Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

A Conceptual Model to Explore Faculty Community Engagement

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

A Conceptual Model to Explore Faculty Community Engagement

Article excerpt

Context and Background

Since the founding of Harvard in 1636, American universities have existed, in part, to serve the needs of society (Bringle, 1999; Gonzalez & Padilla, 2008). Today, however, many leaders call upon American higher education to reclaim its historical commitment to service. In recent years, there has been much attention paid to higher education's role in fostering the public good (Bok, 2003; Boyer, 1990, 1996; Chambers, 2005; Cohen, 1998; Ehrlich, 2000; Gonzalez & Padilla, 2008; Kezar, 2004). This current concern for the public role of higher education stems from a combination of forces, including soaring tuition costs, public distrust, perceived neoliberal tendencies, and a lack of congruency among societal expectations and institutional priorities (Chambers, 2005; Cohen, 1998; Giroux, 2003; Lynton, 1995; Thelin, 2004;Ward, 2003). Engagement, or how colleges and universities address important social issues while preparing an educated citizenry for active civic, economic and cultural participation, has become a widespread concept, phenomenon, and movement (Campus Compact, 2007; Chambers, 2005; Kellogg Commission, 1999).

Within engagement broadly-defined, there are two distinct emphases: one which aims to involve students in the community and prepare them for responsible citizenship and another encouraging faculty and administration to frame higher education "as a public good for the public good" (Chambers, 2005, p. 3). While efforts to understand student engagement and preparation for responsible citizenship have thrived in recent years, less is known about how faculty contribute to the public mission of their institutions. What activities constitute faculty engagement and how do faculty perceive and experience engagement? The following section will briefly trace the origins of community engagement as it pertains directly to the faculty role.

Historical Viewpoints on Faculty Roles in Public Service

The concept of service has functioned as a guiding principle of the academy since the colonial era (see Ward, 2003). Much as higher education historically served the public good, service has been a core function of faculty work in American higher education. Here, we review some significant historical milestones that have directly impacted the faculty role in fulfilling institutional commitments to the public good and set the context for exploring faculty activity in the current context of engagement.

During the colonial era, faculty members, or tutors at that time, were public servants. Members of the clergy held most of the faculty positions and the job was considered neither desirable nor well remunerated (Thelin, 2004). "Unlike lawyers or physicians who expected to be paid for their ministrations, faculty were more like volunteers engaged in public service" (Thelin, p. 27). In its earliest form, the American faculty role was indistinguishable from the public service role of higher education. Service was not simply a faculty expectation; rather, the faculty position existed to serve.

This notion changed by the 1800s, when a core of permanent faculty were in place in most colleges (Ward, 2003). A trend toward the professoriate as a career, rather than a temporary public contribution emerged (Cohen, 1998). The breadth of faculty roles expanded as new purposes for higher education developed. Faculty were expected to provide training for careers other than the pulpit, deliver general education curricula, and pass on a shared cultural heritage (Cohen). As the role of the American scholar further evolved, the service role of faculty took the form of civic and community endeavors (Thelin, 2004; Ward). Most professors served as leading members of their community by taking part in civic affairs and, after the 1850s, filled the role of public intellectuals (Cohen; Ward).

In the first half of the 20th century, the faculty position continued to transform. …

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