 5, 2006) I posted a blog entitled "Science, Government, and Truth" about an effort—Scientists & Engineers for America—to counteract the increasing misuse and suppression of scientific evidence in policy making by some government officials.

A few days earlier, Harry Boyte had sent the text of a speech by Michael Edwards, Director of the Ford Foundation's Governance and Civil Society Unit in New York, and author of the recent book Civil Society (Polity Press/Blackwell, 2004). The speech was the Keynote Address for the 40th anniversary of the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Sussex, UK (www.ids.ac.uk ). It's entitled "Looking back from 2046: Thoughts on the 80th Anniversary of the Institute for Revolutionary Social Science".

I was struck by how the beginning of the speech mirrored the sentiments of the Scientists & Engineers for America effort, albeit in quite a different context. I'm taking the liberty of quoting the first few lines, which in turn quote a poem by Rabindranath Tagore.

"Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,

Where knowledge is free,

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls,

Where words come out from the depth of truth,

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection,

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit,

Where the mind is led forward through ever-widening thought and action into that heaven of freedom,

Let my country awake.?

All of us in this room are exploring the “country? that Rabindranath Tagore describes in his poem “Where the Mind is Without Fear?, and we know how difficult and demanding that journey can be. This is especially true today, though here I can be accused of being overly influenced by the context in which I live and work – the US – where facts, objectivity, proof, accumulated wisdom, public debate, accountability, the careful calculation of risks and benefits, and the other pillars of effective policy-making we have been gradually piecing together since the Enlightenment are increasingly up for grabs. Let decisions be driven by ideology, faith, speculation, greed, graft and revenge. Let truths be revealed rather than negotiated. In modern politics, or at least in this form of modern politics, facts are for losers.

The country "where the mind is without fear" is the only country in which true scholarship can engage with the great issues of society. Are we losing that country?

October 9, 2006

The Engaged Scholar at Michigan State University

The Michigan State University Office of University Outreach and Engagement, headed by Associate Provost Hi Fitzgerald, has just published Vol. 1, Number 1 of The Engaged Scholar, a handsome and meaty 24-page booklet describing some of the many engaged scholarly activities at MSU. Many of us can tell similar stories about the engaged scholarly work of our faculty, staff, and students, but MSU has produced a particularly nice package.

Among other things, I liked a table that neatly describes the differences between traditional and engaged teaching, research, and service:

Traditional Academic Activity

  • University faculty provide instruction to undergraduate and graduate students in campus classrooms and laboratories.
  • University faculty members pursue research studies according to their various professions and interests, and publish results in academic books and journals.
  • University faculty and students undertake departmental or college administrative duties and serve on committees.

Scholarly Engagement Activity

  • engaged teaching occurs when... ...credit and noncredit learning opportunities are taken off campus, online, and to community-based settings to increase access; or when service-learning experiences advance students’ knowledge about social issues while contributing to the immediate goals of a project.
  • engaged research occurs when... ...a collaborative partnership conducts an investigation for the direct benefit of external partners; outcomes of the research lead to improved, evidence-based practice.
  • engaged service occurs when... ...a faculty member summarizes current research literature about an issue for working professionals or community organizations, offers research-based policy recommendations to legislators at a committee hearing, or provides medical or therapeutic services to the public.

October 6, 2006

Engaging with the Future of Minnesota's Regions

The University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships are a citizen-driven program of the University that strives to create a more vibrant relationship between the citizens and their University, address issues according to sustainable development principles, and promote active citizenship through local citizen participation in designing and implementing projects in the region. The following excerpt from an article in the West Central Regional Sustainable Development Partnership Newsletter for 2006 describes a joint exercise that will attempt to look ahead to the state of the regions in 2050.

Looking towards the future, learning from the past

In 2050, what will our landscapes look like? Where will our food, fiber, and energy come from? What will our communities and neighborhood look like?

