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Reports and References - 2003 COPE Annual Report

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At its first meeting, in October 2002, the Council on Public Engagement (COPE) was charged by Provost Chris Maziar with three main responsibilities:

  • to serve as a catalyst for creative thinking about public engagement
  • to recognize and encourage activities that strengthen our civic mission
  • to provide a clearer assessment of public engagement as an indicator of institutional performance.

During subsequent months COPE explored from different perspectives practical ways to accomplish these purposes. This is not a simple undertaking, since public engagement affects the university's core activities and institutional identity. The broad ramifications of COPE's charge are apparent from the wide range of ideas and recommendations that emerged from discussions within COPE and its committees.

The committee reports, which are attached in an appendix, offer thoughtful observations on key issues concerning the meaning and implications of public engagement as an institutional priority; they also contain an array of constructive proposals for strengthening public engagement through practical actions. These proposals, together with a number of practical steps that COPE took this year, can be grouped under five main strategic initiatives:

COMMUNICATION: develop a more robust communications strategy both internally and externally focused around themes of publicly engaged research and scholarship, teaching and learning, and community partnerships

RECOGNITION: develop an integrated strategy for embedding recognition of publicly engaged work more deeply within institutional processes relating to incentives, rewards, and awards

PARTNERSHIP: identify and promote conditions for successful interactive, mutually beneficial partnerships as the main basis for the university's connections to external groups, organizations, and communities

PROGRAMS: continue and expand programs that are proving effective in involving students, faculty, alumni, and others in engaged activities

ASSESSMENT: develop more comprehensive measures for assessing the impact and outcomes from publicly engaged activities.

During the past year COPE took a number of steps related to one or more of these initiatives, but there is much more to be done in all the categories. The following are examples of practical actions COPE has taken and is proposing under each strategic initiative, as well as some of the reasoning that underlies these actions and proposals.

COMMUNICATION: develop a more robust communications strategy both internally and externally focused around themes of publicly engaged research and scholarship, teaching and learning, and community partnerships

There is general agreement that the actual public value of the university's contributions through our research and scholarship, teaching and learning, and community connections is not adequately understood and appreciated outside the university or even inside. This is not just a problem of the need for more publicity in a narrow sense: it raises the important issue of what obligation to communicate with broader publics is entailed in the conduct of public scholarship.

In general, the notion of public scholarship emphasizes the public dimensions of the university's research, which may mean optimizing the extent to which university research informs and is informed by the public good, maximizing the generation and transfer of knowledge and technology, educating the public about what research the university does, and listening to the public about what research needs to be done. These meanings of public scholarship have implications for the university's connections with external communities, which will be noted below; they also imply that the university should report and celebrate the many aspects of public scholarship already in place, including (but not limited to) the transfer of knowledge and technology that contributes to an improved quality of life for significant portions of the population. Beyond this, research conduced as public scholarship assumes that the university has a positive obligation to inform the public about its work, so that the very process of academic scholarship -- whether in and of itself "public" -- contributes to the intellectual capital of the state. One element of an institutional culture of engagement is that this kind of "public pedagogy" is acknowledged and supported by faculty, administrators, and everyone else as a valued part of our collective professional work.

As a step in the direction of informing the public more systematically about the university's research, and following a recommendation from last year's Administrative Advisory Committee to the Provost, COPE has requested the dean of each college to designate a special liaison, one of whose responsibilities starting next fall is to identify and report the public scholarship within each unit that can be featured throughout the range of university communications and institutional relations. Besides providing a regular channel for disseminating public scholarship and communicating other forms of engaged activity, the liaisons will help establish educating the public about what we do as an institutional priority.

Another element of a more robust communications strategy is to utilize effectively new web initiatives in order to integrate public engagement at every level of the university. As part of this effort, COPE this year developed a portal-ready web site to facilitate communication about engaged initiatives within the university and with external audiences. There is more to be done in informing units and individuals around the campus involved in engagement activities about the online tools available to them, as well as encouraging them to "centralize" some of their communication efforts and to develop messages that can be incorporated into E-news and the university's homepage.

