Social impact: Accountability to communities

Universities live in communities. Universities breathe in communities. Universities are legitimized because communities afford them the legitimacy.

The work we carry out as scholars therefore is founded upon the fabric of community life. Based on the taxes paid by everyday citizens. And much more importantly, on the goodwill of communities that give universities land, trust, legitimacy.

Yet, it is often the community, the immediate context of University life, that remains ignored in objectives, mission statements, and statements of strategy crafted by University leaders.

For a large number of faculty, university life goes on, walled from the everydayness of the communities we live in. Disconnected from the spirits of community life. And ever so alienated from the spirits, ebbs, and flows in our immediate communities.

You can have academics spend their entire career in communities and yet be completely disconnected from community life. You can have academics who don't really see the community they live in, residing in their walled spaces.

The conversation on social impact is an invitation to fundamentally transform this alienated elitism of university life. The social impact conversation must begin by considering the immediate community and context that constitutes the University. The conversation on social impact then has to begin by considering what is the role of our missions of teaching and research in contributing to community life.

To turn to communities as entry points for conversations on social impact then suggests a necessary restructuring of university life, of what we value, and of the metrics that we use in evaluating our work. The turning toward community suggests the necessity of reworking benchmarks and criteria that begin by considering the role of knowledge in contributing to community life, in improving the lives of citizens, and in addressing the felt needs of communities we are embedded in.


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