Posted in LA Education, Reflective Practice, SUNY-ESF, tagged academia, community engagement, New York State, paradigm shift, participatory action research, praxis, public scholarship, reflective practice, Syracuse University, tenure, trends on October 23, 2011|
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Just as the notices reminding me of my expiring subscription to The Chronicle of Higher Education arrive in the mail, the top story in the local newspaper concerns a stinging article in the Chronicle from earlier this month. Robin Wilson’s article, titled “Syracuse’s Slide: As Chancellor Focuses on the ‘Public Good,’ Syracuse’s Reputation Slides,” is mostly hidden behind the subscription wall – unfortunate, especially, for readers of Syracuse Post Standard who attempt to follow the link to the article. The public does have access to the 43 letters to the editor written in response to Wilson’s article.
At issue are high profile initiatives by the university’s chancellor, Nancy Cantor, to actively link the university to the city surrounding it and to diversify the student population. Ms. Wilson’s article quotes several faculty members who voice concern that the university cannot afford these endeavors, that they divert the scholarly mission, that the quality of the students admitted is being compromised, and that a drop in rankings by U.S. News and World Report, from 40 to 62, is a sign that the ship is sinking. The comments section contains several rebuttals from faculty who say that they were interviewed by Ms. Wilson, but had their favorable comments excluded from the resulting article.
The issues raised regarding the role of public engagement in academia have application to praxis in landscape architecture and for landscape architecture academics whose scholarly focus is engagement. Therefore, I will focus on the public engagement side of the controversy and leave the rest of the debate to others (like this article on changing conceptions of university prestige). Here is how Chancellor Cantor’s initiative, Scholarship in Action, is described in the Wilson article.
Syracuse University, she says, “should have an impact on our democracy and do work that addresses pressing issues in the world.” She adds: “It’s not that you stop caring about the fundamentals or quality, you redefine what constitutes quality and exciting scholarly work.”
That’s exactly what Ms. Cantor has done through a campaign she calls Scholarship in Action. It involves moving students, professors, and research off the campus and into the community to work with local officials, nonprofit organizations, and businesses on projects designed to give students hands-on experience and help solve the problems of the city and its people.
How is this controversial? More after the break. (more…)
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I implicitly asked for comments in the post, A Blog is a Curious Thing, and two fellow bloggers kindly responded. Donovan Gillman of the Urban Choreography blog and Jason King of Landscape + Urbanism share their thoughts on why blogs are suspect among academics and also why academics just need to get over it (my crude summary).
I love the point that Donovan makes about interesting applications of science often coming from the “crazy ideas of people who barely understand the science, but are able to creatively visualize its potential and communicate it to others.” As faculty in a college of environmental science and forestry, in the lone design program, I can REALLY identify with this statement!
Jason and Donovan both identify the root cause of academic distrust of media such as this – that it is not peer-reviewed research. It is clearly something else, but can this new something lead somewhere that we couldn’t reach in the past? Naturally, I think the answer is yes, and this opinion is partially based on my agreement that the continuum of dissemination that Jason identifies is valid/needed and partially on the unique nature of landscape architecture. More on this uniqueness in a follow-up post…
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For academics anyway. After nearly 3 months of this blog “experiment,” I find the reaction to it among academics to be curiosity and skepticism. The academic world is very conservative and has long shunned “opinion.” So blogging and social networking stretch the imagination in ways that academics find uncomfortable. I am personally excited by the possibilities, especially for landscape architecture – and for landscape architecture in the university setting. I think this media offers some interesting possibilities for linking multiple worlds – professional practice, academia, those in developing and in developed countries, etc. Outside of the university, these possibilities are well-known. I take comfort in the fact that at least one well-known Nobel Prize winner spends a little time each day blogging. Good company!
With relatively little advertising (mostly emails to people I know), this blog has received several thousand page views since it went online. That is encouraging, and I hope to keep the content frequently updated even as the hectic semester gets underway. What is less exciting is that I am finding the blog format to NOT be particularly interactive (through reader comments). It would be great if the number of comments increases over time! Otherwise, the potential of this media would seem to be more limited than it could be. I hope that readers are finding interesting and useful information here! Thank you for stopping by.
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