Academic Engagement Series Responses

Do you have thoughts about the issues raised in this series or the arguments advanced by contributors? If you do and would like to share them, please send comments to:

Every effort will be made to post commentary that responds constructively and clearly to the questions explored in this series.

Below are responses sent to the Austin American-Statesman and/or contributors to the Academic Engagement series.

This letter was published by the Austin American-Statesman on 11/13/04

Defining roles in society

Rick Cherwitz' "Academic Engagement" series challenges citizens of Texas to think about the "of" in the name University of Texas; he challenges everyone from top administrators to students in American universities to reconsider and redefine our roles in society.

As the most recent op-ed in the series (Nov. 8 column by Jay Banner and Nelson Guda, "Reforming universities to save the environment") confirms, the world demands a greater contribution from the university because society's problems have become so complex that every sector of society must work in concert with the others to find solutions.

As Cherwitz contends - and as Banner and Guda document - the university is the forum where experts from the broad spectrum of academic disciplines and experiences can come together, share their perspectives and begin to build our future using a transdisciplinary approach.

Roberta Shaffer
Director of external relations and program development
College of Information Studies
University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland

A portion of this comment was published by the Austin American-Statesman on 8/22/04

Dear Editor:

Do you hear that giant clapping sound? It’s here in Washington DC applauding Dr. Rick Cherwitz’s “Academic Engagement” series.

During these pivotal times—when so many decisions are being made impacting society for decades to come—it is important to print articles and implement policies grounded in reasoned approaches to problem-solving. While most publications are dumbing down, this intelligent and thoughtful series and the academic-civic partnerships that no doubt will be created in its wake are a particularly irresistible feast for the brain. I know that throughout this series, the first thing I do in the morning will be to click on to the Austin American-Statesman to get a daily dose of enlightenment.


Lily Whiteman
Author and Consultant
Washington DC 20008

A portion of this comment was published by the Austin American-Statesman on 8/22/04

Dear Editor:

As a proud graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, I'm pleased to see Professor Cherwitz taking a lead role in improving the often strained and mutually suspicious relationship between academe and the public sector.

We in public life can gain much from a wider and deeper exposure to what academics know and understand. The public investment in exemplary places like UT is too big, and the impact too important, for us to go about our business without full benefit of what is known by faculty and students.

Meanwhile, faculty and students at UT - and other universities too – can gain a lot by undertaking the often daunting task of explaining their research results to the rest of us. In many instances, I've only found real insight into my own work when I try to explain it to others.

Congratulations to Dr. Cherwitz and his colleagues for laying the groundwork for real institutional change at UT. We in the public policy world wait anxiously for more from this important venture.

Wolfgang Opitz
Deputy Director,
Washington State Governor's Office of Financial Management

To The Editor:

As a former UT Austin Ph.D. graduate student, I was gratified to see Richard Cherwitz's op-ed, (Aug. 16, 2004). When I was a new Ph.D., the benefits of this kind of educational philosophy became immediately apparent when I devised and taught the UT Graduate Programs' first interdisciplinary course on Academic Ethics. There, graduate scholars from across the disciplines debated issues of fairness in evaluation, university-corporate collaboration, and the new roles that academics might be called on to take in the 21st century.

As we approach this presidential election, both Democrats and Republicans are acutely conscious of how imaginatively Americans must face the regional and global challenges ahead. Clearly, major universities must re-imagine how they equip their students if, in turn, we expect those student to be capable of managing breakneck developments in technology, international relations, and the ever-perplexing moral quandaries before us.

David L. Hildebrand, Ph.D.
Professor, University of Colorado at Denver

A portion of this comment was published by the Austin American-Statesman on 8/22/04

Dear Editor:

What Rick Cherwitz describes ("A Quest to Get Scholars Engaged in Community," Aug. 16, 2004) is largely a feat of imagination. How can professors-and professors-in-training-see and enact wider possibilities for themselves and consequently for the university itself? I came to graduate school at UT after a career in the Army, seeking to become a professor, a pursuit I saw as an extension of my career in public service. In studying rhetoric (with Professor Cherwitz and others) I began to imagine other options, off the beaten academic career track, yet still public-service-oriented. After receiving my Ph.D., then teaching college writing for two years, I made the leap to a different kind of work that UT helped me envision for myself. Now practicing what I taught, I provide public communication for a "think tank" that produces policy-relevant, interdisciplinary research focused on achieving international security through cooperative means. Even with considerable experience before school, I was hesitant to break out of the mold. My exposure to the rhetorical citizen-scholar ideal that informs Cherwitz's work allowed me to do so.

