Common ground 

By Karen Herland

Sustainable Concordia ended the term with a BBQ. Magnifying glass

Sustainable Concordia ended the term with a BBQ.

A core of dedicated faculty researchers and staff are taking the university’s strategic direction of community engagement and social responsibility seriously by designing a three-year/three-conference project with support from the Office of the President.

The group has developed informally over two years of gathering and presenting their research on the themes related to sustainability. In addition to faculty members, staff and students — especially the team at Sustainable Concordia — have participated in the exchange. The most recent discussions took place last October (see Journal, Oct. 15, 2009) under the theme of sustainable communities. It was there the idea of working on a common project, involving the broader community, began to take shape.

The issue of sustainability is increasingly of interest at the university. “We are starting to build an informal community and relationships amongst each other,” said Lance Evoy, the Director of the Institute for Community Development who worked with Political Science Chair Peter Stoett on preparing the initial proposal. “This project seeks to extend what is being developed in collaboration with the larger community outside the university.”

The Office of the President has a fund available to develop ideas arising from the strategic directions document produced last year after lengthy consultation across the university.

May 11 was the first meeting since they approved a tri-annual $8 000 grant. About 10 people met to brainstorm ideas. Evoy will be retiring soon (see story in this issue), but he said the School of Extended Learning has committed human resources to match the funds provided by the President’s office.

Stoett summed up the impetus to “avoid the typical academic conference where researchers present their papers to ‘the masses’. Instead, we would like more of a round table format.”

Although the project is still preliminary, several people were interested in contacting and engaging community organizations in a mutually educational project. It was a point Sociology Professor Satoshi Ikeda underscored with reports of community group members feeling exploited like objects, not partners, in a lot of university-based research.

Bill Reimer, also of Sociology, suggested that the three conferences could build on each other over three years starting with an inclusive group. Taking examples from both on and off campus, several shared ideas on how to develop an interdisciplinary theme that would support work already being done and ensure that it was useful in a community context. Several researchers pointed out that the ability to reflect on practice, successes and challenges is a university strength that can be valuable to those in front-line community groups who are already stretched thin simply fulfilling their mandates.

Many of those present also said the project has an opportunity to reassess how faculty productivity is seen within the university as more than simply the number of publications and conferences attended. This type of recognition is currently being explored in the pilot project of co-curricular records for students’ non-academic experience.

Cameron Stiff, a project coordinator at Sustainable Concordia, underlined the importance of working with community organizations from the outset, engaging them in the shaping of the initiative and understanding their timelines and needs. “Universities are society’s most respected institutions,” Stiff said. “They can lend a lot of credence and authority to work community organizations do, while those organizations can help universities understand what is of concern and importance in society.”

The group will continue to develop the project in the coming months.


Concordia University