Presidents’ community-campus group
A working group of university presidents on campus-community
engagement was set up this past January by the Association of
Universities and Colleges of Canada. Chaired by Simon Fraser
University President Andrew Petter, the eight-member group
defines “community” in a broad way to include municipalities, not-for-profit groups, First Nations communities and the private sector.
The group met with national leaders from the community sector in
April to identify common interests and opportunities for
collaboration. One goal is to explain to the public how universities
and community organizations jointly address major social,
economic and cultural issues.
“I am not saying [tenure and promotion] policies should not be
changed. I would be very happy if policies, procedures and practices re-
lated to faculty recognition were made more flexible and more inclusive
of different forms of ‘scholarship’ including CES,” Dr. Fryer says. But she
isn’t convinced “that changing T and P will, in fact, result in more uptake
of CES by faculty.”
Dr. Fryer is considered a Canadian pioneer in the field; she received
a British Columbia Community Achievement Award in 2007 for service
to the community. She also has just completed a blog for University Affairs
called Taking the Plunge on “community-university engagement” (or
CUE) – the term she prefers as it can include forms of valuable engage-
ment that would not be considered scholarship.
Community-university engagement, says Dr. Fryer, is such a different
way of doing business that trying to fit it into the existing academic paradigm may actually be counter-productive.
“The effort to legitimize this activity using the language and norms
that faculty members value risks distorting what is a fundamental char-
acteristic of CUE – the participation of a host of players in collaborative
activity that is not driven by academic agendas alone.”
Collaborations such as these are also giving way to new kinds of fund-
ing, like the self-sustaining life skills program pioneered in Peterborough.
The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council was one of the
first large agencies to step into the role of CES funding about a dozen years
ago with its CURA program for Community University Research Alliance.
Today SSHRC’s Connection program exclusively funds collaboration between researchers and partners from the public, private and not-for-profit
sectors. Grants are typically worth $7,000 to $50,000 over one year, with
higher amounts considered on an exceptional basis.
One trend in CES is less reliance on a grant from one of the three
major granting councils. When a community group has a specific problem
that needs attention, it doesn’t want to spend a year in the application process for a large grant. The University of Regina’s Community Research in
Action fund, which pays for projects of up to $3,000, is an example of the
smaller, more local and more nimble funding sources available for CES.
But funding is one area where the interests of the researcher and of the
community group may not converge. “As a scholar, pulling in tri-council
funding gets you a stamp of approval,” says U of Regina’s Professor Elliott.
“Universities tend to rely on the [major granting councils] not only as a
source of funds, but as an indicator of how well both individual faculty
members and the university as a whole are regarded.”
Community organizations are often connected to a much wider uni-
verse of funding sources, ranging from targeted government programs to
private foundations. But, says Professor Elliott, “the researcher isn’t going
to get the same professional recognition he or she would get for pulling in
a million-dollar SSHRC grant.”
Still, those non-academic grants can do a lot of good, which is ultimate-
ly what CES is all about. The university benefits in a different way, by creat-
ing new opportunities for students and researchers and allowing society to
have other ways to judge the value of a university.
In another departure from the standard funding model, in some cases
the community partner, rather than the researcher, has become the principal applicant and receives the grant money.
“This transfer of wealth is a transfer of power,” Professor Elliott asserts.
“We hook the community group up with academics who have expertise
in a certain area. But the researcher is not calling the shots in the way they
would with a singular research project.”
Institutions themselves are showing a growing enthusiasm for com-
munity-engaged scholarship. Eight Canadian universities have formed
the Community Engaged Scholarship Partnership ( cescholarship.ca),
with links to an international organization. The partnership is focused on
three areas: institutional assessment, scholar development and faculty as-
sessment. (Please see “Changing the culture” on the previous page.)
In October, York will host a symposium bringing together 19 commu-
nity-engaged scholars from across the country to look at the politics, poli-
cies, barriers and best practices in the field. “Many of the researchers are
working in an engaged fashion, but there’s not a lot of research on how to
do this,” Dr. Phipps says. “So we’ve asked our scholars to think critically
around the processes of engagement. We want evidence on what works.”
Even sooner, Canada’s Governor General David Johnston will deliver
the keynote address at CU Expo, an international conference on communi-
ty engagement taking place in June in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. The
conference will showcase best practices in community-university partner-
ships worldwide and try to create opportunities for innovative and success-
The Governor General has referred to community-engaged scholar-
ship as “democratizing knowledge” and the best way to address problems
that are global in reach, tremendously complex and well beyond the pur-
view of any single discipline, sector or country.
Collaborative research and sharing of knowledge has great potential to
improve quality of life around the world. “It’s a long-established research
tradition,” Professor Elliott says. “The Greeks were doing practical, community based research. But under our modern academic model it somehow
fell by the wayside, and now we’re trying to fit it back in.”