Sharan Daniel, Ph.D.
Media and Publications Manager
Center for International Security and Cooperation
Stanford, California

Dear Editor:

Cherwitz's initiative (August 16 op-ed) to forge relationships between the university and the many publics which surround it--what he terms "academic engagement"--is both profound and long overdue. As a UT grad (1994) and someone who left academe due to many of the problems outlined by Cherwitz, I know first-hand both the challenges and the possibilities. What better place to explore the concept of intellectual entrepreneurship than Austin, Texas, a community that privileges entrepreneurship in so many ways?

I find Cherwitz's campaign both improbable and inspiring in equal measure. Inspiring because the cause is so right and the ethical imperative so obvious. Improbable because, unless universities change in the ways called for by Cherwitz, academic engagement cannot flourish and we won't reap the advantages of academic-community collaborations.

Let's hope the series will be a wake-up call for UT and other public research institutions--that inspiration will, indeed, generate new practices.

Tim Martin (Ph.D), Director
Public Relations and Marketing Communications
for Advanced Micro Devices China

A portion of this comment was published by the Austin American-Statesman on 8/22/04

Dear Editor:

In his column, my colleague Richard Cherwitz exuberantly assures us of a "critical mass of UT faculty" all "taking to heart the ethical obligation" of leading the University of Texas "out of the 19th century and into the 21st century."

UT is in the 21st century, thank you. And, for 121 years, more than a mere critical mass of our faculty have been taking to heart their ethical obligation to society.

We are told the coming crusade will involve "researchers supplying more than narrow, theoretical disciplinary knowledge." One wonders if the writer appreciates what it takes to make new contributions in challenging fields of current research, or that many faculty consider their job to be the teaching of differential equations, Shakespeare, languages, violin, engineering, finance, and all the rest, preparing their students to do the saving of the world.

John R. Durbin
Professor of Mathematics
The University of Texas

A portion of this comment was published by the Austin American-Statesman on 8/22/04

Dear Editor:

I read with great interest Richard Cherwitz' column. I am looking forward to reading the forthcoming essays by Texas scholars and getting their take on this collaboration of community and university.

UT's Humanities Institute, under director Evan Carton, has already initiated programs connecting the community and the university. The Mayor's Book Club and the Writing Austin's Lives program and published book are but two examples.

The Humanities Institute has plans for future partnerships. The 'Citizen Research Associate Program' will be composed of 10 appointed citizen-scholars. This is an outreach that is long overdue and hopefully
will enrich us all.

Danny Camacho

A portion of this comment was published by the Austin American-Statesman on 8/22/04

Dear Editor:

There is much that any university can do to fulfill their compact with the citizens of the state.

One way scholars can take their ideas to the community is through service. That is, scholars can investigate an area that interests them (public schools, environment, human services, political advocacy) and approach major stockholders in that area and offer to help.

Susan Sneller

Dear Editor:

Kudos to the Statesman for publishing the insightful "Academic Engagement" series introduced by Richard Cherwitz on August 16th. His commentary on the paradigm shift among academic institutions toward a citizen-scholar orientation is on the mark.

This new style of academic-consumer orientation is critical as public institutions evolve to promote the pursuit of knowledge and address the needs of society. Leaders such as Cherwitz aptly bridge the chasm between the old school and the new leading us down the path to fulfill our potential.

The August 23rd essay by Betty Sue Flowers is a wonderful treatise on the budding role of public universities partnering with the community to collaborate on solutions to today's problems. Flowers contrast of "ivory towers" and "activists" is insightful and revealing. Her conclusion that the integrity of the academy can be maintained while meeting the needs of society is sublime. Indeed, the core purpose of UT, or of any academy, is to advance knowledge so as to transform lives to benefit society. A common ground while maintaining some aspect of autonomy is a formula for success.

Rick Nauert

A portion of this comment was published by the Austin American-Statesman on 10/14/04

Re: Oct. 11 column by R. Adron Harris and Carlton K. Erickson, "Why it's vital we study the science of addiction":

Hear, hear! It's time to take the subject of addiction out of the closet and treat it as a systemic issue that is creating costly problems for all of us. Instead of being splattered across many disciplines, the time has come to make it a central focus.

I've heard that 1 in 10 people is an alcoholic, including many who have risen to prominent positions. How many of the corporate ethical and moral problems we've read about might be attributed to individuals' inability to access the brain chemistry associated with honesty, integrity and authenticity because of the excessive use of alcohol or drugs?

Here's an idea for Professors Harris and Erickson: Approach the companies that make money from the sale of legal drugs, alcohol being at the top of the list. If oil companies are responsible for cleaning up its chemical spills, why aren't alcohol companies held to account?


A portion of this comment was published by the Austin American-Statesman on 12/15/04

Series is positive step

I have been reading the "Academic Engagement" columns by Richard Cherwitz and others with great excitement. I cannot think of a time when it has been more apparent that scholarship is crucial to the lives not only of our students but to the general public. What Google and other corporations have discovered is that academe is a source of knowledge. We are "content providers" for society.