In the next few months, the Regional Partnerships will partner with the University's Ecosystem Science and Sustainability Initiative to conduct community-based scenario analysis exercises. Each regional board and its partners will serve as the community voice in grounding the scenario analysis in the realities faced in the various regions of the state.

The exercise will involve envisioning the future and then backcasting to see what steps are needed to arrive at our preferred future, providing the Regions with some ideas of how an investment or series of investments in our communities can help achieve our goals of sustainable development.

Involvement with the Sustainability Initiative has the potential to help orient our work to our preferred future in a thoughtful way, bring new University resources to our Regions (in terms of new faculty interest and funding) and improve the Sustainability Initiatives outcome because it includes citizen expertise.

October 5, 2006

Science, Government, and Truth

On September 27 a large and growing group of scientists, led by an advisory board that includes 13 Nobel Laureates, announced the formation of Scientists & Engineers for America. SEA is "dedicated to electing public officials who respect evidence and understand the importance of using scientific and engineering advice in making public policy."

The Bill of Rights for Scientists and Engineers endorsed by SEA is worth reproducing in full.

Effective government depends on accurate, honest and timely advice from scientists and engineers.  Science demands an open, transparent process of review and access to the best scholars from around the nation and the world.  Mistakes dangerous to the nation’s welfare and security have been made when governments prevent scientists from presenting the best evidence and analysis.  Americans should demand that all candidates support the following Bill of Rights:
  1. Federal policy shall be made using the best available science and analysis both from within the government and from the rest of society.
  2. The federal government shall never intentionally publish false or misleading scientific information nor post such material on federal websites.
  3. Scientists conducting research or analysis with federal funding shall be free to discuss and publish the results of unclassified research after a reasonable period of review without fear of intimidation or adverse personnel action.  
  4. Federal employees reporting what they believe to be manipulation of federal research and analysis for political or ideological reasons should be free to bring this information to the attention of the public and shall be protected from intimidation, retribution or adverse personnel action by effective enforcement of Whistle Blower laws.
  5. No scientists should fear reprisals or intimidation because of the results of their research.  
  6. Appointments to federal scientific advisory committees shall be based on the candidate’s scientific qualifications, not political affiliation or ideology.
  7. The federal government shall not support any science education program that includes instruction in concepts that are derived from ideology and not science. 
  8. While scientists may elect to withhold methods or studies that might be misused there shall be no federal prohibition on publication of basic research results.  Decisions made about blocking the release of information about specific applied research and technologies for reasons of national security shall be the result of a transparent process.  Classification decisions shall be made by trained professionals using a clear set of published criteria and there shall be a clear process for challenging decisions and a process for remedying mistakes and abuses of the classification system.

If these principles are in danger, as indeed they seem to be, then our democratic society is in danger.

October 4, 2006

Expert and Folk Knowledge

The University of Minnesota's Consortium on Law and Values in Health, Environment, & the Life Sciences sponsors a Lecture Series on Law, Health, & the Life Sciences. The lecturer today was Mark Blumenthal, PhD, of the American Botanical Council. Dr. Blumenthal talked on “Nutraceuticals:  Dietary Supplements, Botanical Drugs, and Natural Products—Science, Safety, and Efficacy.?

A major emphasis of the lecture was on the discrepancy between FDA regulatory treatment of drugs and herbal supplements, and press coverage of the results of safety and efficacy studies. The emphasis with drugs is on safety, with adverse reactions after FDA approval getting much negative publicity (see Vioxx). With herbal supplements, most of which have been used safely for decades if not centuries (though ephedra is a notable recent exception), the news media focus mainly on studies that seem to demonstrate lack of efficacy. Blumenthal -- who is clearly an advocate of herbal supplements and phytomedicines -- argues that many such studies are vitiated by inadequate, unstandardized analytical methods.

