Austin American Statesman The Alcalde

Academic Engagement: Universities Serving with Society

Austin American-Statesman Series and ALCALDE Magazine Feature Eminent UT Scholars Discussing the Challenges of Creating Synergies with the Community

Series Background
Series Focus and Schedule
Series Contributors and Essays
Student Projects

Series Responses Share your ideas


In the fall of 2003, the IE Program concluded its "Citizen-Scholars" Op-Ed series with the Austin American-Statesman. Based on the success of this initiative, we are pleased to announce a follow-up project entitled, "Academic Engagement" (a phrase sometimes interchanged with "public scholarship"). The Austin American-Statesman series commences in the summer of 2004 and will include contributions from some of UT's most distinguished scholars--all of whom share a commitment to creating greater synergies between academe and society. The ALCALDE Magazine will devote its January 2005 issue to an extended discussion of academic engagement by these faculty.

This series provides an opportunity to share with readers an important set of issues and challenges that many of us have been addressing for a decade or more--issues that have been raised by UT's Commission of 125 and in numerous speeches by President Larry Faulkner. It also will be an occasion for us to flesh-out and begin to resolve the challenges and obstacles confronting efforts to produce more collaborative partnerships between the university and community.

The "Academic Engagement" project grows out of the responses from readers of the "Citizen-Scholars" series--many of whom concurred that the philosophy of "intellectual entrepreneurship" pioneered at UT is unique (being different categorically from typical community outreach and professional development initiatives), perhaps offering the approach needed to revitalize the connection between public universities and their communities and to promote genuine cross-disciplinary scholarship and learning. In the words of one reader: "The examples offered in the 'Citizen-Scholar' essays are powerful and appear symptomatic of a larger issue worth addressing, namely, How can public institutions better serve society?"

We agree. It is time ask: How can we best harness and integrate the enormous intellectual assets of the university as a lever for social good? And how can we develop successful models of "public scholarship" ("academic engagement")--models that are valued by the university, provide incentives for faculty to engage in research that contributes to the community and can be sustained over time?

Series Focus and Schedule

In the first installment of the series (mid-July, early August, 2004), IE Director Rick Cherwitz will explore the problems and challenges facing efforts to link academe and society, underscoring the fact that there is a growing group of top-flight faculty who are wrestling with these issues because of a profound desire to do research that makes a difference--faculty who truly understand that service is more than the third pillar of the University's mission and that there should not be an inherent trade-off between research and service.

The concluding essays in the series will be written by Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce Donald Evans, UT System Chancellor Mark G. Yudof, Dr. Patricia Hayes, Executive Vice President and COO of SETON Healthcare Network, and Dr. Robert Weisbuch, President of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation--all of whom take seriously the need for academic-civic partnerships and increasing the accountability of educational institutions.

The remaining essays (summer and fall, 2004) will be authored by renowned faculty members--including a philosopher, poet, neurobiologist, economist, geologist, theatre historian, and pharmacologist/toxicologist--who are engaged in public scholarship. Besides illustrating the importance of their research to the community, these essays will document via example, and shorn of all subtlety, the enormous challenges of academic engagement:

(1) How do scholars, who live primarily in a world of ideas, develop the rhetorical skills needed to incubate and sustain projects requiring fiscal and intellectual investment by stakeholders inside and outside the university-skills typically disassociated from the scholarly enterprise?

(2) How can faculty integrate, synthesize and unify knowledge to permit solution of complex social problems? This is an enormous challenge in an academic culture that former Brown University President Vartan Gregorian says "respects specialists and suspects generalists." How do we ensure the continued proliferation of specialized knowledge, while concurrently encouraging renaissance thinking?

(3) How can faculty who engage in public scholarship flourish given restricted metrics for assessing performance enforced by universities and academic disciplines? Incentive systems not only fail to encourage public scholarship, but may actually devalue research that simultaneously contributes to society. What changes to institutional reward structures are requisite for academic engagement?

(4) How can faculty maintain standards of academic integrity and objectivity, while participating in community projects in which they may become ideologically vested or serve as change agents?

(5) How should academic institutions recalibrate methods for creating and delivering knowledge? Because historically original thought, lone discovery and disciplinary contribution are considered more important than team work, what changes are needed to effectively address problems requiring multi-institutional, cross-disciplinary and collaborative forms of investigation?