These are examples of how communication about the university's public contributions can be enhanced. Strategic thinking and action to further strengthen our communication as a dimension of public scholarship should be an ongoing initiative.

RECOGNITION: develop an integrated strategy for embedding recognition of publicly engaged work more deeply within institutional processes relating to incentives, rewards, and awards

The long-term goal of an integrated strategy to incorporate public engagement more directly in processes relating to incentives and rewards is to strengthen an institutional culture of engagement, which has far-reaching effects within the university. Strengthening a culture of engagement affects how people in the university, including students, faculty, staff, and administrators, view their own work; it affects how people view the purposes and responsibilities of the university as an academic institution; it affects the kinds of work that are valued and encouraged as an institutional priority; it affects the kinds of work people choose to do; it requires concerted efforts at multiple levels of the university's structure, including departments, colleges, governance committees, and central administration; it requires active support from faculty and students; it requires continuing leadership from senior administrators with support from the Board of Regents; it involves cooperative efforts with disciplinary and professional associations and with funding agencies that help shape academic cultures and incentives.

The university already has important means for recognizing and encouraging engaged activity, but to take these efforts to a new level COPE proposes to further institutionalize public engagement within regular university practices and processes:

  • incorporate public engagement into annual performance reviews, emphasizing engagement as it integrates across research, teaching, and service: report publicly engaged work explicitly both as it affects other missions and as a separate category in order to raise awareness of public engagement in the minds of supervisors and those being evaluated
  • incorporate "Public Engagement Goals" into the annual compact process by requiring a brief section on public engagement along with other topics in each college's Compact document in order to formalize public engagement as an institutional priority
  • identify a few units which, with support from their deans, are willing to explore the practical possibilities and consequences of working as "Engaged Departments."

These are significant steps to embed public engagement directly within key institutional processes. There are also other ways of recognizing and encouraging public engagement through institutional practices:

  • recognize by transcript notation, perhaps through designation as a "Community Service Scholar,” students with significant involvement in community service/service learning
  • implement annual public recognition, with university-wide emphasis, by designating an "Engaged University Day" to highlight engaged activities and recipients of public engagement awards specific to each college (this year COPE co-sponsored a day-long Festival of Public Work in the Humphrey  Institute, featuring student presentations, a roundtable discussion of varied engaged projects, and a forum on Public Scholarship, which might serve as a model for such events in the future)
  • create a fellowship program that would encourage research projects on significant issues of public policy and would include engagement with interested groups, agencies, or organizations: fellowships might include support for released faculty time, graduate/undergraduate research assistants, appropriate research expenses, etc.; in addition to professional publications and other such outcomes, results and findings would be made available to interested parties in the state
  • stimulate wide discussion and debate about the meanings of faculty engagement through forums and special events, publications, and groups willing to undertake sustained work on this topic.

Through such practices public engagement is recognized as an institutional priority that becomes visible throughout the university. The result, in the longer term, will be a strengthened institutional culture of engagement.

PARTNERSHIP: identify and promote conditions for successful interactive, mutually beneficial partnerships as the main basis for the university's connections to external groups, organizations, and communities

The number and variety of current university-community connections are remarkable. Yet the university is faulted for alleged inaccessibility and unresponsiveness to community concerns. In part, there is a problem of public perception and understanding of the ways in which different kinds of work throughout the university contribute positively to the well-being of people locally, in the state and nation, and globally  (a problem that is addressed through the initiative to develop a more robust communication strategy); in part, there is apprehension and uncertainty about approaching an institution that appears formidable and intimidating; in part, connecting to communities is regarded as a separate responsibility of particular units, not an expectation of appropriate forms of connection throughout the university; in part, not all community connections are equally effective and successful.

The future of university-community connections lies in the further expansion of successful community partnerships: interactive, mutually-beneficial relationships in which the university is involved not as service-provider but as a responsive partner. Involvement in community partnerships is implied by the meanings of public scholarship, discussed above. The notion of an engaged university suggests that significant portions of the university's scholarship and teaching will be conducted within the context of ongoing interactions with individuals, organizations, and communities beyond the university campus; it suggests also that university faculty, staff, and students will work, whenever possible, to define and implement research and scholarship that respects and reflects the interests and needs of the broader community. But successful community partnerships don't just happen: they require appropriate attitudes, opportunities, and skills, including a supportive infrastructure.

