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In the United States, the history of the university is steeped in a commitment to service of the community through the emergence of land-grant universities. The first land-grant universities were established to train members of the community in agriculture, military tactics, and the mechanical arts and continue to serve the community today via the establishment of Cooperative Extension Services which exist to communicate knowledge, particularly agricultural in nature, gained in the university to the members of the community .
So too is the global university rooted in service to society. In her address to the Global Perspectives cohort, Jeanne-Marie Tuffery-Andrieu of the University of Strasbourg explored the role of the global university in society:
The University is intended to train students for working life to become active citizens in civil society… It allows a better understanding of what we are and what surrounds us. It expresses an ethical concern which leads to society’s service… So, throughout the world, Strasbourg, Basel [or] Virginia, society urgently needs the access to knowledge for everyone, everywhere that the University community can bring. This service is also committed to the very real promotion of research and activity in order to promote human dignity .
My goal as a member of the Global Perspectives cohort was to investigate the following questions:
- How do universities and their faculty, staff, and students interact with the communities that they serve? How do they characterize their social responsibilities to these communities?
- How do universities train students to be socially responsible and ethical researchers and professionals?
Universities consistently uphold the concept of service to the community in which they reside as a key ideal upon which their existence is established. For example, the mission statement of ETH Zurich outlines its responsibilities to the citizens of Switzerland as social, economic, and cultural.
ETH Zurich is an institution of the Swiss Confederation dedicated to higher learning and research [that]… uphold[s] [its] autonomy and identity on the basis of the ETH Federal Law and in the full awareness of [its] social, economic and cultural responsibility to the nation and its citizens .
Similarly, Virginia Tech outlines one of its key responsibilities as “outreach and engagement” and to “advance social and community development,” but emphasizes that this responsibility spans the local, national, and global communities. Similarly, the motto of Virginia Tech, ut prosim, meaning “that I may serve,” also speaks to a strong value of service to the community.
[Virginia Tech] is a public land-grant university serving the Commonwealth of Virginia, the nation, and the world community… Through its focus on teaching and learning, research and discovery, and outreach and engagement, the university creates, conveys, and applies knowledge to expand personal growth and opportunity, advance social and community development, foster economic competitiveness, and improve the quality of life .
In contrast, the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland (SUPSI), defines the primary community serviced by the university more narrowly as Southern Switzerland. Rather than viewing the institution as one that services communities at the local level and beyond, SUPSI characterizes itself as a bridge between the local community and society.
SUPSI produces, develops and disseminates knowledge and expertise as propellant forces fundamental to supporting the economic, social, technological and artistic progress of the region, and to contributing to the cultural and ethical growth of both society as a whole and its individual members… SUPSI acts as a cultural and relational bridge connecting Southern Switzerland – which can be defined as the chosen reference region – to the rest of Switzerland and to Northern Italy .
During the Global Perspectives Program, we observed a variety of attitudes among the universities visited and the individuals representing those universities regarding which communities were being served by the institution and the nature of that service. In addition, we also witnessed a variety of programs meant to better prepare researchers and professionals for socially responsible careers and to enable current researchers to engage in outreach and serve their target communities.
Relationship between academia and the community
The nature of the relationship between the academy and the community is largely shaped by the breadth of the communities which the academy aspires to serve. For example, when the serviced community is narrowly defined, the nature of the relationship was more intimate. In the case of SUPSI, the devotion to the community was represented by very close ties between the local economy and the research conducted at the university. Researchers engaged in research that directly benefited local businesses (i.e. research into optimized manufacturing processes) and the well-being of the citizens of the community (i.e. research into wastewater treatment and sustainable infrastructure).
When the target community is broader, the relationship is quite different, with less emphasis on serving the specific needs of the local community, and a greater emphasis on serving the interests of national and even global communities. For example, Politechnico Milano, a university quite similar in size and mission to Virginia Tech, encouraged more fundamental research that benefits not one specific community, but rather society as a whole. Politechnico Milano demonstrates its commitment as an institution to serving society by funding research with social impact via the annual PoliSocial Award. The award funds projects that benefit society either through “applied research projects with high scientific value” or generating “solutions to problems and challenges with either local or international outcomes” .
