How Can We Reengineer Universities to Solve Society's Problems?

Public research universities face enormous challenges in the 21st century, perhaps none more significant than the obligation of universities to serve society.Why? Alumni, businesses, government and parents now believe that engagement with society should be directly reflected in the curriculum and influence how students are educated -- an understandable demand, given rising tuition and increased worries that college is not producing satisfactory career outcomes.Engaging universities with society is not a platitude or another task. Engagement is the sine qua non of research universities, the essence of our mission to transform lives for the benefit of society. To discharge this duty in an ever-changing world requires rethinking "service," finding innovative ways to harness and integrate the vast intellectual resources of academe as a lever for social good.Service must not be pegged as a university's third function, taking a back seat to and competing with research and teaching. Service should be portrayed as academic engagement, where collaboration and partnership with the community produce solutions to society's most vexing problems. Service -- the desire to make a difference -- is the ethical imperative driving research and teaching as well as a principal product of these enterprises.While public research universities are beginning to experiment with methods for taking service seriously, as evidenced by the University of Texas' nationally acclaimed Intellectual Entrepreneurship initiative in the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, the concept of citizen-scholarship is an unrealized dream.  Continue reading...

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