A Practical Guide for Institutionalizing Public Engagement

Carole A. Beere

James C. Votruba

Gail W. Wells

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The Jossey-Bass
Higher and Adult Education Series

This book is dedicated to the faculty, administrators, students, and community members who, through their public engagement commitment, and involvement, have helped ensure that Northern Kentucky University is deeply engaged in advancing regional and statewide progress.


The term engaged carries many positive associations. We applaud students when they are deeply engaged in their studies. We take pride in professors who are engaged in serious scholarship. To engage is to be connected, committed, and invested. Yet, in the case of universities, engagement is sometimes an occasion for ambivalence. There are those who ask whether being engaged is a good idea for institutions of higher education. How could engagement engender anything but pride and satisfaction?

The source of academic ambivalence around institutional engagement derives from a long tradition that treats the special character of universities as a function of their disengagement. Universities are special precisely because they are separated from the passions of the moment, the fads of the day, the flavor of the month, and those shifting political winds that so readily dominate the media. Although those outside the academy may view “the ivory tower” as an epithet, the tower's inhabitants view that very isolation as its greatest virtue. Tenure is valued in great measure because it protects faculty members from those inside and outside the academy who are so passionately engaged politically or intellectually that they would limit the academic freedom of others. A scholar can pursue basic research in mathematics, classics, or molecular biology without having to justify it with reference to its likely contribution to solving the problems of poverty, ignorance, or disease. If a university becomes too deeply engaged, some might worry, it may run the risk of trying to solve the short-term crises of a society instead of remaining focused on the longer-term mysteries of truth, beauty, and justice that are timeless rather than merely timely, enduring instead of immediate.

Nevertheless, in the face of that celebration of disengagement, especially in the United States, a countercurrent developed. Political and educational leaders began to realize how much the talent within universities could contribute to the well-being of ordinary people, without compromising their intellectual or scholarly integrity. It had always been clear that some of the roles for which universities prepared its students—in medicine, religion, law, engineering—were useful. But as the support of higher education shifted rapidly from the private to the public sphere, the expectation that the university itself might serve society more directly became more compelling.

During the painful days of the Civil War, the Morrill Act was passed by Congress setting aside federal land in each state to be used to establish higher education institutions designed to educate and conduct research in agriculture, mining, and other applied fields. These land grants and the schools that were created in their wake broadened the conception of the civic role of universities even for institutions that were not technically land-grant schools. Before long, the mission of universities and their faculty members was defined as service in addition to teaching and research. This triad of purposes was commonly articulated in the formal statements of university missions. But did this set of ostensible purposes yield a beautiful three-part harmony of missions, or did it create a dissonance of competing purposes and a competition for resources and prestige?

When I completed a PhD at the University of Chicago, I took a faculty position at an institution that had been created a century earlier as a prototype of the engaged university—Michigan State University. The nation's first land-grant institution (as it proclaims vigorously to this day), it exemplified the triad of commitments to teaching, research, and service. I was unfamiliar with the notion that a university's responsibilities were not only to teach and investigate, but also to serve. Michigan State took service to the state of Michigan and to the larger world quite seriously, and, although it also took considerable pride in its rapidly developing reputation as a major research university, the core missions of service defined the institution's identity. Faculty and student engagement lay at the heart of Michigan State's narrative. It is no accident, I would speculate, that I first met two of the three authors of this volume at Michigan State, where both Jim Votruba and Carole Beere earned their doctorates and where Votruba later served as a faculty member and administrator. For the authors of this book, service, engagement, and civic responsibility are more than activities; they are elements of both individual and organizational identity.

Many years later, when I began serving as president of The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in 1997, one of its signature programs was the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. From the time when Clark Kerr and his Carnegie associates had invented it in the early 1970s, the classification rapidly became the arbiter of institutional purpose and prestige among America's universities and colleges. At the very top of the status hierarchy (though the creation of such a hierarchy was never Kerr's purpose) was the research university, especially those that attracted the most external financial support from government agencies. These institutions became known as R1 universities, the elite among those in the research category. Among liberal arts colleges, prestige was associated with selectivity, success in attracting the undergraduate equivalent of grants. Selectivity was the ability to attract the most academically elite high school graduates—as defined by SAT scores and grade-point averages. The quality or character of teaching, as well as the activities of engagement and outreach through service, were invisible as elements of the Carnegie Classification.

