October 5, 1999
by Elliott Lauderdale
"You mean lack of collaboration?" a student suggested after I told her I was writing about the university's participation in the community. Despite my own affiliation with the University of South Alabama (USA) and habit of participation in a range of organizations and community meetings, I often hear what others tell me is a common refrain heard around Mobile, that the university participates little and contributes little to the community.
This same student was able to follow up her immediate comment with examples of how she and her fellow students and professors contribute to the community as volunteers at Penelope House, St. Mary's, and Habitat for Humanity.
This article will be the first of several examining the relationship between town and gown in Mobile, to which our readers are invited to contribute (email@example.com or 460-6263).
Envision Mobile-Baldwin is a long-range planning and action strategy for our gulf coast region that began in 1997. Envision is an important place to begin an examination of community/higher-education collaboration because of its broad and comprehensive nature and its involvement of business civic, government educational, and church organization partners, and because the first vision for the year 2020 is to "have a world-class educational community that sustains the life-long needs of our citizens." Envision's focus areas -- education, quality of life, economic development, community leadership, infrastructure, and government -- span the disciplines represented at our region's colleges. I have consistently found colleagues of different disciplines at meetings designing and carrying out the envision processes, and at most major community efforts such as the Mobile Education Foundation consensus campaign. The articles in this series will investigate further ways in which our colleges as organizations and our faculty members and students as individuals have in the past and can in the future work toward Envision Mobile-Baldwin and community goals. One aim for this series is to examine our past experience in collaboration between the community and its educational institutions in order to enhance the process of inquiry and learning suggested by this broad community goal for the year 2020. Undoubtedly this history will need to examine town-gown battles in order to resolve the conflicts and misunderstandings implied at the beginning of this article. Nonetheless, there are indications of important contributions in the past and some potential for improved collaboration in the future.
Some of our colleges' contributions may go unrecognized. One colleague noted that he serves on community boards and does studies for community organizations as a citizen, not as a faculty member. Higher Education mission statements almost universally contain three broad goals of teaching, research and service. Some have asked how important a place community service plays in the promotion and evaluation of faculty members. The USA evaluation form of faculty members includes a dedicated place for community service listed under the category "Other" at the end of the form University service is another prior category.
Every other week I will describe some efforts at local colleges to collaborate in community endeavors. Reader suggestions are invited to help us uncover problems and movers and shakers such as Cathy O'Keefe of USA's Department of Health, Physical Education and Leisure Services, who has been recognized for her contributions to building our community as a volunteer and who played a major role in the Envision process from the beginning. Cathy serves on the Envision Mobile-Baldwin steering committee, as does USA President Gordon Moulton.
This week the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce sponsored a panel discussion by our three four-year higher education institution presidents. USA's Gordon Moulton, Spring Hill's Rev. Gregory Lucey, SJ, and the University of Mobile's Mark Foley discussed their colleges' contribution to the community. (Mobile Register, 9/22/99) The presidents noted large economic impacts and the contribution of graduates to the community. President Foley was quoted as saying their dream at UM is "changing lives to change the world." President Moulton mentioned listening and that USA "will leave no stone unturned in looking for more ways to connect to the community." President Lucy mentioned the need to service and educational efforts at all levels "K through 16 and beyond."