External Relations Sub-Committee
"Celibacy does not suit a university.
It must be wedded to action."
--Sir Alfred North Whitehead
Mission statement: The purpose of External Relations at Saint Cloud State University is to strengthen and build public support for our efforts to achieve academic excellence. In order to achieve this goal, we need to effectively apply the intellectual and cultural resources of the university to the whole universe of complex issues and opportunities facing our surrounding communities. In particular, Saint Cloud State University should model public discourse about the entire range of community issues and use its many resources to provide a respected and valued public forum for understanding and building healthier future communities for our current and future students.
Definitions: It is very important at the outset to establish some working definitions of our key terms. By communities, we do not mean just a single geographic location or the Minnesota State Legislature. Our external communities should be understood as a series of expanding yet connected circles that range from our immediate neighborhood to the City of Saint Cloud and its surrounding region to the entire State of Minnesota, including our elected officials, and beyond. Each College needs to clearly identify and engage those communities with a vital stake in its present and future mission. Community service refers to Ernest Boyer's definition as applying one's special academic training and expertise outside of the classroom setting, "connecting thought to action: theory to practice". By resources, we refer to the entire range of intellectual and cultural capital at this university. This could include our people, physical resources, programs, centers and institutes, and university events such as visual and performing arts or sports.
Problem statement: Because public and therefore governmental support for higher education can no longer be assumed, it has become increasingly important for universities such as Saint Cloud State University to reestablish meaningful connections with our external constituencies. If we are concerned that our students are not participating as democratic citizens, we should ask whether we as a university are effectively modeling such citizenship. Many universities across the country are developing campus-community collaborations to ensure that students and faculty alike have opportunities to apply what they have learned to benefit the communities that support us. Community support from the universities results in greater public support for the universities.
There are a number of factors that prevent Saint Cloud State University from fully achieving this important mission. Although financial resources are always important and never seem adequate to the many tasks at hand, we believe that addressing some of the underlying, structural concerns may help overcome the pervasive sense of scarcity and generate additional financial support. First, we must fundamentally rethink the nature of scholarship at this university. As the late Ernest Boyer repeatedly pointed out in his writings, universities such as ours invidiously compare themselves to the elite research universities rather than accept our challenging role of balancing applied programs with a liberal arts education. The assumed dichotomy between teaching, research and community service leaves everyone feeling overwhelmed and underfunded. We believe that service learning, applied research and community service offer the best ways to strengthen our academic programs as well as to build public support for the university. Secondly, we need better institutional understanding of and support for this new understanding of community service. Building the university's external relations is increasingly important to our long-term survival, much less our advancement. In particular, the role of and criteria for community service in terms of faculty tenure and promotion need to be clarified and revised if needed. Opportunities should also exist for our many dedicated university staff members to participate in this essential function of the university. Thirdly, the whole of the university is less than the sum of its parts. An incredible variety of excellent, exciting university efforts serve our many communities, but these are often done in relative isolation from one another. We need to manage external relations in a much more coordinated manner, communicate our collective activities in a systematic way both to the campus and to the publics we serve, and find more effective ways to inform our communities about the collective impacts of the university beyond those that are purely economic. Finally, in order to obtain the resources needed to achieve our strategic goal of academic distinction, Saint Cloud State University needs to build political and legislative support for the central role it plays in the life of its many communities, whether as an economic catalyst, source of leadership training, venue for athletic and cultural events, or simply a symbol of community identity and pride.
Data sources: To address these problems and achieve our mission for external relations, the university needs to more effectively utilize existing data sources and to create new ones as needed. Some of the important data needs include:
Academic information - This category might include a summary of academic data and accredited university programs, as well as explaining the significance of what these accreditations mean. Academic departments and colleges should have such information available.
Community service activity - This category might include outreach activities of faculty, staff, and students. The Volunteer Link provides one example of this category, while college newsletters and annual reports are valuable tools as well.
Periodic surveys - Important groups that should be routinely surveyed include alumni, educators, area businesses, foundations, media and legislators. The Office of Institutional Research might be a likely candidate to coordinate these instruments.