Thus, the wealth of dollars coming in from government to support research and the wealth of academic aptitude coming in to support the undergraduate teaching and learning were the significant indicators, and therefore the values that the university leadership, both academic and lay, attempted to raise via resource allocations, recruitment, and rewards. Nowhere to be found was teaching excellence of faculty, learning success of students, much less the amount and quality of community and social engagement of the faculty and its students—the evidence of its service and engagement.

Once we at Carnegie realized that what we chose to document was helping to drive what universities valued and where they invested their resources, we recognized that we were part of the problem. We had an obligation to create a broadened and more comprehensive form of classification that gave prominence to indicators of engagement and service, parallel to the indicators of research support and selectivity already in use. Unfortunately, no such indicators were routinely gathered and collected. In contrast to data on research support, student SAT scores, admission profiles by race and gender, or percentage of full-time faculty—all numbers that institutions were required to collect for the federal databases—the data that reflected patterns and amounts of outreach or engagement were not nationally available. If Carnegie intended to create a new classification around engagement, it would have to work with those institutions that elected to gather such information for themselves and were willing to transmit those data to a national database. To that end, Carnegie's elective classification of engagement and outreach was created, and institutions were invited to apply for membership in that classification to be included within it. When that first elective classification was published in 2008, 196 institutions were so classified. Northern Kentucky University was one of the institutions to which Carnegie turned for help in designing that classification.

I recount this story because it carries an important message for those of us who wish to see service emerge from the shadows of university life, no longer ignored by leaders and scorned by tenure committees. Not everything that counts can be readily measured, but what we do elect to measure invariably counts. Thus engaged universities will need to engage not only in the applications of understanding that their scholarship makes possible; they must also invest in a scholarship of engagement. This is a scholarship that will document how and where academic know-how contributes to the general good, how the resources of the university are employed through students and faculty to accomplish those goods, and what new knowledge and development occurs in our students and in our scholars as a function of outreach and engagement. We must learn how to create metrics of engagement that will be as vivid and comprehensible as those that currently describe the pursuit of research in labs, libraries, or in the field. We must invent indicators of the impact of engagement, rather than merely the fact that we are engaged. We must conduct studies that demonstrate over the long haul how being a student in an engaged university confers life benefits on students as citizens, scholars, professionals, and civic leaders. The practice of engagement by universities and colleges will not flourish absent the nurturing of a scholarship of engagement.

If service is at the heart of a university mission, then inquiry is its lifeblood. William Rainey Harper, the founding president of the University of Chicago, observed that in a university all topics, problems, and issues of the world should be legitimate objects of investigation. Universities survive and flourish by virtue of their commitments to raising questions and pursuing them in disciplined, scholarly, and responsible manners. If a topic is taught or thought about, it must also be investigated. And those investigations should not be limited to practices, artifacts, events, or processes outside the walls of the institution. The institution should always subject its own work to the same habits of questioning, research, evaluation, and testing that it demands from the world around it.

As the authors of this book observe forcefully, the engaged university carries a heavy responsibility for evaluation, documentation, and research on its efforts. Engagement is not only an occasion for service; when conducted by a university, it must become an opportunity for the development of knowledge and understanding. What kinds of engagement create short-term involvement and investment while others lead to long-term institutional transformation and commitment? What kinds of engagement create powerful learning opportunities for students who then matriculate as transformed citizens who will lead lives of service and responsibility? These and many other similar questions are prototypes for the kinds of inquiry that an engaged university must pursue if it truly melds its academic and its service identities.

Harper argued that universities must not only conduct experiments; they must be experiments themselves. They do not merely investigate innovation performed by others; they must innovate and then investigate the impact of their own experimentations. New and ambitious programs of university engagement are themselves critical experiments. As such the university will deploy its formidable capacity for research to study those experiments and learn how to maximize their positive impacts and limit their unintended negative consequences. We appreciate and value the benefits of disengagement for the dispassionate studies that have long characterized the life of the mind and the spirit. We now need the leadership of engaged universities to invent and sustain a scholarship of engagement so we can better comprehend the parallel and interacting benefits of a university achieving a judicious blend of reflection and outreach, of the work within and the efforts without.