Given the other roles academics might play, "content provider" isn't the worst one. What does the phrase mean? It means that our research matters, that it is basic to the operations of everyday life in an ethical society, that it helps that society to make informed and rational decisions.

Whether as philosophers or as chemists, poets or engineers, what we do inspires. The University of Texas has taken a significant step with this series.

Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies
Duke University
Durham, N.C.

A portion of this comment was published by the Austin American-Statesman on 12/20/04

Engaging in community

I'm writing in support of the ideas presented in the "Academic Engagement" series. For too long, success in academia has favored those who pursue advances in theory rather than advances in application.

One could argue that this lack of engagement is a major contributor to the sorry state of our primary and secondary school systems. If parents don't believe that the work of those who have attained the pinnacle of academic success is of any relevance, then why value education? As evidenced in the recent election, we are a country of factions filled with distrust and cynicism at a time when our security and our economy are at risk.

Our resources are strained and will remain so. We must form effective coalitions of leaders from business, the community and academia to enlist the best efforts of all our citizens in addressing our social and environmental needs.

President and CEO
Evolutionary Technologies

This letter was pub;ished in the March 2005 issue of the Alcalde

Responding to Rick Cherwitz's challenge in the latest issue for readers to participate in the dialogue about how UT should engage with the community, I offer some of the musings of the Subcommittee of the Commission of 125 that was charged with considering these issues over the last several years.

That subcommittee was chaired by Melinda Perrin, and Rick was one of the faculty members who served as an invaluable internal resource for us during our deliberations. We considered concepts as radical as compulsory curriculum for public service as part of a graduation requirement, and as pecuniary as overhaul of faculty compensation schemes to create a financial incentive for academic engagement. What we all agreed on, and the concept that survived the editing process for the Commissions Final Report, is that public higher education has a special providence that the privates cannot reproduce. That unique franchise basically comes down to broad demographic access, and relevance to the community that sustains us. While adequate public funding, of course, is no longer a given, the public mission remains.

How the intended remove of basic research and free academic thought should interface with the gritty realities of the day (political, physical and economic) is obviously difficult, but if smart people accept that it is part of their core purpose, many opportunities will occur. Sometimes it is as simple as connecting the dots in public debate. Chancellor Yudof, in his remarks on this same subject, references the 1983 report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education (A Nation At Risk), yet the current media debate over outsourcing and immigration policy never connects the simple cause-and-effect relationship at issue. If you tolerate under performance in math and science curriculum, twenty years later those jobs will move to places that do not tolerate that same under performance (or those people will immigrate under H1B visas). There are similarly stark but rarely expressed -- relationships between healthcare and education spending, environmental policy and quality-of-life, public spending and private capital formation.

There are many other types of opportunities as well to share the Universitys archives, to apply its research, to export its intellectual honesty, and much more. The important first step is to acknowledge that aspect of the mission and start asking the right questions. The University has done that and I applaud the effort.

Paul W. Hobby
Chief Executive Officer
Alpheus Communications L.P.
1001 Louisiana
Travis Place, 9th Floor
Houston, Texas 77002
Phone (713) 420-6000
Fax (713) 445-9110

A portion of this comment was published by the Austin American-Statesman on 4/16/2005


UT is not engaged

Re: the April 12 column by Sylvia Gale, "New ways the community can access UT's resources":

Although I was pleased to read that the University of Texas is attempting to follow-up on professor Rick Cherwitz's persistent call for "academic engagement," I was disappointed to learn that UT's newest programs do not address the structural issues discussed in these pages last fall.

Far from being "revolutionary," the university's offer of the community "access" to UT includes "library resources" and "the opportunity to belong to a community of scholars." These latest initiatives are another example of the university's elitist approach. The administration assumes the community must come to UT. Where is the multi-institutional, cross-disciplinary problem-solving recommended by Cherwitz and his colleagues?

Bloomington, Ind.

A portion of this comment was published by the Austin American-Statesman on 4/25/2005

Is engagement a new idea?

The idea of "academic engagement" that has been discussed in this newspaper since I began my stint as a visiting scholar in fall 2004 is not new (April 20 column by David Hildebrand, "Why higher education deserves your support").

Academic-community partnerships have already been put into action for nearly a decade in other universities. DePaul University proposed an innovative program, amongst many others, called "Discover Chicago" that required professors and students to explore a topic by traveling around the city. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's much-touted "Milwaukee Idea" led to initiatives where professors team up with a community-based agency to conduct applied research or offer on-site courses. The limitation in UT's discourse about academic engagement is its corporate- and activist-orientation. Cultural work is as important. It is time for UT to become an entrepreneur.