Engaging Higher Education: Purpose, Platforms, and Programs for Community Engagement
reviewed by Brandon Childs & Laura Parson - April 21, 2017
Title: Engaging Higher Education: Purpose, Platforms, and Programs for Community Engagement
Author(s): Marshall Welch
Publisher: Stylus Publishing, LLC., Sterling
ISBN: 1620363844, Pages: 312, Year: 2016
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In Engaging Higher Education: Purpose, Platforms, and Programs for Community Engagement, Marshall Welch discusses the history of community engagement in higher education and argues that engagement is part of its original purpose. He defines the term as activities benefiting society that are integrated into academic purpose to generate new knowledge through research and to educate in programs of study (p. 35). The author argues that community engagement is not peripheral to the core of higher education, but is instead a codification of some of its original ideals. The book describes the history of community engagement in higher education, discusses opportunities for it to engage with the community, and concludes with ideas for community engagement programs in higher education.
Welch served as the Assistant Vice Provost for Engagement and the Director of the Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action at Saint Marys College of California. Prior to arriving at Saint Marys, he worked at the University of Utah as both a professor and the Director of the Lowell Bennion Community Service Center. He is a tenured full professor who has also served as a department chair. His earned his Ph.D. in Special Education from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.
Engaging Higher Education is divided into three parts. The first part, Purpose, explores the history of community engagement in higher education. Chapter One traces the roots of higher education and explains that engagement is an essential part of its original purpose. Chapter Two defines engagement and provides a lexicon of associated terms. This clarifies how it is defined within the field and operationalizes community engagement. Finally, the first part establishes the theoretical underpinnings that anchor disparate views of community engagement and relates these differences to beliefs about the purposes of higher education.
The second part, Platforms, outlines opportunities for higher education to be a platform for engagement. For example, Chapter Three discusses a broad strategy for institutionalizing engagement at the university level. Chapter Four discusses dynamics associated with implementing this strategy ranging from culture to preferred models of engagement. Chapter Five discusses specific infrastructural needs to make engagement successful. The third part, Programs, outlines programmatic ways to engage students (Chapter Six), faculty (Chapter Seven), and community partners (Chapter Eight). Finally, Chapter Nine discusses concerns and strategies for the future of engagement.
As higher education practitioners and researchers, we enjoyed the comprehensive nature of this book. As a guide to literature about community engagement in higher education, it is a valuable resource for those new to the field and those who are familiar with community engagement. Second, it does an excellent job of tying engagement to the core function or purpose of a university and the higher education system. Third, the volume articulates the different dimensions of how a university that is fully committed to engagement can institutionalize engagement activities. Although not labeled as such, the text provides sufficient guidance to incorporate or improve a community engagement program at our own institution. We also discovered the content that was presented to be comprehensive, useful, and action oriented. As such, we appreciated the authors approach to their material.
While we value the contribution Engaging Higher Education makes to the field of higher education, there are a few limitations. Although it identifies the promotion and tenure process for faculty members as a barrier to implementing community engagement programs, it does not discuss strategies to encourage promotion and tenure committees to be more inclusive of engagement activities or engaged scholarship as part of their evaluation measures. While there are suggestions for framing engaged scholarship within the current system in the volume, there is no broader discussion of the possibility of restructuring the system to include community engagement.
The second limitation is the lack of discussion about differences between community partners and the communities themselves. The text discusses complexities and issues surrounding working with these partners. However, it is important to recognize that community partners are frequently organizations situated within the communities that have leadership and staff who exist outside of the community it serves. This is an important distinction to make. We feel this deserves considerable thought, reflection, and navigation to truly transform the communities that universities serve.
Engaging Higher Education speaks to an academic audience that may know little about community engagement. It also serves as a valuable resource guide for scholars in the field. It perhaps errs on the side of comprehensiveness and is a dense read, but it is a tremendous resource for those familiar with or working within engagement. The book does a great job of solidifying or edifying its core audience of engaged scholars, students, and practitioners. It is a valuable and timely addition to the engagement library.