I do not believe that the authors of this superb and practical guide to the development of an engaged university wish to see all of university life shift from traditional academic pursuits to active engagement. Not every course in Shakespeare or evolutionary biology needs to become an occasion for service learning. They are calling instead for a new and richer vision of the university in which research, teaching, and service achieve a long-needed parity, and where the fundamental identity of the institution should be as rich and capacious as the identity of any wise, capable, and decent individual human being. Universities too should be models of conceptual, practical, and socially responsible ideas and actions.

I am reminded of a meeting I had with a group of senior engineering students to whom I posed the question: What's an engineer? They responded, “An engineer is someone who uses math and the sciences to mess with the world by designing and making useful and beautiful things …. and once you mess with the world, you are responsible for the mess you have made.” I love that definition of an engineer, and I see a version of it as the definition of a good university: A university is an institution where students and faculty develop deep understanding so they can mess with the world … and when they mess with the world, they take responsibility for both the good and the problematic consequences of what they have done. Moreover, by engaging actively with the challenges of the society in which they live, they create opportunities to learn and understand the world that would not have arisen otherwise.

I know I join all this book's readers in acknowledging the insight and inspiration that Carole Beere, James Votruba, and Gail Wells have given to us in writing this volume. This work will guide its readers in creating settings in which engagement and disengagement are balanced and blended for the sake of enhanced learning, greater institutional vigor, and the welfare of society.

Lee S. Shulman

Stanford, California

About the Authors

Carole A. Beere retired in 2007 from her position as the first associate provost for outreach and dean of graduate studies at Northern Kentucky University, a post she held for six years. During that time, she began many of the public engagement initiatives that have become the hallmark of NKU. She has presented papers on public engagement at numerous state and national meetings, including meetings of the Coalition of Urban and Municipal Universities, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), and the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and she recently led workshops on public engagement for teams of faculty and administrators from more than a dozen universities. She is currently working with an AASCU task force on university-school partnerships. Dr. Beere previously chaired the boards of the Graduate Record Examination and the Council of Graduate Schools and was a member of the board of the Higher Learning Commission. She has a B.A. in business and an M.A. and Ph.D. in educational psychology, all from Michigan State University. Her career in higher education began at Central Michigan University, where she served for twenty-nine years, first as a faculty member in the Department of Psychology and later as dean of the College of Graduate Studies and associate vice president for research.

James C. Votruba has been president of Northern Kentucky University since 1997. Previously he served for eight years as vice provost for University Outreach and professor of higher education at Michigan State University, and prior to that as dean of the College of Education and Human Development at Binghamton University. Earlier in his career, he held faculty and administrative positions at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Drake University. Much of his career has been focused on the role of colleges and universities in advancing public progress through the extension and application of knowledge. Dr. Votruba chaired the AASCU Task Force on Public Engagement, which published Stepping Forward as Stewards of Place in 2002. In 2004, he delivered the annual AASCU President-to-Presidents Lecture titled “Leading the Engaged University.” He chaired the AASCU board of directors, served on the National Campus Compact board of directors, and was president of the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities. He is currently leading an AASCU task force on university-school partnerships. Dr. Votruba earned a B.A. in political science, an M.A. in political science and sociology, and a Ph.D. in higher education administration, all from Michigan State University.

Gail W. Wells is the vice president for academic affairs and provost at Northern Kentucky University. Her previous positions at NKU included dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, chair of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, and professor. Her commitment to public engagement has been manifest in each role. She received significant grants from NSF to support her work related to aligning the mathematics curriculum across the P–16 continuum and enhancing teacher preparation. She plays an active leadership role in the provosts' division of the AASCU and has presented papers on public engagement at conferences hosted by AASCU, the Coalition of Urban and Municipal Universities, and the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Dr. Wells was the 2010 recipient of the William M. Plater Award for Leadership in Civic Engagement, an award granted each year to one provost in the country who has shown outstanding campus leadership in support of civic engagement. She has a B.S. in mathematics and music from Eastern Kentucky University, and an M.S. and Ed.D. focused on mathematics education from the University of Cincinnati.


