Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What Does Public Engagement Mean at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign?

by Ann Abbott

I'll be frank: I was very disappointed in the "Next Steps Letter" and "Implementation Grid" regarding Public Engagement in the "Stewarding Excellence @Illinois" process.

While I don't disagree with anything that is written in the reports, I definitely take issue with what was not included in the report.  Absolutely nothing was said about public engagement as it relates to our university's teaching and research missions.  That is very disappointing.

Those of us who do public engagement know that it has a very important role in teaching--through academic service learning and other venues--and research.  However, I have found that many people are stumped when I mention that an entire research agenda can be (and is!) tied to academic service learning.  It seems that our approach to Stewarding Excellence @Illinois suffers from the same lack of information and imagination.

The University of Illinois needs--at the highest level, especially at the Office for the Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement--strong supports and cheerleaders for the teaching and research agendas tied to public engagement.  Extension does one, very important, type of public engagement, but it does not represent the entire gamut.

Perhaps I have missed something.  Perhaps there is a focus on academics and research within public engagement in another report somewhere.  I hope so.  But I haven't seen it.

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