The University of Michigan is taking steps to expand how its faculty members engage with the public to influence federal, state and local policy, and how they share their knowledge about important issues with those outside the academic world.
President Mark Schlissel announced the effort to boost faculty public engagement during his annual Leadership Breakfast on Tuesday. He also announced the recipients of two new presidential awards recognizing public engagement and its impact.
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Public engagement can take various forms, ranging from consultation, testimony or serving on advisory panels to writing op-ed pieces, appearing in the media or offering classes or talks directed at beyond the university.
The U-M effort has two major goals, Schlissel said.
"The first is to help faculty share their expertise and research capacity with the public, through purposeful efforts focused outside the academy. The second goal is to help the public recognize the great value of its two-century-long investment in U-M," he said.
Citing recent Pew Foundation findings that an increasing fraction of the public believes colleges and universities negatively affect how things are going in the country, Schlissel said institutions like U-M must better demonstrate their importance and value.
"We are valuable not just because we provide an outstanding education to some of the most talented students in each rising generation, but also because we create new knowledge," Schlissel said. "The knowledge we produce enhances the quality of life and our economic vitality. It helps inform our decision-making as a society. It inspires us to ask new questions that move discovery in directions unheard of a generation ago."
To promote and support faculty public engagement, the university will tap into the strengths of several existing academic and administrative units, he said.
First, the Office of Academic Innovation, whose Teach-Out Series provides a way for faculty members to expand their reach and respond quickly to emerging issues, will be asked to more explicitly add a faculty public engagement charge — further amplifying the implication of research for a wide audience.
"This will include using the tools and platforms the Academic Innovation Initiative has already developed, as well as working with faculty to launch new experiments that could actually reimagine public engagement," Schlissel said.
Secondly, a collaboration between U-M's offices of Research and Government Relations will identify opportunities for federal and state service by faculty members, inform them of such opportunities, and track their participation so it can be used to publicize work, or for promotion and tenure considerations by departments.
"On the latter point, the Provost’s Office will continue to work with deans, chairs and faculty on how to incentivize and 'count' the various types of public engagement in annual reviews," Schlissel said.
A third component involves the offices of Communications and Academic Affairs, which will provide robust training for faculty in areas such as writing and placing op-eds, working with the news media to communicate research, and using social media.
"This collaboration will help identify, further publicize, and hold up as a model faculty who already successfully engage in the public sphere," he said.
Highlighting the importance of celebrating those who pursue public engagement, Schlissel announced the recipients of the first President’s Award for National and State Leadership and President’s Award for Public Impact. Each award has two recipients in this inaugural year.
The President’s Award for National and State Leadership honors individuals who have provided sustained, dedicated and influential leadership and service in major national or state capacities. It is being given to Ella Atkins, professor of aerospace engineering and of electrical engineering and computer science, and James Jackson, the Daniel Katz Distinguished University Professor of Psychology and research professor at the Research Center for Group Dynamics.
"Professor Atkins has more than a decade of engagement with aerospace committees and posts at the national level, including NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab and the National Research Council," Schlissel said. "Professor Jackson’s distinguished service since joining the University of Michigan in 1971 includes numerous national academic leadership positions, local service commitments, and the pioneering National Survey of Black Americans."
The President’s Award for Public Impact honors individuals who have offered their academic research and expertise in tangible service of a major public-sector challenge. It is being given to Meghan Duffy, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and Arthur Lupia, Hal R. Varian Collegiate Professor of Political Science and research professor at the Center for Political Studies.
"Professor Duffy is a leading national voice in promoting the crucial importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in the STEM disciplines, including co-creating the science blog, 'Dynamic Ecology,'" Schlissel said. "Professor Lupia's work to enhance understanding of political information and scientific findings is exemplified by his use of research to help resolve the civil war in Colombia."