America's colleges and universities have a long and distinguished record of responding to the nation's call. Over the past 150 years, higher education institutions have helped increase agricultural production, contributed to intergenerational mobility, provided the workforce for economic expansion, supported national defense, promoted civic literacy, pioneered improved health care, and pushed back the frontiers of knowledge in nearly every dimension of our lives. In recent years, the public has reached out to its colleges and universities like never before. Confronted with a host of challenges that will define their future, states and local communities have called upon their higher education institutions to help advance progress related to such challenges as K–12 school improvement, economic growth, local and regional planning, urban renewal, environmental sustainability, and much more. In response, campus leaders have been thinking more deeply about the role their institutions can and should play in advancing public progress and how they can lead their campuses toward more robust and strategic public engagement.

Many books and articles have been written about public engagement: defining it, framing it, and extolling its benefits. These writings emphasize the importance of the work for the welfare of the communities, the campus, and the students. They discuss the value of public engagement and advocate various forms of institutional change in order to better support it. Yet little has been written on how to effect the necessary changes on the campus. How does the university institutionalize public engagement so it is no longer at the periphery and no longer so dependent on the support of specific individuals? How does the campus structure the elements that support public engagement? How can the institution weave public engagement into the fabric of the campus at every level? How can the institution encourage and support faculty to engage professionally with their communities? How does the institution prepare their various external constituencies for engaging in partnerships with the university? The primary purpose of this book is to help colleges and universities, regardless of their history, mission, or size, address these questions and institutionalize public engagement using proven strategies to strengthen both the quality and quantity of their work.

This is essentially a “how-to” book, showing the reader, step by step, how to institutionalize public engagement by aligning each of its organizational dimensions to promote and support public engagement. The book provides specific strategies on what one can do, how one should act, and what will make a difference. Although for simplicity sake the term university is frequently used throughout the book, its value is not limited to universities. The book is appropriate for all postsecondary institutions: community colleges, liberal arts colleges, comprehensive universities, and research universities; public and private; large and small.

The change strategy described in this book is called an alignment process, which relates to the work of Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, authors of Built to Last (1994). They found that companies successful over a prolonged period of time were fully aligned to support their vision—that is, all of the elements within the company were functioning in a way that promoted the company's goals. When correctly implemented, the alignment process described in this book will cause all of the elements within the college or university to function in a way that promotes public engagement.

Intended Audience

Change in higher education is rarely easy to accomplish. Significant, sustainable institutional change occurs only when there is commitment and buy-in across the campus. Thus, the intended audience for this book ranges from the president and vice presidents to various professionals in the academic, administrative, and support units of the institution. This includes deans, associate and assistant deans, department chairs, and faculty and professional staff, as well as unit directors and associate and assistant directors. The book will be an invaluable tool to guide the work of campus teams charged to institutionalize public engagement as well as a source of practical advice for individuals who seek to maximize their impact on public engagement. The advice in the book will prove very useful even on campuses that are not yet ready to fully embrace public engagement.

The book will also interest members of university governing boards and system offices, persons who need to understand how to support community engagement at their institutions, and it will interest faculty and graduate students studying higher education leadership, strategic planning, and organizational change. Those who have a professional interest in higher education, such as journalists, legislators, and researchers, will find the book to be a rich source of information for understanding public engagement: what it is and how it can be nurtured and supported on the campus, in the community, and through public policy.