To facilitate successful community partnerships, COPE funded this year the development of a community-university partnership typology that will help to achieve a number of goals relating to future partnership arrangements. COPE also funded this year a program to strengthen university-community partnerships by placing student assistants to work on projects in communities with Extension faculty as advisers and providers of on-site coordination and support.

New opportunities for community partnerships can be developed by utilizing existing and emerging e-technologies to communicate more effectively with key constituents about targeted issues. The e-interface project enables the public to communicate with and access the university's resources, events, and services both in their digital and physical formats. Portal initiatives can be used to address the needs of underrepresented communities and to learn what they want and expect from the university, as well as the strengths and contributions of what they have to offer in the area of public engagement.

A variety of other proposals contribute to stronger community connections in more specific ways:

  • explore the introduction and adaptation to other colleges of EPICS -- Engineering Projects in Community Service -- a model from Purdue
  • explore the applicability of the Kellogg Foundation's seven-part test for university engagement, including attention to NASULGC's interest in an Academy of Engagement involving leadership in institutional engagement through Extension
  • identify existing community partnerships that focus on cultural diversity in research, teaching, and service to enlist their assistance with developing practical proposals for enhancing cultural diversity as a component of the university's commitment to public engagement
  • explore the development of a valuable information resource for diverse communities from the ranks of retired U of M faculty and staff
  • create a stronger infrastructure for engaged work conducted through community partnerships by reviewing university policies and practices such as indirect cost recovery, which may have unintended disadvantages for community partners, especially those hard hit in the current fiscal climate

COPE's actions and proposals under this strategic initiative aim to expand successful community partnerships, which like an institutional culture of engagement are one of the hallmarks of an Engaged University.

PROGRAMS: continue and expand programs that are proving effective in involving students, faculty, staff, alumni, and others in engaged activities

The long-term goals of strengthening the culture of engagement and strengthening connections to the community require some innovative approaches and novel practices, but they are also being served by special programs that are underway here and elsewhere. To identify, continue, and when possible expand these programs is an important effort that cuts across and supports the other strategic initiatives described in this Report.

Some special programs that support public engagement are well-established, others have been introduced recently, and still others are being actively planned. The following is a selection of such programs:

  • Provost's Outstanding Community Service Award: COPE began administering this major award this year. There were 28 nominees, six of whom were recommended for awards. This is now recognized as one of the most important distinctions the university confers.
  • Mary McEvoy Award for Public Engagement: This award was established this year by GAPSA and is administered by students. It is given to a student with exceptional dedication to public service. This year's recipient is Shirley Mabini Souza, a graduate student in Work, Community, and Family Education.
  • Impress the President: This roundtable, organized by GAPSA, featured a discussion with President Bruininks by students of their projects exemplifying varied aspects of public scholarship, civic learning, and community partnerships. The students were selected by the deans of their colleges as representative of some of the best engaged student research in each unit.
  • Seed Grant Projects: Together with previous awards by the Task Force on Civic Engagement, COPE has funded a total of 34 seed grants to promote engaged projects on all four campuses. The projects are described in an Appendix. A roundtable discussion of the projects was part of a day-long Festival of Public Work in the Humphrey Institute. As the descriptions make plain, these projects are having a continuing significant impact.
  • Bimonthly Electronic Newsletter: COPE is funding this newsletter to inform a broad audience about public engagement initiatives here and elsewhere with special emphasis on public scholarship and civic learning in different fields. Responses come from around the country and abroad, so the newsletter helps to communicate widely the university's contributions to public engagement.
  • Great Conversations on the Road: This program sponsored by the Alumni Association and the College of Continuing Education has proved successful but it cannot expand without additional funds. It has been very effective in strengthening the university's connections with alumni, friends, and community decision-makers.

