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January-February 2008

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Attaining Carnegie’s Community-Engagement Classification

Now that the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has designated a first round of institutions that meet its criteria for engagement with their communities, those of us at North Carolina State University involved with winning the classification for the institution offer our reflections on the process for other colleges and universities preparing similar applications. We learned a great deal about our own institution as we addressed the concepts and processes underpinning the documentation of engagement. More importantly, we discuss how we defined, interpreted, and responded  to measures of institutional identity and engagement activities. We also offer lessons learned about the importance of logistics and discuss the benefits of this effort. 

Documentation Required
The Carnegie framework requires responses to two major sets of questions to document an institution’s engagement with its community. The first, Foundational Indicators, required affirmative answers along with substantiating evidence. If the institution answered in the negative to a majority of questions about institutional culture and commitment, there was no reason to complete the rest of the documentation.

Foundational Indicators contained the “Institutional Identity and Culture” and “Institutional Commitment” sections of the framework. Documenting these areas stimulated intense reflection by the task force created to pursue the classification and subsequently helped reinforce several elements of our university’s focus on community engagement.

We could respond that NC State’s mission and vision statements did indeed include community engagement as a priority and that we recognized such engagement with campus-wide awards and celebrations. Our supporting evidence included quotes from publications and speeches by the chancellor, as well as information about budget allocations, fund-raising successes, and sponsored projects. 

Our organizational structures also promote and support community engagement. In addition to the Office of Extension, Engagement and Economic Development (EE&ED), NC State has three organizations that facilitate such activities both on and off campus: 1) an Academy of Outstanding Faculty Engaged in Extension, which provides recognition for remarkable achievements; 2) a University Standing Committee on Extension and Engagement, consisting of faculty, staff, and students, which provides advice and counsel on all aspects of the EE&ED Office’s programs; and 3) an Extension Operations Council, which includes leaders from all 10 colleges and about a dozen other units at NC State. The council aims to optimize communication among, and coordination and implementation of, EE&ED programs across the campus, including those in academic programs, student affairs, and research.

Not every question was so easily answered with a “yes,” however. We debated how to respond to the question about whether we have mechanisms in place to assess the community’s perceptions of our engagement. We said we did, and given our decentralized management structure, we substantiated our claim by listing seven examples of such assessment within different organizational units. But since we are decentralized, we could not answer “yes” to a later question: Do systematic campus-wide assessment or recording mechanisms exist to evaluate and/or track institutional engagement in community?

Finally, we provided extensive detail in response to a crucial question: Do the institutional policies for promotion and tenure reward the scholarship of community engagement? Our policies that form the basis for reappointment, promotion, and tenure decisions at the departmental, college, and university levels do include a requirement for individual faculty and their departmental leaders to develop a “statement of mutual expectations” that identifies which of “six realms of faculty responsibility” each faculty member will emphasize.

James J. Zuiches is North Carolina State University’s vice chancellor for Extension, Engagement, and Economic Development. Task force co-authors include Ellis Cowling, James Clark, Patti Clayton, Karen Helm, Brent Henry, Ted Morris, Susan Moore, Susan Navey-Davis, Sharon Schulze, Courtney Thornton, and Alice Warren.

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