Volume 12, Number 17 April 29, 2005

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Outreach & Engagement document gains campus input

The latest deadline for commenting on how the U of S should build its relationships with the outside community in the future is the end of April – but for those who miss it, more opportunities will be available as the newest foundational document makes its way through the revision process.

The Foundational Document on Outreach and Engagement has been scrutinized over the past six weeks by various individuals and groups both on and off campus, according to Pauline Melis, Director of Institutional Planning. The draft has been in the hands of deans and department heads as well as Council committees, she said, and comments have been collected from, among other entities, focus groups of faculty and staff, University Senate and, off campus, the Regional Advisory Councils.

All comments will feed into future drafts as the document makes it way toward a final version expected to be ready for presentation to University Council in October, she said.

The 45-page document, like other U of S foundational documents before it, arises from the University’s integrated planning process and the need to define the direction of the institution in a number of key areas. In the case of outreach and engagement, that means looking at the University’s connections and partnerships with individuals, organizations and communities in this province, in Canada and around the world. According to the document outline, the U of S is “seeking to establish a new ‘social covenant’ … (by) building on a new conception of its historic roles of service and extension”.

Pauline Melis

Pauline Melis

Outreach and engagement activities also influence the University’s sense of place, one of three defining features of the institution named in Strategic Directions. To take the commitment to ‘sense of place’ seriously, the document states “we must ensure that what we are doing fits the current and ongoing needs of the people of this province, remains true to our traditions, and can be supported within our current and planned resource base.”

Melis said preparation of the document was influenced, in part, by the findings of the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land Grant Universities, a group established in the U.S. in 1996 to look at public education in that country. According to the foundational document, the commission found that for universities to stay relevant, they must “organize themselves to better serve both local and national needs in a more coherent and effective way. The Kellogg Commission’s seminal contribution is in (its) definition of engagement – going beyond the traditional roles of outreach and service toward a reciprocal and meaningful sharing of knowledge through partnerships with external groups.”

The document goes on to say that there are many types of outreach activities underway at the U of S, but “no co-ordination or grounding policy … no particular pattern or philosophical approach to our work”. That said, 10 “families of activities” are identified, including continuing education for the public, technology transfer, economic development, community-University research, international efforts and the formal study of outreach and engagement as a practice.

The extent of this activity is a hallmark of the U of S, says the document, a feature that has, over its history, distinguished this institution from others. Maintaining that distinctiveness is one of seven “key deliverables” listed that, “taken together, will define a new ‘social covenant’ for the University of Saskatchewan for the first decades of the 21st century”. Others include enriching student experiences as well as the lives of Saskatchewan citizens, increasing the esteem of the University, and building a partnership base.

The document goes on to pose a number of questions about “the particular roles and responsibilities of all units of the University” when it comes to outreach and engagement. And, it recommends five principles that could guide the development of future structures:

• Adopting outreach and engagement requires leadership at a variety of levels;
• Outreach and engagement – particularly the latter – are academic matters which involve the work of faculty and students;
• The University should value and seek external advice from a broad range of interested groups about its outreach and engagements activities and impacts;
• Outreach and engagement should not become so centralized that most members of the University community see it as ‘someone else’s business’, nor so decentralized that nobody on campus pays careful attention to it; and
• Sustained partnerships with external communities should be nurtured, with development of specific mechanisms for this purpose.

The document concludes by restating “our continued and abiding commitment to the concept of service”. With “our side” of the proposed new covenant defined, the University community can move toward “engaging with external partners in the exploration of their interest in nurturing mutually beneficial relationships with the University of Saskatchewan.”

The Foundational Document on Outreach and Engagement along with supporting material, can be see at www.usask.ca/vpacademic/integrated-planning/plandocs/foundational_docs.php

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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