Friday, December 14, 2007
Public Scholarship at CC's
This is really an exercise in idea-stealing, rather than a developed thought.
Have you seen (or do you work at) a cc that does a consistently good job of presenting its faculty in public settings as local experts?
I've been frustrated with the inequities of visibility from discipline to discipline. Some of the evergreen disciplines – including my scholarly home, the social sciences – are virtually invisible to the larger community. I'd love to get a sort of in-house speakers' series going, with members of our faculty presenting one-off public talks on topics that combine their own expertise with popular appeal.
We've done a little of that, and the little we've done has been gratifyingly well-received. But I'd love to encourage a higher profile in this area, since it strikes me as exactly the sort of thing that a community college ought to do. If we can bring local people to campus for talks they'd find interesting, everybody wins. The college gains some local support, the faculty get to show off a little (and make a few bucks), and the community gets access to a wonderful resource that it's already paying for.
If you've seen this done well, what was the trick? I'm casting about for portable best practices, which is a fancy way of saying I'm looking to steal/imitate some good ideas that have worked. We have some wonderful faculty with expertise in areas of wide interest, and I'm tired of that being a relatively well-kept secret.
Wise and worldly readers – your thoughts?
You should also try to persuade faculty members to pitch op-eds to local papers. It may not be as prestigious as academic journal writing, and it may not get them tenure, but it will inform debates in your community, get the name of the university out there, highlight your faculty's expertise, and hone your faculty's writing skills. (You can't get away with academic jargon in an op-ed. You have to write to the point.)
1) A little bit of media training will provide faculty with the key skills they need. Whether they take the key lessons to heart is their own choice. (The key lessons for me: Put main findings first and caveats last; have things to say instead of responding to all questions off the cuff; call reporters back within an hour.)
2) Negotiate a small bonus with your faculty union for any faculty member who places an op-ed in daily newspapers in your area.
Someone who's good at that kind of marketing. Or a faculty member who is determined to get their knowledge out there and share it, and finds avenues to do it, even if they're unusual.
Traditional local media contacts are important (the experts list, etc.) but so are other community contacts. What about teaching community rec classes through the local Park District (or whatever you have out where you are)? Ethics and comparative religion goes over well at local religious groups, maybe a month-long series. Lectures before or after operas, symphonies, etc., always draw a good crowd -- as do lectures before a classic movie at an art-house theater. Teaching small seminars to community groups from the amateur astronomers to the Rotary. Do you have any Lit profs game enough to visit a book club and lead a discussion? That kind of thing.
Pitching series/feature ideas to local news directors also goes well, particularly in smaller markets; they're always looking for local programming/stories. You'll get rejected a lot, but sometimes you'll get picked up.
Ours is located within our department, but you could do something similar across campus. The local library's contribution is important: we connect with people who use the library, mostly, and they do some focused publicity (flyers and such).
The Rockford television and print journalists tend to make more use of faculty at Rock Valley College (a cc) and Rockford College (a private) than they do of Northern Illinois, again, I suspect, because of the travel. That observation applies to locating an expert for something of national or international import. Let some miscreant write a threat on a bathroom mirror, or let the athletic director introduce a football coach, and they will travel.
Other ideas: How about having someone do a talk at local Rotary, Lions, Soroptimists, Kiwanis, clubs? Based on my experience, these groups are uniformly interested in hearing more about public scholarship opportunities and, indeed, promoting public scholarship. Often, the folks involved in these types of clubs are connected within the community and can help to create synergy for various projects or programs you may want to publicize, get funding for, etc.
To find a person to speak at these sorts of clubs, you might want to ask around among faculty to see who has received scholarship funding from a service organization such as Rotary. Those Rotarians LOVE to hear about how folks they've funded are now applying their financial assistance to better the community through education!
You might also try associations of retirees from large companies. (My stepdad belongs to one for retired GE engineers.) Many of them have monthly luncheons with a guest speaker, and they enjoy hearing experts talk about a wide variety of current subjects. The audience is going to be intelligent laypeople who have some time to think about areas outside their own careers, and that's always great fun.
I also think that academic work that helps students make links to community organizations and community service is the ticket. We have a faculty member who hooks colleagues up with local institutions -- historical societies, arts centers, nursing home -- in service learning projects.
My guess is that these things also become harder to accomplish in a situation where there are too few full-time faculty who are carrying a lot of administrative work.
1. Press releases. Write lots of press releases, about anything that happens: innovative new courses, profiles of new faculty, commentary from experts on current events, new books or articles by faculty members, even things like enrollment trends at the college (which areas are gaining/losing students). The trick is to write more press releases than anyone actually wants. No matter what you do, you'll have very little control over which ones actually get used, so you might as well provide a lot and let reports choose among them.
2. Envy. You can start small, and once it gets going this will build on its own. You just need to publicize it internally: every time a professor gets quoted by the press or a story mentions the college, announce it on a faculty e-mail list. Whenever you do this, several other faculty members will feel that it should have been them being quoted. If you mention at the end of the e-mails how to get in touch with the administrator who handles press releases, you'll have more suggestions than you want or need.
Failing this, I like TR's suggestion: hire a darn good PR person and give them free reign. Also, be sure to give the faculty incentives to participate, either in terms of cumulative tenure counting or $$$. - TL
Oh my goodness, this is a real knee slapper! At my CC, faculty are NOT ALLOWED to present themselves as local experts in public settings without prior permission. Permission appears to be granted based entirely on the whim of the president.
Oh, I'm still laughing. What a concept.
Nonprofits, like cc's, tend to be strapped for cash. If you can cover some sort of honorarium substitute - or even just argue convincingly that no honorarium is necessary (perhaps because it would violate the byzantine union rules you have to deal with?) - then a nonprofit may be willing to either set up and advertise a public lecture featuring your speakers or just advertise a lecture occurring on your campus. Instant advertising. The trick is that you need to approach relevant non-profits. Mine have focused on Asia, so an engineering event wouldn't generally be interesting (unless it involved a problem in Asia). Particularly, I would suggest searching out organizations that put out lists of events occurring in the area. They'll advertise events on your campus for free.
Someone else suggested libraries, which I will reinforce. Lots of people use libraries and so will see the ads, and libraries tend to have free space available for educational events like that.
Another group to approach is town councils. One thing I noticed from your postings of December, 2007 is your town's complicated Christmas rituals (ice sculpting, tree lighting, et cetera). Whoever organizes that would probably be willing to have a professor come give a quick talk or even just answer questions about Scrooge/Dickens/Christmas traditions/what have you. Similar talks could occur around Halloween, Thanksgiving and other holidays. Towns have town halls that are used for precisely this sort of thing, and would probably be interested in having topics related to their populace(s?) discussed. For example, my town has a lot of young families who would probably enjoy having a night with an education teacher all to themselves to hear about things like delaying preschool and how much homework is too much.
Finally, I would suggest other colleges. Specifically, those with radio or journalism programs. If you offer up a bunch of professors to be guinea pig interviewees for students (preferably on interesting and/or timely topics), my guess is that you'll get a few bites. And also the chance to lure some students away from the more expensive schools for at least a few basic credits. Not that you would steal someone else's students :)