(6) How can academic engagement be achieved in an environment maintaining that research is two-dimensional, either "basic" or "applied"-a long-held, rigid dichotomy frequently invoked to deter faculty from venturing too far from theoretical knowledge?

(7) How might the entrepreneurial thinking that universities successfully deploy for technology transfer analogously be used to empower all of the arts and sciences--to unleash a university-wide spirit of intellectual entrepreneurship? How might this agenda be pursued while remaining vigilant to the sanctity of the academic enterprise?

(8) How can the university better apply its morally-centered quest for truth to matters of public concern? How can it encourage public deliberation that benefits from many different opinions and challenges to received wisdom, without being perceived as relativistic or unpatriotic?

Series Contributors and Essays

Richard Cherwitz Dr. Richard Cherwitz
IE Director and Professor,
Communication Studies and
Division of Rhetoric & Composition

James K. Galbraith Dr. James K. Galbraith
Lloyd M. Bentsen Jr. Chair in Government/Business Relations and Professor of Government

Betty Sue Flowers Dr. Betty Sue Flowers, Director of the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential
Library and formerly, Kelleher Professor of English

Robert Solomon Dr. Robert Solomon, Quincy Lee Centennial Professor of Philosophy and Business and Distinguished Teaching Professor

"A Quest to Get Scholars Engaged in Community"

"To be Engaged, Scholars Must Share Their Ideas"

"Inside the Ivory Tower, But Touching the World"

"Lessons a Philosopher Can Teach a Capitalist"

Jay Banner Dr. Jay Banner, Professor and Dave P. Carlton Centennial Fellow in Geology and Director, Environmental Science Institute (ESI)

Jill Dolan Dr. Jill Dolan
Zachary T. Scott Family Chair in Drama and Professor, Theatre

Carlton K. Erickson Dr. Carlton K Erickson
Addiction Science Research and Education Center Director and Pfizer Centennial Professor of Pharmacology/Toxicology

Adron Harris Dr. Adron R. Harris
Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research Director and M. June & J. Virgil Waggoner Professor, Colleges of Natural Science and Pharmacy

"Reforming Universities to Save the Environment"

"Educating and inspiring scholar-artist-citizens"

"Why it's Vital We Study the Science of Addiction"

Mark G. Yudof, Chancellor of The University of Texas System Mark G. Yudof, Chancellor
The University of Texas System
"Our goal? Make sure no Texas child is left behind "

Dr. Patricia Hayes Dr. Patricia Hayes, Executive Vice President and COO of the SETON Healthcare Network
"To be Great, Universities Must Also Stress Service"

Donald Evans Donald Evans, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce
"Fulfilling Our Potential, Meeting Our Challenges"

Dr. Robert Weisbuch Dr. Robert Weisbuch, President of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship
"Go ahead, scholars, and embrace the public spirit"

Student Projects

One of the outgrowths of the Academic Engagement series was the delivery of NSC 110--a College of Natural Sciences Dean's Scholars Seminar. This course, taught by Dr. Adron Harris (Cellular and Molecular Biology), Dr. Carlton Erickson (Pharmacology) and Dr. Rick Cherwitz (Communication Studies and IE), focused on the "interaction of scientific knowledge and public perception"--especially relating to addiction research. In addition to learning about the latest scientific findings on addiction, students were exposed to the philosophy of intellectual entrepreneurship and the growing challenge of providing interdisciplinary learning that puts knowledge to work. Their semester-long project was to draft an op-ed piece grappling with an issue where there is a need for greater connection among disciplines and between science and public understanding. Two of these essays were accepted for publication.

Chris Clark

Christopher Clark
Senior, Computer Sciences

"Drug Safety is Critical, So Keep Politics Out of It"

Ben Whiddon

Ben Whiddon
Senior, Biochemistry

"Our Misguided Discussion of Alcohol Addiction"


Following the conclusion of the Academic Engagement Series, several people wrote essays reaffirming and extending the arguments made by authors from the series.

David Hildebrand

David Hildebrand

"Why higher education deserves your support"

Sylvia Gale

Sylvia Gale

"New ways the community can access UT's resources"