What is the responsibility of a public institution? What does the word “outreach” mean? How can faculty members make initial connections within communities and then nurture productive partnerships? Does an outreach project ever really end?
The Center for Educational Outreach launched its Faculty Forum on Outreach and Engagement on October 25. With the year-long theme of Educational Outreach to Inform, Engage & Inspire: Fulfilling U-M’s social contract with the public, this first conversation focused on faculty work in Detroit.
Dean Elizabeth Birr Moje from the School of Education, Barry Checkoway from the School of Social Work, and Harley Etienne from Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning shared their research and partnership experiences in the city.
Each panelist took up overarching questions about the role of the University of Michigan to serve the public good. Professor Etienne drew attention to the inscription on the west façade of Angell Hall that reads “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” It is a passage from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and it represents the promise of public universities as the country’s founders imagined.
Professor Checkoway urged the audience—primarily composed of faculty members with an interest in outreach—to consider their work in terms of “engaged scholarship” rather than discrete responsibilities for research, teaching, and service. Each area of work is strengthened by an integrated approach.
Dean Moje, who has worked with youth and teachers in Southwest Detroit since 1998, warned against the tendency to think in terms of scholarship as a one-way flow of information in which members of the university export knowledge.
“We have to disrupt that and think about how we make ourselves vulnerable and be partners within communities,” Moje said. “We can and we do learn from communities when we make ourselves learners.”
It’s not about having the right answers, but discovering the right questions. From those questions, solutions emerge as a result of collaborative efforts.
Strong partnerships form the foundation of impactful public scholarship. Each panelist underscored the commitment of time, self, humility, and passion that is required to do engaged scholarship well.
“You can only enter a community for the first time once,” Etienne said, stressing the importance of listening to community partners and building a relationship first.
And on the topic of wrapping up a project, the panelists agree that the relationships formed with communities run so deep that engagement doesn’t have an end date.