Advisory councils - Programs, departments, and colleges should seriously consider establishment of advisory councils to provide more detailed and ongoing feedback as well as build community support for their activities.
Recommendations: The External Relations sub-committee has identified a series of recommendations designed to help members of the entire university community better achieve our mission. These recommendations can be classified into several key categories:
Find a "cool niche". The relevant communities for those in the Natural sciences will differ from those in Business, Math & Sciences, Social Sciences or Fine Arts and Humanities. What is important, however, is that each element of the university clearly think about those outside of the university who care about what they do, find fresh new ways of making vital connections to them, and seek to integrate their efforts.
Make it safe and rewarding for people to go there. External relations is not simply public relations; it is at the heart of this university's efforts to achieve academic distinction. Consequently, the institutional arrangements of each unit of the university need to be carefully re-examined in order to identify and overcome obstacles to creating effective external relationships. In particular, the university needs to review and revise the reward structure in terms of tenure and promotion to clearly indicate its support for strengthening external relations. It also needs to consider a coordinated external outreach program so that activities might be managed and conveyed in a more focused manner.
Create a focal point for our external relationships. Seldom does anyone see the vast range of research and services provided by this university, nor do we often come together as a community to hear a distinguished scholar remind us of our shared mission. The university should seriously consider creation of a regional institute that brings the university and region together. Such an institute, a kind of "academic house tour", could provide a regular forum to identify and address the needs and opportunities facing our region from a global perspective, bringing the world to the region while focusing our efforts. In addition, this institute could also serve as an archives and help monitor community progress toward its goals. This forum could then help shape future research directions, further reinforcing relationships between the university and the region.
Get the word out about these activities. The university and its various elements should reexamine the concept and role of public relations in light of the key themes of the overall strategic plan. In particular, better internal communications about the range of applied research and community service activities has been consistently identified as a need at this university; University News might be reexamined in this regard. A clear mission for external relations and a visible forum for the universe of our activities should help strengthen the ability of public relations to communicate these activities to a broad range of interested communities. The Outlook for alumni represents an excellent starting point in this regard.
Resources: To paraphrase the X Files, we are not alone. A broad spectrum of resources is available to help carry out these recommendations and move our mission for external relations forward. Some key categories of resources include:
University: A variety of programs and models provide an excellent starting point for building effective external relations. These include the College of Continuing Studies and Sponsored Programs. The Economic Winter Institute offers one successful model for relating the university to communities, while the Student Research Colloquium provides an example of how to bring academic research into a collective forum. The Office of Institutional Research should provide important assistance in identifying and tracking important data about external relationships.
Regional: Within the Great River Region of central Minnesota, several important resources should be explored. The Saint Cloud Area Planning Organization is an established entity that could benefit from applied university research while relating that research to pressing regional issues; so is the Area Economic Development Partnership. The Great River Roundtable served as a model for an inclusive and holistic approach to addressing community needs and opportunities; it might be recreated in another form. The Initiative Foundation in Little Falls has played an important role in identifying and addressing a broad range of interrelated regional issues; it might be a valuable partner for university-community relationships.
Other: University-community relationships and partnerships are becoming increasingly important at the state and national levels. In Minnesota, the Minnesota Campus Compact organization provides support for initiatives at building such relationships. The Kellogg Foundation is just one of a number of important philanthropies that have made resources available to advance university-community relations.
Conclusion: When Lawrence Hall was destroyed by fire back in 1905, the entire community responded by raising thousands of dollars to rebuild a place they valued. At the beginning of a new century and millennium, Saint Cloud State University still needs to apply knowledge in ways and settings that hold meaning for the communities we were designed to serve. While knowledge for its own sake is valuable, pressing community concerns and competing demands for resources make it essential that we clearly and consistently demonstrate the value of our scholarship. Such an approach would have many positive benefits for the university: improved public relations, leadership opportunities, and a renewed sense of campus pride. We depend on our communities as much as they depend upon us. It's time to complete the circle once again.