Several programs address specifically the goal of enhancing cultural diversity:

  • Studies show that participation by students of color in publicly engaged activities tends to increase retention and graduation rates. Such participation is actively encouraged by special programs.
  • Multicultural nonprofit organizations can be engaged to plan for celebrations that mark national and local milestones in improving civic life. Such a celebration is being organized to recognize the 50th anniversary, in 2004, of Brown v. Board of Education, ending segregation of public schools.

These are examples of particular programs that support public engagement in a variety of ways. Other programs could also be mentioned. An initiative for COPE is to identify distinctive programs located in different units, make sure they are properly publicized and if possible linked, and when appropriate assist in maintaining them.

ASSESSMENT: develop more comprehensive measures for assessing the impact and outcomes from publicly engaged activities

A key factor for the success of all our efforts is the development of comprehensive measures for capturing and communicating the positive impact and outcomes that result from the university's work. Many familiar measures of institutional performance consist of information about basic inputs and outputs: enrollments and graduation rates; size of research awards and number of patents granted; contracts with outside organizations and projects completed. These are vital measures of institutional activity, but they do not fully convey the significant consequences of the university's work in terms of its impact on people's lives individually and collectively. A more complete assessment of the university's public contributions requires more comprehensive measures that refer to their impact on the quality of life.

Interest in the development of more comprehensive measures of institutional performance is growing nation-wide. For example, the New Accreditation Criteria of the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association includes a separate category -- Engagement and Service -- that states, "As called for by its mission, the organization identifies its constituencies and serves them in ways both value." The core components under this criterion include such characteristics as the institution's capacity to learn, responsiveness to constituencies, and effective connections to communities. Assessment of these characteristics requires complex attitudinal data and nonobvious indirect measures. Similarly, the Minnesota Campus Compact Civic Engagement Study specifies such indicators as a campus culture that nurtures civic engagement, support for civic leadership, and visibility of civic engagement programs. Again, assessment of these conditions requires comprehensive measures that are by no means self-evident.

Through the work of its Committee on Outcomes and Assessment and in its discussions this year, including a very useful meeting with John Ziegenhagen, COPE has been addressing some of the issues in constructing more comprehensive measures of institutional performance. A number of points seem especially pertinent:

  • Assessment should be guided by a shared recognition of what an engaged University of Minnesota looks like over time. Elements of this projected future are spelled out in the committee's report  (included in Appendix X).
  • Assessment, no less than incentives and rewards, should acknowledge that not everyone will be engaged equally or in the same way, but everyone will be cognizant of the ways in which their research and teaching serve public purposes. Useful distinctions are provided by Bill Doherty’s three categories of faculty engagement: (a) at minimum an ability to articulate the public value of their professional work; (b) more actively bringing expertise to people in ways they see as relevant (the traditional model of service provider); (c) engaged in collaborative working relationships with community partners to define problems and solve them through cooperative effort. Assessment should not presume or expect that everyone will participate in the university's public contributions in the same way. Measures of institutional performance should reflect the diversity of professional work that comprises an engaged university.
  • An intriguing challenge for assessment is to measure the university's practical return on its engaged activities. Public engagement is more often regarded as a cost to the university than as a source of benefit, which may reflect the side of the ledger that is easier to measure. But we should be asking not only what engagement costs but what we receive in return.

Comprehensive assessment and evaluation of the university's institutional performance, including its engaged activities, is vital for a number of purposes: to identify our strengths and weaknesses as an engaged institution; to communicate effectively about our public contributions; to provide a sound basis for public accountability. There is still a great deal of work to be done in developing the kinds of measures that will adequately serve these purposes. COPE proposes to continue working on these issues in conjunction with appropriate administrators and other committees.