The Authors' Perspective

This book reflects three important perspectives: (a) that of a university president who has served in his position for 14 years; has a national reputation as an advocate for public engagement; has a regional reputation for engaging the university with the community; is very familiar with all aspects of the university; and thoroughly understands the critical role of the president in institutionalizing public engagement; (b) that of a chief academic officer who has served as provost for 6 years and, prior to that, as dean of arts and sciences for 5 years; is known both inside and outside the university for her commitment to public engagement; understands the rewards and challenges associated with its implementation; and has led the university's academic affairs division to increased public engagement and increased recognition for the work; and (c) that of a university's first chief public engagement officer who served in the position for 6 years; led the university's alignment process; created and implemented many of the university's initiatives to support and recognize public engagement; and fulfilled the chief public engagement officer's responsibilities as described later in this book. These three campus leaders worked closely together to institutionalize and expand public engagement at Northern Kentucky University. Together they see the big picture and the fine detail, both of which are reflected in the chapters that follow.

All three authors have spent the most recent part of their careers at Northern Kentucky University (NKU), a public, comprehensive university located in the Greater Cincinnati–Northern Kentucky metropolitan region. Opened in 1968, the university now enrolls about 15,500 students, of which about 85% are undergraduates. The balance are graduate and law students. Twelve percent of the students live on campus. The student-faculty ratio is 17:1. The median age of undergraduates is 21 and one quarter of the undergraduates are over age 25. In terms of degree programs, NKU offers 70 bachelor's degrees, 6 associate degrees, 19 master's degrees, 1 Juris Doctor, and 2 applied doctorates, education and nursing, as well as more than 30 graduate certificates. Public engagement is a significant aspect of the university's identity and reputation.

Content Overview

After setting the context for expanding public engagement, the book explains in depth how to conduct an alignment analysis, examines in great detail each of the organizational dimensions that are part of the analysis, and describes how to complete the process by aligning and strengthening each of the dimensions. Although the book emphasizes the role of academic affairs, the student affairs, public affairs, and public relations departments all play key roles in expanding and ensuring the success of public engagement. The book treats NKU as a case study by sharing numerous examples from the university's alignment experiences.

Chapter 1 provides the context for the remainder of the book. It provides a brief history of higher education, with particular emphasis on outreach and public engagement. The chapter then looks at some fundamentals of public engagement: key terms, sectors that are commonly served, and possible services. The chapter continues with a description of the drivers of public engagement—both the issues and the organizations that are driving increased interest in public engagement. Finally, the chapter describes the benefits of public engagement: benefits to the institution, faculty, students, and community.

Chapter 2 provides a detailed discussion of the alignment analysis: what it is, how to design it, whom to involve, how to conduct the analysis, what to include in the report, and how to provide appropriate follow-up. The 16 organizational dimensions that make up the alignment process, along with the four levels of analysis, are explained in detail.

Chapters 3 through 11 each focus on a specific aspect of alignment. Chapter 3 deals with aligning the institution's foundational documents—that is, its vision, mission, and values—and aligning various aspects of the infrastructure and support systems, such as the institution's strategic planning; regional and statewide planning; internal and external financial support; academic and administrative policies and procedures; and other forms of support.

Chapter 4 focuses on leadership, a key factor in the institutionalization of public engagement. The chapter addresses the leadership roles and opportunities for those internal to the campus, including presidents, chief academic officers (CAOs), deans, chairs, faculty, governing boards, and unions, as well as those external to the campus, particularly statewide governing or coordinating boards and state legislatures.

Chapter 5 looks at aligning the organizational structure. It considers the importance of a chief public engagement officer, analogous to a chief research officer, and discusses the reporting line, qualifications, and responsibilities associated with such a position. The chapter also delineates the roles and responsibilities of offices that support service learning or community-based research (CBR); considers how centers and institutes can promote and support public engagement; and discusses standing and ad hoc committees.

Chapter 6 focuses on faculty and staff: obstacles that deter them from becoming engaged and the proactive steps that can be taken to overcome these obstacles. These steps relate to the recruiting, hiring, and orienting of faculty; methods of addressing workload issues; enhanced professional development; improved and expanded communication including the strategic use of campus conversations; the provision of appropriate support services; methods of fostering collaborations; and the use of various incentives and rewards. The chapter also looks at the roles of the department, the disciplines, staff, and graduate preparation.