In addition, the tendency of Swiss students to attend university in their home canton may also help to strengthen the bond between the university and the community. In some cases, even the architecture was designed to facilitate the relationship between the academy and the community. When visiting The Universita della Svizzera italiana (USI), we toured one building, known as Aula Magna, that consisted of glass panels designed to facilitate this relationship by providing a window through which students are encouraged to view the community.
In order to uphold the relationship between the university and the community, it is important to educate young researchers and professionals who are trained to protect the interests of the community and who feel a devotion to the improvement of the community. In her address to the GPP cohort, Dr. Tuffery-Andrieu also proposed that “besides the strictly interpreted training in scientific research, academic studies should offer young people the possibility of intellectual maturity, moral and civil” . One prime example of educating socially responsible researchers and professionals is the inclusion of ethics education targeting the development of a “sound research culture” and the establishment of “standards for training in research integrity and ethics” . In 2016, the European University Association (EUA) issued a directive entitled “Doctoral Education – Taking Salzburg Forward” in which the organization highlights additional challenges faced by European Universities in implementing the Salzburg Principles and Recommendations. In this document, the EUA stresses that “an ethos of research integrity must develop and be cultivated in research environments and institutional leaders must ensure this is made explicit and transparent in codes of conduct” as one of three new challenges facing European Universities .
Discussion at visited universities indicated that mandatory training targeting responsible research ethos was uncommon, but initiatives aimed at providing these services are beginning to emerge among the visited European Universities. For example, at the University of Zurich, The Association of doctoral students, postdocs and scientific employees, known as “VAUZ”, offers voluntary online research integrity training for interested students and researchers. Completion of an ethics course was mandatory in one case: at the University of Basel, medical students were required to complete a medical ethics course.
Many students of the visited European Universities also seemed to view the idea of ethics education differently than what is typical of many U.S. Universities. Students at several universities expressed that although they have not had any formal education regarding ethics in research, that choosing to engage in their chosen research field requires a deep understanding of the ethical obligations that are prerequisite to someone in that field. The role of ethics in education at these universities seemed to be rather subtle, whereas ethics training as it relates to research integrity in the U.S. is much more blatant. For example, while mandatory ethics courses were practically unheard of at the visited European universities, it is common in the U.S. for degree programs to include an explicit ethics requirement. Additionally, funding agencies in the U.S., including the National Science Foundation, may require training in the field of ethics and research integrity.
Dr. Tuffery-Andrieu elegantly summarized the relationship between the university and the communities which it serves:
Finally, the mission of the University in society can be clearly expressed by this motto: to know in order to serve .
As students are trained to serve society through research or profession, an emphasis on educating ethical researchers and professionals via ethics education is important because it safeguards the bond of trust between the university and the community. A strong sense of ethics and commitment to socially responsible behavior in one’s professional engagement is important because it offers a grounding in purpose and in service to the pursuit of knowledge such that society may benefit.
- Committee on the Future of the Colleges of Agriculture in the Land Grant University System. Colleges of Agriculture at the Land Grant Universities: A Profile. National Academy Press, 1995.
- Tuffery-Andrieu, Jeanne-Marie. “Global University.” Global Perspectives Program, 25 May 2016, University of Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France.
- ETH Zurich: Mission Statement. Feb. 2014, https://www.ethz.ch/en/the-eth-zurich/portrait/self-image-and-values/mission-statement.html. Accessed October 10, 2016.
- Virginia Tech: Mission Statement of the University. https://www.president.vt.edu/about-the-office/mission-vision/index.html. Accessed October 10, 2016.
- SUPSI: Mission. http://www.supsi.ch/home_en/supsi/missione.html. Accessed October 10, 2016.
- Politechnico Milano: Polisocial Award. http://www.polisocial.polimi.it/en/award-en/. Accessed October 10, 2016.
- European University Association. Doctoral Education – Taking Salzburg Forward: Implementation and New Challenges. 2016.