  • In conjunction with a number of other programs, COPE has helped heighten awareness throughout the university of public engagement as an institutional priority. COPE is becoming a focal point for discussions of public engagement and for proposals from different parts of the university for strengthening engagement.
  • Based on a proposal developed by members of COPE's Steering Committee, the CIC has formed a special Committee on Engagement to strengthen public engagement among CIC member institutions. The CIC Committee has endorsed the Minnesota proposal for an Engaged University Initiative for possible funding by Kellogg and other foundations.
  • COPE has helped confirm the university's leadership in the national movement within higher education for strengthened public engagement. The university is consulted as a model for how engagement can be institutionalized through such a body as COPE.
  • Starting this fall, special liaisons within each college, designated by the deans, will help further the goal of strengthening public engagement in ways appropriate for each unit. COPE will coordinate the work of the liaisons with linkages to appropriate administrators and committees.
  • Discussions within COPE and its committees have produced an array of ideas and practical proposals for strengthening public engagement focused around five strategic initiatives, which are described in the body of this Report: Communication, Recognition, Partnership, Programs, and Assessment. COPE has taken some practical steps under these initiatives as indicative of directions for future activities, including the following:
    • developed a portal-ready COPE web site to facilitate communication about engaged initiatives within the university and with external audiences
    • sponsored a bimonthly electronic newsletter to inform a broad audience about civic engagement developments here and elsewhere with special emphasis on public scholarship and civic learning in different fields
    • funded special projects proposed by COPE members in several different areas of engagement
    • published a brochure for wide distribution describing 34 projects COPE and the previous Civic Engagement Task Force have funded during the past three years
    • organized a roundtable discussion of engaged projects as part of a day-long Festival of Public Work co-sponsored by COPE
    • sponsored two forums on civic dimensions of disciplines organized by GAPSA
    • organized a public forum on public scholarship featuring a talk by Julie Ellison, national director of Imagining America
    • discussed with John Ziegenhagen new issues for assessment of institutional outcomes arising from including public engagement as a criterion for evaluation and accreditation by regional and national associations
    • recommended six candidates from among 28 nominees for the Provost's Outstanding Community Service Award.

Through its work this year, COPE has laid the groundwork for ongoing strategic initiatives that will strengthen a culture of engagement and connections to communities as long-term institutional goals.


In the body of this Report and in the appended reports from COPE committees there are a number of recommendations for practical actions related to one or more of the strategic initiatives outlined above. These recommendations will not be recapitulated here, but a few specific proposals will be highlighted.

  • Our general recommendation concerning the future of COPE is that in the coming years COPE should actively pursue the five strategic initiatives identified in this Report. A COPE committee should be appointed for each initiative -- Communication, Recognition, Partnership, Programs, and Assessment -- consisting of a few regular COPE members plus a number of associate members recruited for their special interest in the particular initiative. Through these committees, COPE will develop detailed strategies for implementing the five initiatives.
  • COPE should explore further with appropriate administrators and faculty groups the specific practical measures mentioned in the Report for incorporating public engagement as a criterion or category in the processes and practices that affect institutional incentives. The committee on Recognition should be constituted with this purpose in mind.
  • COPE should explore with appropriate administrators and faculty groups how to incorporate public engagement as an explicit measure of institutional performance. The committee on Assessment should be constituted with this purpose in mind.
  • An annual Engaged University Day should be organized featuring examples of engaged activities within particular colleges and discussions of central issues in strengthening an institutional culture of engagement. The Engaged University Day should be combined with other ongoing programs, such as Impress the President, and the conferring of special awards, such as the Mary McEvoy Award for Public Engagement and possibly the Provost's Award for Outstanding Community Service.
  • The Minnesota proposal for a CIC Engaged University Initiative should be pursued further in conjunction with the special CIC Committee on Engagement. Additional funding opportunities should be explored.
  • A number of programs that have proved effective in strengthening engagement should be continued at whatever level of support is feasible, including the successful Seed Grant program that has produced lasting significant innovations on all four campuses, as well as other programs mentioned in the Report.


During its first year, COPE has taken some practical steps toward accomplishing the broad purposes outlined in its charge from the provost. COPE also surveyed the wide terrain encompassed within its charge, and we have focused on five strategic initiatives, described in the body of this report, that we believe hold strong promise for achieving the long-term goals of strengthening an institutional culture of engagement and strengthening connections to communities. The strategic initiatives proposed in the report will serve the University of Minnesota as an engaged institution responsive to social needs and to its historic responsibilities as a public land-grant university.

The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.