Yesterday Severance Hall was the site of a special colloquium on university-city partnerships. Dr. Edward Hundert co-hosted the event with Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell to mark his inauguration as Case Western Reserve University’s 23rd president. Hundert begins his new job with a stated commitment to aligning university activities with city and regional interests - all on the theory that universities and their surrounding communities can mutually benefit each other. ideastream’s Bill Rice prepared this report.
Richard Levin: Our responsibility transcends pragmatism. We must help our cities to become what we aspire to be on our campuses - a place where human potential can be fully realized. I thank you, I thank you for this opportunity.
That’s Yale President Richard Levin opening a full day of discussions on how to make a big idea a practical reality. Levin was one of some twenty or so visiting dignitaries invited to share their experiences with city/university partnerships they say have enhanced their communities. The colloquium was billed as a national event, the first of its kind, to explore a concept embraced by only a handful of players around the country. For Case Western Reserve and the city of Cleveland, it’s a new venture, one that many here say has been a long time coming. Harold McRea graduated from CWRU in 1965. He’s now a university trustee.
Harold McRea: Historically, we haven’t done a very good job of that - of partnering with our city. I mean there’s been a lot of distrust in this city. I graduated from here almost 40 years ago, and things really haven’t changed and certainly haven’t improved during that time.
Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones - who holds a bachelors and a law degree from Case Western Reserve - agrees the collaboration is welcome, if overdue.
Stephanie Tubbs Jones: I’ve had conversations like this with prior presidents of the university, and they made commitments, but not the kind of commitment that it appears Ed Hundert is going to make to the city of Cleveland and to the university and I’m real pleased to see it.
In many ways the event was typical conference fare, with opening speeches, and morning breakout sessions that covered many areas where academic and civic interests could potentially converge - housing and neighborhood development, health-related activities, public education… Following a lunch break participants returned to Severance Hall for an all-inclusive forum, featuring a voice familiar to public radio listeners.
Neil Conan: I wanted to open this discussion...
Neil Conan, host of National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation, led a nearly two-hour exchange of ideas and experiences. Out-of-town panelists recounted not just their successes, but pitfalls and disappointments as well. William Brody, President of Johns Hopkins University, talked up his institution’s relationship with the city of Baltimore. One of the biggest challenges, he cautioned, is forming partnerships that will last.
William Brody: You know, the neighborhoods that we’re dealing with have declined over decades so the idea that you’re going to fix it in the tenure of a university president of mayor is probably not realistic. So I think the concept is that you get enough critical mass that you get beyond the tipping point, where the momentum will carry it through.
The general consensus among panelists was that university/city partnerships and collaboration can work, and have worked - in Nashville, improving race relations, in Richmond, commercializing technological research, in Toronto, fostering arts and culture. That’s a prospect that excites Thomas Schorgl, who heads the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture here in Cleveland.
Thomas Schorgl: You’ve got a great amount of individual artists who are graduating from some of the best institutions around, and we’re losing them, and we need to keep that intelligent quotient here. And then you’ve got a city that has in fact built its legacy on arts and culture. Case University and the other universities - I don’t think we should overlook that - are all part of re-casting the future of Cleveland, at least in the 21st century.
Likewise, Cleveland Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett sees much to be gained for the city’s 77 thousand public school kids. Byrd-Bennett says she’s particularly fond of an idea pioneered by Clark University in Worchester, Massachusettes and that city’s school district.
Barbara Byrd-Bennett: Having the tenure track tied to service at the school district. So that professors must neither mentor teachers or do direct contact student work before they receive tenure, and to have it as a graduation requirement for anybody attending one of those institutions, that you’ve got to do X number of credit work servicing the public schools. I think that’s quite neat and unique.
Under this scenario, the school district gets much-needed expertise and assistance, while university professors and students gain valuable experience and rewards for their work. In other word, everybody wins, and that’s the necessary thread that makes such partnerships work, according to the program’s hosts. As the colloquium drew to a close, mayor Campbell called attention back to Edward Hundert, as he prepared to take his place at the helm of Cleveland’s most prestigious university.
Jane Campbell: Now I’ll tell you one of the fascinating things. You may not fully understand - that Ed Hundert is a psychiatrist, and if there’s anything a psychiatrist can do, it’s set it all up so that you think it was your idea. So even though we’re onto you Doctor, we’re ready to make this happen. Thank you for making it happen.
In Cleveland, Bill Rice 90.3.