Chapter 7 focuses on reappointment, promotion, and tenure (RPT) guidelines, because they so strongly influence how faculty allocate their time. The chapter suggests strategies for changing the RPT guidelines in order to strengthen the recognition of public engagement. The chapter defines engaged teaching, engaged service, and engaged scholarship; recommends criteria for evaluating them; provides appropriate methods for documenting them; and suggests processes for reviewing credentials.

Chapter 8 focuses on students, with particular emphasis on service learning and some discussion of student involvement in CBR. The chapter considers the curricular issues that relate to aligning for public engagement. It also considers the elements of a successful service learning program and discusses the issues and challenges that arise when students are engaged with the community.

Chapter 9 deals with aligning the accountability and reporting systems. The focus is primarily on addressing four questions: How can the institution document the quantity of public engagement they are doing? What is the impact of this work on faculty, students, and the community? How does a campus monitor the quality and progress of community partnerships? How effective are the various public engagement efforts—that is, are they achieving their goals? The chapter provides direction for addressing each of these questions, describes in detail a tool for assessing the quantity of public engagement, and explains how to most effectively use the data that are acquired from the various assessment activities.

Chapter 10 focuses on effective communication, which plays an important role in institutionalizing public engagement. After describing the various audiences and messages that might be addressed, the chapter provides a process for developing a strategic plan for communication related to public engagement. The chapter also provides examples of some effective communication techniques.

Chapter 11 focuses on partnerships between the campus and community. The chapter describes how to create and sustain successful partnerships and looks closely at their characteristics. The chapter emphasizes the importance of formal campus-community partnership agreements and identifies the important elements of such agreements.

While Chapters 3 through 11 looked at internal alignment, Chapter 12 looks at the public policy aspect of public engagement, with particular emphasis on state policy. The chapter talks about influencing state policy and describes the origins of Kentucky's Regional Stewardship Trust Fund, the country's first legislatively approved, state-supported public funding stream for public engagement.

Chapter 13 provides a broad summation of the book and includes advice as well as cautions for campuses that want to transform their institutions to promote extensive and effective public engagement programs.

Using the Book

The book is meant to be read in its entirety; however, each chapter can stand alone, providing useful information and advice for those who have a special interest in the chapter's topic. For example, the president, CAO, and deans may be most interested in the chapters on leadership (Chapter 4) and communication (Chapter 10). Those on campus responsible for accountability will find Chapter 9 to be particularly valuable. Faculty may find the chapter on student engagement (Chapter 8) most useful. If there is a committee reviewing or revising RPT guidelines, its members will benefit from Chapter 7. The book is also useful as a reference for campus leaders confronting issues that relate to one of the chapters. Campus teams who are about to undertake an alignment analysis are urged to bring the book to their committee meetings, where it will be a good reference for dealing with various issues that will arise.

Concluding Comments

The alignment process is a powerful strategic tool for creating change—in this case, institutionalizing public engagement. By following the suggestions in this practical guide, colleges and universities can embed public engagement in the fiber of their institutions. Moreover, the process is adaptable for aligning the institution for any campus priority—for example, enhancing teaching and learning; improving retention and graduation rates; increasing emphasis on student research; expanding online classes; and so forth.

As will be pointed out throughout the book, the alignment process must be adapted for use on each individual campus. Campuses differ in their size, history, mission, and acceptance of public engagement as an important mission dimension. Some campuses may be ready to undertake the alignment analysis, to institutionalize public engagement; for others, as explained in Chapter 2, campus leaders will need first to lay the groundwork for a successful alignment process. Campus leaders can use the ideas and advice contained in this book to increase the campus's readiness before implementing the comprehensive alignment process. A campus that is somewhat ready might undertake the analysis and then pace implementing the recommendations to match its readiness level, which is likely to increase over time.

Finally, a cautionary note: because this book is focused on public engagement, it may suggest that public engagement should be the most important of the mission dimensions associated with higher education. That is not the intent: public engagement is only one of the important mission dimensions of the university. If this book were about research, then it could easily appear that research is more important than other mission dimensions. The authors do not intend for public engagement to replace teaching and learning or scholarly work. All are important. In fact, the authors believe that faculty are most effective when they integrate student learning, scholarship, and public engagement so that all three mission dimensions are the beneficiaries of their engaged work.