The lecture raised a number of questions in my mind regarding the way we should think about "public" or "traditional" as opposed to "expert" knowledge in the pharmaceutical domain:

  • Should we take long term, apparently safe use of a herbal medicine or supplement as evidence (essentially epidemiological) for safety?
  • To what extent should we value lack of risk over benefit (with speculative but unproven risk)? Put another way, what is the status of the "precautionary principle"?
  • Would it be worthwhile to undertake detailed chemical and pharmaceutical studies of an active compound in its native biological plant matrix, rather than as a purified compound?
  • Should the use of a herbal medicine in another "advanced" country (Germany is the source of many of the marketed herbals) be taken as evidence that it is safe and effective in the United States?
  • Is it ethical to use medicines derived from folk remedies without compensating the cultures that were the source of these remedies?

Questions such as these raise many issues of the value of expert knowledge (inside or outside the academy) relative to folk or traditional knowledge. A valid role of public engagement in universities is to subject these issues to the same rigorous scrutiny that we apply to academic ideas, without the presupposition that "our way" is necessarily superior.

October 3, 2006

Engaging Science Presentation

I just finished watching the first episode in the new season of Nova ScienceNow, hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Director of the Hayden Planetarium in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The program was a splendidly entertaining mix of stories -- on asteroid collisions, transuranium elements, obesity, and an MIT mechanical engineer who is also a successful fiction writer. My wife and I, both scientists, were charmed and engrossed, but I think that the program tries to appeal mainly to bright high schoolers and middle schoolers.

Nova ScienceNow is funded by Google, NSF, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, all of which have strong interests and good track records in presenting science to young audiences. Tyson is a very stylish and articulate African-American, which surely won't hurt in appealing to the students of color whom we so badly need to attract to our university science and engineering programs. (According to his web site, he was voted "Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive" by People Magazine in 2000, but he's an active and distinguished scientist as well.)

More often than not, when we talk of public engagement the vector of partnership is predominantly from university to public. Here's a great example of the other way round: private and government foundations, and a charismatic scientist who works outside of traditional academia, doing things that will be of great benefit to universities.

Links:
Nova ScienceNow: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/
Neil deGrasse Tyson web site: http://research.amnh.org/~tyson/

October 2, 2006

Public Engagement in Water Resources Science

This afternoon I led a discussion of public engagement with students and faculty of the graduate program in Water Resources Science at the University of Minnesota. I began with the UM/CIC definition of engagement:

"Engagement is defined as the partnership of university knowledge and resources with those of the public and private sectors to

  • enrich scholarship, research, and creative activity;
  • enhance curriculum, teaching and learning;
  • prepare educated, engaged citizens;
  • strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility;
  • address critical societal issues;
  • and contribute to the public good."

and I tried to connect each point to the kinds of work or issues that water resources teachers and researchers might encounter.

I also wrote down a list of Dos and Don'ts in Public Engagement:

  • Don't lock yourself up in the ivory tower.
  • Don't try to impose solutions on public partners.
  • Don't treat problems as purely scientific or technical; recognize the implications for citizenship and democracy.
  • Engage partners in discussions of problems to be solved, and constraints on solutions.
  • Take advantage of local expertise and insight, recognizing that teaching and learning can be bidirectional
  • Be prepared for extended discussions of issues and options.
  • Try to relate to public partners as people, not as clients.
  • Give students experience in working with publics.
  • Introduce public engagement issues, history, techniques, etc. into classroom instruction.

but never got to most of the points because the questions and comments started coming fast and furious.

Particularly notable, I thought, was the concern with the political aspects of work in an area with such a strong public impact as water resources. These are big issues, affecting many people with strongly held interests, and it's clear that skills in politics, debate, and communication are just as necessary as scientific and technical knowledge if rational choices are to be made. The emphasis must be kept on the data and evidence, however good the political and communication skills, if credibility is to be maintained. If that can be done, then vigorous debate over water resource issues can be a good exemplar of how to "strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility".