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Public Service and Outreach Planning Commission

Notes (Expanded)

February 24, 1999


The second meeting of the Public Service and Outreach Planning Commission was held February 24, 1999, from 8:30 – 10:00 a.m. in Newcomb Hall Room 389.



Rebecca Kneedler (chair), Harold Burbach, Richard DeMong, John Echeverri-Gent, Caroline Engelhard, Doris Glick, David Kalergis, James Kennan, Edmund Kitch, Anne Oplinger, Mark Reisler, Kenneth Schwartz, Sondra Stallard, John Thomas, Kathryn Thornton, Karin Wittenborg, Sage Blaska, Ben Boggs, Virginia Collins, Laura Hawthorne, Denise Karaoli, Nancy Nicoletto Rivers


Guests: Joseph M. Cronin, Jane Sjogren



Everyone briefly introduced or re-introduced herself/himself. Guests and commission members who had been unable to attend the first meeting were welcomed. Commission chair Rebecca Kneedler reiterated that commission meetings are open, and others are welcome to attend.

Ms. Kneedler then introduced Joe Cronin and Jane Sjogren, consultants to the commission, and explained that they are available as resources to the commission. Mr. Cronin is an educator who has taught at Harvard and Boston University, served as the senior state education officer in Massachusetts and Illinois, worked as a school principal in Maryland, and was president of Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts. He is now president of Edvisors. Ms. Sjogren, an economist specializing in education and health issues, has taught at Wellesley, Simmons, and Johnson & Wales University.

Using a Powerpoint presentation, Mr. Cronin and Ms. Sjogren gave a broad overview of public service as part of the mission of higher education, and they shared observations about U.Va.’s efforts in this area. Mr. Cronin has visited the University in recent months and conducted extensive interviews with faculty and staff. Topics covered in their presentation to the commission included:

  • Putting Public Service in Context – Most institutions of higher education list their missions as teaching, research, and public service – in that order. Public service is seldom totally separate – it pervades teaching and research.
  • The Historical Context – In early institutions, the church was synonymous with education. Franklin and Jefferson, in emphasizing the "useful sciences," law and medicine, were radicals. Today, views of former university presidents Ernest Boyer and Derek Bok focus on scholarship of engagement, both civic and ethical.
  • Types of Service – Broad categories include: civic-individual service (religious or community organizations, jury duty, etc.); institutional (advising, committee work, "extracurricular" activities); academic (participating in academic/professional associations); and public (applying scholarly expertise to external problems).
  • University Public Service – Many forms can be listed: community service, economic development, state and national service, health and related clinical services, etc. Delivery of public service might include: new business incubation, business advisory services, and technology transfer; partnering with other enterprises; and manpower development and training.
  • Supporting Public Service – A university’s support of public service can be seen in varying degrees in the mission statement; in different forms of funding; in institutional policies that apply to faculty and staff; in organized efforts such as partnerships or in the establishment of centers, institutes, and clinics; and in any centralization efforts such as a single office to coordinate public service activities.
  • Evaluating Faculty Public Service – Documentation of benefits to recipients is often neglected. Other forms of evaluation include impact on research and publications; evaluation by external parties; and resulting changed in practice, policy, and standards.
  • Providing Public Service and Outreach – Many avenues: centers, institutes, and clinics; facilities and events for the public; continuing education; distance learning; and volunteers.
  • Collaborating to Provide Public Service – Industrial parks, for example, represent formal and informal collaboration with employers. Highly desirable to collaborate with other universities – the state needs the collaboration, even though we may not. Other examples are public sector consortia and corporate "partnerships."
  • Choosing and Evaluating Public Service Endeavors – Involves questions such as whether the endeavor is susceptible to a solution; how much time, space, effort, and financial resources are required; whether faculty support the endeavor. Also, very important is the issue of academic freedom. Can research be publicized and disseminated?
  • Recognizing Public Service – Both internal and external recognition can be very effective in building a culture that values public service.

U.Va.’s course catalogue and web site should be modified to make public service information more accessible and visible. The University of Wisconsin, for example, puts outreach up front on its home page.

In summary, Mr. Cronin and Ms. Sjogren encouraged the commission to develop a working definition of public service and outreach, one that incorporates change. They encouraged maintaining flexibility with the definition and not locking in to a single viewpoint at this time.

Following the presentation, members joined in discussion. Among the suggestions and questions raised:

  • Is our task really to determine the role of the University in society? Or is our task to balance the tensions of teaching, research, and public service? Should the commission’s work result in a new philosophy of public service or in concrete recommendations?
  • Commission has the opportunity to envision what the University will be like in 2010 or 2020 with regard to public service and outreach.
  • We need a new, revised vision of public service that will shape the PS&O agenda for the next century. Tell us what it will cost and we will go out and raise the money.
  • Mr. Cronin encourages the commission to engage in new thinking, to come up with 10-30 new and courageous ideas. It would be a mistake to say we are already doing a "thousand" things great, so let’s just tell everyone how great we are.
  • Difficult to determine, though, what new things need to be done if we don’t have an inventory. Indeed, the quantity of information is staggering. An inventory itself could be 1,000 pages long.
  • Suggestion: series of brief papers. One could summarize what other great institutions are doing in area of PS&O.
  • For PS&O Commission, identifying benchmarks does not necessarily rest on singling out individual institutions but instead on identifying programmatic aspects of several institutions (for example, one institution may excel at distance learning, while another excels at public sector consortia).
  • Idea for assessment: meet with legislators, anti-poverty agencies, State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. Ask them to speak candidly about how U.Va. is perceived and its future potential.
  • Student participation in public service – 80 percent. Impressive statistic that should be touted more broadly.
  • Conducting inventory – perhaps the commission should aim for an "accurate impression with an order of magnitude." Question arises, then, of how to evaluate order of magnitude. Important to distill information to a manageable length (a document of 5-6 pages) so others will read it and take note.
  • Deans’ report from each school could be good starting point for compiling inventory (although sometimes incomplete). Take reports from last few years to create a road map. Have deans quickly review the road map for accuracy.
  • For comparison, perhaps look at annual reports of other institutions and see how we compare, such as Berkeley, Michigan, UT-Austin, Duke, Vanderbilt.
  • American Council on Education is working on several initiatives regarding universities and civic responsibility. Web site is http://www.acenet.edu/About/programs/Programs&Analysis/
  • A well-defined public service function complements teaching and research.
  • U.Va. could do better job of communicating what it is already doing well. Student volunteerism is good example. No need to brag, but we can display. Some of our most prominent literature (the course catalogue, for example) does not describe public service. We tell the world that we are "a nationally recognized research university," with no mention of public service.
  • Public service is going to be defined for us if we don’t define it. We are not telling our story with the citizens of Virginia. In Richmond and Northern Virginia some people feel we are not responsive to the needs of the Commonwealth.
  • Some would say, "U.Va. has gone Hollywood – national and international – and no longer cares about the people of Virginia." Part of the charge is to redefine U.Va.’s commitment to the Commonwealth.
  • U.Va. is extremely decentralized, and that offers some marvelous attributes. Small groups can make things happen. Many initiatives can come from the edge and don’t have to come from central administration. Great strength, but creates great difficulty if commission is to send cultural message across the institution. Instead of narrowing definition of public service, everything the institution does (even teaching) could be defined as public service.
  • You ought to have a working definition to get started, but keep it flexible. Don’t lock in to a single definition. You may need different definitions for different applications.


At the next meeting, members should be prepared to develop a working definition of public service and outreach. Next meeting: Wednesday, March 10, 1999, 8:30 - 10 a.m., Newcomb Hall Room 389.


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