A University's Mission: Responding to Community Needs

Article excerpt

In the last decade of the 19th century, two educational institutions were founded in Lowell, Massachusetts to respond to the economic and social needs of that time. The Lowell Textile School was incorporated in 1895, by owners of textile mills in Lowell, as a private college with a single purpose to produce the engineers and managers needed to keep the textile mills of Lowell humming. In 1918, the School was turned over to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and it has remained a public institution ever since, eventually changing the name to Lowell Technological Institute.

On the other side of the Merrimack River, the Lowell Normal School was founded in 1894 to ensure that well-trained teachers would be ready to educate the new generation of students in the fast-growing Lowell region. The Normal School, always publicly-supported, eventually evolved into Lowell State College, which then merged with Lowell Tech in 1975 to create the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML).

In the last decade of the 20th century, the UML, one of five campuses within the consolidated University of Massachusetts system, is fulfilling a mission remarkably consistent with the original missions of the two progenitor institutions to promote the economic and social vitality of the northeastern region of Massachusetts and surrounding territories.

UML is organized along traditional lines, with a College of Arts and Sciences that includes 16 departments, a Graduate School that offers 53 graduate programs, and professional colleges of Education, Engineering, Fine Arts, Health Professions, and Management. The traditional structures of UML has been augmented by creating organizational innovations that are intended to support continuous change and improvement in teaching, learning, and research. In this article I will describe some of these organizational innovations.

Interdisciplinary Councils

In 1993 four interdisciplinary councils, Teaching and Learning, Diversity and Pluralism, Regional Economic Development, and Communications/Information Technology were created. The purposes of the councils are to promote dialogue across traditional departmental lines, to assist faculty and students to think "outside the box", and to encourage research and innovations.

Each council is led by faculty and staff who volunteer to invest time and energy in the development of programs that serve the entire university. Originally funded with "start-up" money provided by the administration, each council has garnered extra-campus financial support.

Rapid and meaningful changes are taking place in the university culture, and these four councils, creating an extraordinary amount of energy, are at the center of those changes.

One of them, the Council on Teaching and Learning, sponsors workshops throughout the academic year to assist faculty in developing and improving a course syllabus, writing grant proposals, and learning how to use new technologies in classroom settings. Faculty experiment with multi-media techniques and tools for distance learning applying technology to traditional courses and classroom settings, thus generating additional excitement among their students.

Research Centers

There are more than 30 research centers and institutes at the UML, encompassing a wide variety of interdisciplinary initiatives, and many of them in partnerships with industry. These centers are designed to be flexible and rapid in their responses to regional needs. The centers work on the leading edge of issues such as technology, economic development, society, work environment, and management. Research and practice are integrated for effective and applicable results.

The major focus of the Center for Sustainable Production is an integration of theory and practice. In December of 1995, Malden Mills, a large textile manufacturer, suffered near-total destruction by fire. …