Integration of University and Community

In Whitewater, where a campus of the UW System represents a majority of the city’s residents, the integration of campus and community is an obvious need.

One thinks of this when reading Deborah and James Fallows, The Choices Facing Community Colleges. (These authors are describing two-year programs, not a comprehensive four-year program as with UW-Whitewater, but the general importance of true, harmonious integration matters in both cases, as it no doubt matters for the two-year program at UW-Whitewater at Rock County.)

Consider their observation:

I have in mind two institutions that are rarely in the headlines but deserve to be featured in American discussions of prospects for a better economic and civic future.

One is, of course, America’s network of libraries, as Deb Fallows has discussed over the years. She wrote about them in the print magazine, in our book Our Towns, and in recent posts like this from Brownsville, Texas, and this from New York.

The other is the constellation of 1,000-plus public community colleges across the country. Three years ago in the magazine I made the case that a reliable sign of civic progress was whether a city took its community college seriously:

Not every city can have a research university. Any ambitious one can have a community college.

Just about every world-historical trend is pushing the United States (and other countries) toward a less equal, more polarized existence: labor-replacing technology, globalized trade, self-segregated residential-housing patterns, the American practice of unequal district-based funding for public schools.

Community colleges are the main exception, potentially offering a connection to high-wage technical jobs for people who might otherwise be left with no job or one at minimum wage …

In travels since then, Deb and I have seen more examples of community colleges acting as anchors for a city or region—for instance, with the “Communiversity” that has made such a difference in eastern Mississippi, or the innovative Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville, Virginia.

True and sensible.

And yet, and yet — it should be obvious that Whitewater and her four-year campus have not integrated well. In fact, they’ve integrated more poorly than someone who valued academic life would hope and expect. It’s impossible reasonably to believe (or for me to believe that Deborah & James Fallows could believe, should they visit) that relations between this campus and smaller non-college community are what they should be.

A university cannot integrate harmoniously with its community merely through press releases, scattered single events, and a few people wearing school colors. A campus cannot integrate with its community by media relations that misrepresent – when intentionally done that’s called lying – about the school’s own condition.

Integration requires better than long-term residents’ condescending views of education and student life. It requires more than an entitled, self-important resident imaging that his financial concerns matter even during an assault investigation of others’ injuries.

Integration requires respectful harmony between thousands of people involved in tens of thousands of encounters – sometimes that many – each day.

Something fundamental is sadly missing in this relationship.

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1 year ago

This is a blunt truth about town and gown. There are good themes in here that describe aspects of the schism. Fallows is describing community college as a method of advancement that people want/support. I very much doubt the non-college part of Whitewater feels the campus is accessible to them. They don’t see it as “theirs”. They see it as “ours”. Young people in the area who are from a non-college background have the idea that college isn’t for them. Look at this:

Most outreach from the campus is staff not faculty. We have had administrative problems for years so that’s not our strong suit. I totally agree that the hyperdrive role of Media Relations has been bad for the academic atmosphere. After all, we are a college not an ad agency. Insisting that everything has to look good has been a betrayal of scholarly judgment, quite frankly.

There are also big problems on the town side. The university is larger than the rest town and that can be unsettling to non-college residents who feel UW-W has nothing for them. We are part of the town not something alien implanted in the middle of Whitewater.