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Quality Enhancement Plan

Surveying Best Practices

In addition to conversations within the Rice community, the Steering Committee sought guidance for plan development from a number of external sources, including peer institutions, Web-based resources, and professional associations. The Steering Committee examined best practices in higher education with regard to both service-learning and community-based research, including other national and peer group data derived from carefully designed research. 32  

Members of the Steering Committee participated in two Campus Compact conferences and conferred with directors of research and service-learning programs at Duke, Notre Dame, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Stanford, and Georgetown (see Appendix B).

Campus Compact is a national organization with a mission to advance the public purposes of colleges and universities by deepening their ability to improve community life and educate students for civic and social responsibility. As a member institution in Campus Compact and one of the founding universities of Texas Campus Compact, Rice University has worked with the organization to stay abreast of recent research and the best practices related to civic engagement. Campus Compact's Indicators of Engagement Project, sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, documents and disseminates best practices of civic and community engagement on different types of campuses. 33  

As part of the QEP development process, the Steering Committee responded to a Request for Proposals issued by a regional Campus Compact conference entitled "Educating Citizens through Service and Learning: Celebrating 20 Years of Campus Compact." The proposal was one of 15 accepted, and a subset of the Steering Committee traveled to Tulsa, Oklahoma, on July 20-22, 2005, to obtain guidance and advice on the QEP from community service and service-learning practitioners at campuses throughout Texas and Oklahoma. Additionally, members of the Committee attended the SACS Quality Enhancement Institute in Orlando in July 2005, and the annual SACS-COCS conference in Atlanta in December 2005, to learn from the experiences of peer institutions and to solicit feedback from colleagues on Rice's QEP.

Feedback from these experiences and conference participants highlighted three key areas for consideration in the ongoing development of the QEP:

  • Community partners should be involved in the planning of the QEP; they must see the value of this new opportunity for involvement with the university as augmenting existing relationships (e.g., volunteer and internship placements).
  • A culture of civic engagement should be nurtured in all segments of the university. Potential areas of development for faculty include seminars on the pedagogy of community-based research and funding for the development of new courses. Likewise, students participating in community-based research must feel supported and be given the opportunity to pursue their interests after QEP courses are completed. These opportunities could be in the form of seed money for community-based projects, internship placements with nonprofit and governmental agencies, access to employers in the public service industry, and co-curricular experiences that allow for further exposure to challenging social issues.
  • Assessment had proved challenging for a variety of QEP projects at other universities. Development of an assessment protocol should be at the top of the Steering Committee's priorities.

 

The Steering Committee also identified six civic engagement programs at peer institutions that provide contextually appropriate benchmarks for Rice's QEP:

  • Duke University's Research-Service-Learning program (RSL)
  • Princeton University's Community Based Learning Initiative (CBLI)
  • Stanford University's Haas Center for Public Service (Haas Center)
  • Georgetown University's Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service (CSJ)
  • The University of Pennsylvania's Center for Community Partnerships (CCP)
  • The University of Notre Dame's Center for Social Concerns

Our research into these programs consisted of on-site visits or phone interviews with key personnel from each university, usually including the Center director. 34 These conversations highlighted both the potential and challenges of community-based research. Based on consultations with these peer institutions, the Steering Committee identified four areas of concern that informed our discussions and planning:

1. Determining the Appropriate Mix of Curricular and Co-curricular Programs

  • Several, although not all, peer institutions offer some gateway courses or "threshold" experiences as prerequisites to participation in community-based work; all provide some orientation and/or training for student participants.
  • Students are civically engaged through coursework in addition to experiences not specifically tied to any particular course.

After careful reflection, the Steering Committee decided the QEP should include gateway courses on a variety of topics. These courses will not serve as prerequisites for enrollment in QEP research or design courses but, rather, as venues for introducing first- and second-year students to many of the skills and values associated with civic engagement. Individual faculty members will retain control over granting permission for enrollment in their courses.

2. Supporting Infrastructure and Faculty Participation

  • Many of the centers employ a faculty director who is assisted by a professional staff.
  • A critical factor in the success of the centers is the ability of the director to work with faculty and understand their concerns about the pedagogy and assessment of service learning (specifically, what students learned) and about barriers to faculty participation.
  • Recruiting tenured and tenure-track faculty to teach classes that include community-based projects can be difficult.
  • Peer institutions disagree about whether non-tenured faculty should participate.

Examination of service-learning and community-based research programs at peer institutions provide convincing evidence of both the value of faculty leadership and the difficulty of securing faculty participation for such programs. The Steering Committee was particularly struck by the fact that every peer program examined, except Penn's, has had extremely limited success at persuading tenured and tenure-track faculty to teach courses and mentor community-based projects, even after years of intensive efforts. Accordingly, the Steering Committee devoted considerable energy throughout 2005 to meeting with Rice faculty members, individually and in groups, to enlist their assistance and advice in plan formulation. The Steering Committee also determined that the newly established Center for Civic Engagement should be placed under the authority of the Dean of Undergraduates and led by a director drawn from the Rice faculty.

The Committee was not persuaded that non-tenured faculty should be excluded from teaching community-based research courses. While junior faculty who teach such courses at Rice agreed that they can be time consuming, there was no evidence that such courses distracted from faculty members' own research and progress toward tenure. Nonetheless, to encourage and support faculty participation, one of the Center's most important functions will be to relieve faculty of the administrative burdens associated with the design and supervision of community-based research courses.

3. Forging Successful Relationships between University and Community Partners

  • Confining community-based projects to a semester-long format is often challenging.
  • Program directors must be sensitive to the differing expectations of community partners, faculty mentors, and students.

Colleagues at peer institutions affirmed that even well organized and funded programs would falter if relationships between community partners and the university were not carefully and continually managed. As a first step toward understanding the needs and expectations of community partners, a subgroup of the Steering Committee held a series of meetings with a diverse assortment of Houston organizations in the fall of 2005. The Steering Committee also recommended that the person hired as executive director of the Center have extensive experience in cultivating and sustaining partnerships with community organizations. Finally, placement of the Community Involvement Center and Leadership Rice within the Center will greatly assist with this concern, since these offices already maintain excellent relationships with scores of community organizations throughout greater Houston.

Footnotes:

  1. See Bibliography for a list of web-based resources consulted as part of this investigation.
  2. http://www.compact.org/advancedtoolkit/indicators.html
  3. Appendix B lists the dates and individuals involved in consultation on-site visits and conference calls.